Chocolate is enjoyed by millions of people around the world. But how many stop to consider how chocolate is made?
If you were ever considering of becoming a chocolate master yourself, you're going to love learning all about the cocoa bean's journey from plant to your palate.
How chocolate is made (step by step)
The whole process starts with the cocoa beans themselves. Their journey to your mouth begins with the Theobroma cacao tree.
These are small trees, around 4-8 meters tall, of the family Malvaceae that are native to the deep tropical regions of Mexico. They have been extensively harvested in Mesoamerica since antiquity with evidence of cacao residues found in artifacts dating back to the Early Formative period (1900-900 BC).
The beans are contained within pods, an oval-shaped fruit, that is around 5-12 inches (13-30 cm) long. Each pod contains anywhere between 30 and 50 beans. Each bean is roughly the size of a typical olive.
A little off-topic, but do you know what the difference between cocoa and cacao is? Well...
"The tree, pod, and bean/seed are typically referred to as “cacao,” while the word “cocoa” is reserved for the bean after it has been fermented, dried, and roasted." - Lake Champlain Chocolates. A noteworthy piece of information, wouldn't you agree?
The process begins with collecting the beans
Today, just like then, the beans first need to be collected. Cocoa beans are contained within large seed pods that, once ripe, are readily harvested.
Unripe pods tend to yield beans with low cocoa butter content and low sugar content. This is very important for the creation of chocolate as the natural sugars within cocoa beans help fuel the fermentation process later down the line.
Once the pods are removed from the trees, the beans are removed from their pods and pulp in anticipation of the next phase - fermentation.
How is chocolate fermented?
In their natural state, cocoa beans are quite bitter to the taste. This is removed by fermenting the beans to give chocolate its highly desirable flavor.
Fermentation, like with alcohol, is achieved using natural yeast and bacteria that are already present in the beans. The process is fairly simple with the beans being allowed to ferment naturally in a warm and moist environment for about seven days.
Once the fermentation process is complete, the beans are removed and allowed to dry out to prevent mold growth and rot.
Next, the beans must be roasted
Once desiccated, the beans are thoroughly cleaned and any contaminants like sticks, stones or other debris are removed. The beans are then roasted typically using a dry roast method.
The beans are constantly stirred to ensure that the entire crop is evenly heated. No extra oils or fats are added which preserves the cocoa beans flavor.
Once complete, the classic flavor we all know and love about chocolate is achieved and ready to be processed.
Once roasted, the beans can be processed
With the beans nicely, and evenly roasted, the beans then have their hull and inner nibs removed. This is usually achieved through cracking and winnowing (deshelling).
The hull is a thin, papery skin that surrounds the whole cocoa bean. Nibs, on the other hand, are simply small pieces of the cocoa bean body that are broken up during the winnowing process.
These nibs are then ground into a fine powder that is rich in cocoa solids and cocoa butter. The butter usually liquifies from the frictional heat while the nibs are ground.
The resultant cocoa liquor is then poured into molds and allowed to cool. Once solidified, the chocolate is almost ready to be eaten.
Known as unsweetened or bakers chocolate, these blocks are ready to be sold or transported. Alternatively, cocoa liquor can be separated into two products, cocoa powder, and cocoa butter.
But there is one final step required prior to chocolate arriving at the shop's shelves.
The final step is to blend the chocolate
While baker's or unsweetened chocolate can be used as-is, most confectionary requires some form of blending.
"Cocoa liquor, baking chocolate, cocoa powder, and cocoa butter can be blended with various ingredients to create an endless number of cocoa products." - The Spruce Eats.
The production of chocolate candies, that you are obviously very familiar with, requires cocoa liquor to be combined with extra cocoa butter, sugar, milk, emulsifiers and/or stabilizers and other ingredients like vanilla. These ingredients add extra smoothness and sweetness to the chocolate.
The amount of sugar and milk added to the cocoa creates different degrees of chocolate from milk to dark chocolate. Each chocolate brand will also have its own ingredients and ingredient ratios that determine its specific signature recipes too.
Interestingly, for something to be actually considered chocolate, it must be made with real cocoa liquor. If it contains hydrogenated vegetable oils, milk substitutes, or artificial flavors, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) does not allow companies to call it chocolate.
Chocolate is also not the only use of cocoa beans. They can, and often are, used to make a variety of savory dishes as well as many skin products.
Is chocolate made from hair?
You may not have heard of this rumor, but there appear to be people who actually believe, or spread it. The confusion over the issue may have arisen due to the presumed presence of L-Cysteine (E-920) in some chocolate products.
"Cysteine is one of the few amino acids that contains sulfur. This allows cysteine to bond in a special way and maintains the structure of proteins in the body. Cysteine is a component of the antioxidant glutathione. The body also uses cysteine to produce taurine, another amino acid." - Kaiser Permanente.
The problem is, as we have seen, that human hair is not used, or required, during any part of the chocolate-making process. It could, in theory, be added by confectioners during the blending process but this is usually forbidden by many food standards agencies around the world.
It is not, for example, listed on the Codex General Standard for Food Additive (GSFA) of permissible levels of food additives in various food groups.
Still, it is possible that some human or other animal hair can find its way into a batch of chocolate by accident, but this is very rare. In fact, contamination of any food product is nye on impossible to avoid.
For this reason, many food standard agencies have tolerance levels for maximum amounts of contaminants in many food groups.
Where exactly this myth originated from is anybody's guess, but rest assured your favorite chocolate bar has undergone various stages of careful and thorough preparation. After all, the last thing a chocolate producer would ever want is the bad press associated with defective products.
They could also face serious legal actions by authorities and consumers.