All About Cacao

Cacao Cultivation

Chocolate is made from the fruit of the cacao tree which is scientifically known as Theobroma Cacao. The tree thrives on a mix of hot temperatures, shade, and rain and grows within 20 degrees north & south of the Equator. Each cacao tree bears oval-shaped fruits or pods with a length between 5 to 12 inches. Each pod has between 30 to 50 seeds that are known around the world as cacao or cocoa beans.

Is there a difference between cacao and cocoa? In fact, the tree, pod, and seeds are known as cacao while after the bean has been fermented, dried, and roasted, it is known as cocoa. As a side point if you are interested in drum pump and how cholate is made using pump then take a look at ‘high viscosity drum pump‘.

Harvesting

Cacao pods turn a vibrant yellow-orange colour when they become ripe. The fruits hang from the trunk of the tree as well as large branches on small stems. The ripened pods are harvested twice a year though they could be harvested continually. The pods are chopped off and opened to remove their seeds. Each seed is similar to olive in size. The seeds or beans grow in 5 columns surrounded by a white pulp. The pulp is known as “baba” in Latin America and has been used to ferment cacao wine over 3,000 years ago.

Fermentation

The seeds are cleaned by the hand and the baba is left on to help develop flavour. The cream-coloured seeds turn to a purplish colour when exposed to light. The seeds are now ready for fermentation either via the “heap method” or a system of cascading boxes. The heap method is popular in Africa while the system of cascading boxes is preferred in Latin America.

In both these methods, the cocoa beans are covered with banana leaves. The fermentation period is between 2 to 9 days where the seeds begin to take on colour and some of the “chocolate” flavour.

Preparing Cocoa Mass (a.k.a. “Cocoa Liquor”)

The beans are blended with other origins and estates for desired characteristics in a processor. If not, the beans will be kept separate as “single-origin chocolate.”

The beans are then cleaned and roasted at low temperatures to develop the desired flavour. The shells are separated from the nibs or the meat of the bean by a process known as winnowing. The nibs are finely ground into cocoa liquor or cocoa mass – which is solid at room temperature. This paste will yield two products when placed under extreme pressure including cocoa butter and cocoa powder.

Producing Chocolate

Cocoa mass is combined with more cocoa butter and a sweetener to make chocolate. The process involves mixing, grinding, and kneading the raw ingredients into a paste. In fact, the ingredients used for the process will vary according to the type of chocolate being made. For example, dark chocolate requires only cocoa mass, sugar, and cocoa butter. Adding milk powder to the mixture results in milk chocolate.

White chocolate is made using sugar, cocoa butter, and milk powder without cocoa mass. Most people don’t consider white chocolate true chocolate since it doesn’t contain cocoa mass.

Conching

A conch is a large agitator that’s used to stir and smoothen the mixture under heat. Conching is the process of rolling, kneading, heating, and aeration. It is one of the most important steps in the process of producing pure, consistent, and delicious chocolate. The final flavour and aroma are added to chocolate in this stage.

At this point, cocoa butter and soy lecithin are added to the mixture for fluidity. Chocolate will be then refined until it becomes smooth.

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