How Chocolate is Made
It all starts with a small tropical tree, the Theobroma cacao, usually called simply, “cacao.”
Pronounced ka-KOW. Theobroma is Greek for”food of the gods.”
A cacao tree can produce close to two thousand pods per year. The ridged, football shaped pod, or fruit, of the cacao grows from the branches and straight out of the trunk. Once the seeds or beans are harvested, the next step is fermentation, and then the beans are dried in the sun for about a week and finally shipped to the factory.
Once at the factory the beans are sifted, sorted and roasted in large, rotating ovens. Then the cacao beans are cracked and the outer shells are blown away leaving the broken pieces of cacao beans, called “nibs”. Now we have chocolate, but it is really bitter. The nibs are then crushed and ground into a thick paste called chocolate liquor, and despite the name, there is no alcohol. The chocolate liquor is not smooth and creamy like the chocolate we are used to, but grainy. So, at this point, we need to add a few other ingredients to get to the rich, creamy chocolate that we all love.
To make cocoa powder, the chocolate liquor is pressed really hard with a giant hydraulic press. This removes the cocoa butter, (which will be used later to make chocolate). But what is left is pressed into a dry cake and then ground into cocoa powder.
Now to make chocolate: Chocolate liquor by itself is bitter and grainy, to sweeten it and make it smooth, the factory will add sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla and milk in different percentages to make the many varieties of chocolate – 60%, 70%, 72% & 80% dark, semi-sweet & milk chocolate.
The different levels of chocolate sweetness:
Unsweetened or cooking chocolate, bittersweet, semi-sweet, dark, and milk chocolate. The differences are made by the percentage of chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter and milk added. White chocolate, while resembling chocolate, contains no chocolate liquor, but is made of cocoa butter, milk solids, sugar and vanilla.
Chocolate lovers rejoice!
Research has revealed that dark chocolate, 70% and higher, is packed with antioxidants and active phenolic compounds that promote good health. Potential benefits of eating chocolate are lowering cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of cardiovascular problems, stroke, memory health and eye health. But use caution, sugar is just as bad as dark chocolate is good for you, so make sure you eat chocolate with 70% or higher cocao.