Chocolate comes from the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, a small tree that grows in the understory of the tropical rainforest in South America. The tree produces flowers that, once fertilized, grow into a long pod up to 15 inches long and taking up to 8 months to reach maturity.

Chocolate Bar

Once mature, the pods are split open to reveal multiple seeds covered with pulp. The seed pods are then covered (traditionally with banana leaves) and left to ferment. Once fermented, the seed pods are dried and roasted before being crushed into bits. At this time, most of the seed pod is removed, leaving the seed itself, which is then crushed into a paste. Some manufacturers remove the seed pod prior to roasting, creating a different flavor. Differences in roasting times, methods and pulverization create different tastes and textures to the cocoa that affects the final product.

The paste contains about 47 percent cocoa solids and 53 percent cocoa fat. The paste is placed into a press where the solids and the fat are separated, leaving the cocoa solids in a fine powder. After the cocoa has been ground up into a powder, this cocoa butter or liquor is then added back in amounts ranging from 10 to 30 percent of the volume of the bar. The cocoa butter adds the creamy texture to the bar, but reduces the overall chocolate flavor, so the mix of powder to butter also influences the flavor of the finished product. In milk chocolate, other fats are often added rather than the cocoa butter. Interestingly, the remaining cocoa butter is used in making cosmetics, lotions, and other body products because of its smooth creamy texture and moisturizing ability.

Once the cocoa butter or milk is added, sugar is added and the entire mass is poured into a mixer called a conch. The conch stirs the mixture until it is smooth a creamy. This process, called conching, can take a few hours to several days, with the longer conching resulting in a finer, smoother chocolate. After conching the chocolate is still in liquid form, and is often shipped in tanks to the actual factory where it is ultimately processed.

To turn the liquid chocolate into the solid bar or candy that we are most familiar with, it must be tempered. Tempering is accomplished by heating the chocolate and allowing some of the liquid to cook off and them pouring it into a form to cool. The cooled chocolate will take the form and remain solid at room temperature.

Each step in the manufacturing process has an effect on the final flavor of the chocolate. Chocolate manufacturers are notoriously secretive about their process and guard their recipes closely.

<< Types of Chocolate | Chocolate in the Kitchen >>

Resources: Production of Chocolate from Cacao
Christine Case: The Microbiology of Chocolate

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