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Sweet process: from cacao to chocolate

Chocolate is one of the most beloved treats in the world, with a rich and complex flavor that has captivated taste buds for centuries. But how exactly is chocolate made? It all starts with cacao beans, which come from the Theobroma cacao tree in the Malvaceae family. Here’s a look at the process of obtaining chocolate from cacao beans.

Harvesting and Fermentation

Cacao pods are harvested by hand when they are ripe, which can take anywhere from five to six months. Once the pods are harvested, they are split open and the pulp and seeds (cacao beans) are removed. The beans are then placed in wooden boxes or covered in banana leaves and left to ferment for several days. During this time, the temperature and moisture level of the beans are carefully controlled, which allows natural yeasts and bacteria to break down the pulp and develop the flavor of the chocolate.

Drying and Roasting

After fermentation, the beans are spread out on drying racks or mats to dry in the sun. This can take up to a week or more, depending on the climate and humidity. Once the beans are dry, they are roasted to further develop the flavor and aroma of the chocolate. The roasting temperature and time can vary depending on the desired flavor profile, but it generally ranges from 120 to 140°C for 20 to 60 minutes.

Cracking and Winnowing

Once the beans are roasted, they are cooled and then cracked to remove the outer shell. The resulting nibs are then winnowed, which separates the nibs from the shell fragments. The nibs are then ground into a paste called chocolate liquor, which is made up of cocoa solids and cocoa butter.

Refining and Conching

The chocolate liquor is then refined to break down any remaining solid particles and reduce the particle size of the cocoa solids. This creates a smoother texture and enhances the flavor of the chocolate. The chocolate is then conched, which involves mixing and aerating the chocolate at high temperatures for several hours to further develop the flavor and texture.

Tempering and Molding

The final step in the chocolate-making process is tempering, which involves heating and cooling the chocolate to a specific temperature range to create a stable crystalline structure. This process gives chocolate its characteristic shiny appearance, snap, and smooth texture. Once tempered, the chocolate is poured into molds and allowed to cool and solidify.

In conclusion, the process of obtaining chocolate from cacao beans is a complex and multi-step process that requires careful attention to detail and a deep understanding of the chemical and physical properties of chocolate. From harvesting and fermentation to refining and molding, each step plays a critical role in creating the rich and delicious treat that we all know and love.

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