Valentines Day and How Chocolate Is Made
Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching, which means that greeting card companies and candymakers everywhere are bustling about to prepare for their busiest time of the business year. Nothing says Valentine’s Day like a box of assorted chocolates. Chocolate in general is one of the most beloved confectionary creations of all time. It’s rather common knowledge that chocolate is derived from the cocoa bean, but what many people don’t know is that embarks on a long journey from the cocoa tree to the candy aisle.
Cocoa Trees, Beans, and Growing Regions
The natural cocoa tree is almost exclusively found in tropical rainforest ecosystems similar to those in Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. It was originally domesticated thousands of years ago, when indigenous people groups would munch on the pulp from the beans or ferment it to concoct a moderately alcoholic drink. Many of these trees are actually quite large, often reaching heights of 30 feet. They can be identified by their white flowers and colorful fruits. A cocoa pod takes around five months to grow along with several additional weeks to ripen. They’re usually red, yellow, or orange and are shaped something like a squash. Harvesting the cocoa pods entails slicing through the thick shell encasing the pod to scrape out the white pulp containing cocoa beans. Each pod contains about 40-50 cocoa beans. Cocoa beans are then fermented in specialized boxes for roughly five days and is a vital step in developing the flavor of chocolate. Next, they are placed on trays and sun-dried for a few weeks. It should be noted that it takes several hundred beans to constitute one pound of chocolate. Most common cocoa/chocolate products are from the bean’s cocoa solids and/or cocoa butters. The leading cocoa producing countries today are the Mexico, Ecuador, Brazil, the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Indonesia. All of these fall within 20 degrees of the Equator. Although the cocoa tree’s distribution lies within tropical areas, the cooler climates of Europe and North America are more conducive to the manufacturing of chocolate-based goods.
How Chocolate Is Processed
At this point, the beans are sent to the candy companies to be roasted. Individual confectioners tend to handle this task themselves, as there are different techniques of roasting the beans depending on the product being made. It isn’t uncommon to use a standard oven for the roasting, while others prefer a more specialized system. The roasting process forms a thin papery shell around the cocoa beans. They then need to be removed before going any further. What remains are the tiny individual bits of pure cocoa beans, which are often referred to as the nibs. This includes both the cocoa solids and the cocoa butters. Cocoa butters are the only natural source of fat in chocolate. The nibs are put through a roller to create a paste-like substance called cocoa mass or cocoa liquor. As the process continues, the solids and the butters are separated. Cocoa solids are the base ingredient of chocolate products (some add in cocoa butter to give the chocolate a smooth texture, but many more substitute less expensive vegetable oils). Even more refining takes place in the conching phase the chocolate is ground into small particles in a large metal cylinder called a conch. This is usually the point in which sugar, milk powder, and other added ingredients mixed in. The conching process can take anywhere from a few hours or a few days to create the necessary chemical changes in the chocolate. It’s important to complete the conching properly because the taste is significantly influenced by the way in which the conching is completed. Next, it is tempered by adjusting the temperature to craft the chocolate into the right consistency. The tempering is followed by the moulding (which is pretty much exactly what the name would suggest). The chocolate is poured into a mould to take on its final form. Finally, the manufacturer completes any finishing touches before packaging the chocolate up to be sold.
Chocolate Past and Future
There have been some surprising tidbits of information about cocoa/chocolate from throughout over the years. The Mayans used cocoa beans as a form of currency. In case you ever find yourself wanting to smell like chocolate, check out cocoa-scented cosmetic products. Fans of snacks with both a bit of sweetness and touch of the savory might enjoy a cheese with a chocolate swirl or chocolate-dipped bacon. Anyone who enjoys chocolate will be delighted by the potential health and nutritional benefits (if enjoyed in moderation), it ironically believed to fight tooth decay, contributes to cardiovascular health, keeps your skin smooth, boosts brain health, and acts as a pick-me-up when you’re feeling downtrodden. With all these qualities, the worldwide love of chocolate just makes sense.