How Chocolate Is Made From Cocoa Beans
| Amazon Facts
It’s safe to say chocolate is quite possibly the world’s most sought after dessert. Many people enjoy it in all shapes and forms, from candies and cookies to ice cream, there really is no limit to how it’s consumed. Here at Rainforest Cruises, we’ve been lucky enough to see chocolate in its raw form deep in the Amazon rainforest. The cocoa plant grows in the low-land jungles of the Amazon River basin and it thrives in moist, nutrient-rich, well-drained, deep soils. The cocoa tree is an evergreen that reaches to about 25 feet, and grows its fruit (or cocoa pods) directly from its trunk. Each pod contains 20 to 60 cocoa beans, that are later harvested and turned into the chocolate we know.
Rainforest Cruises recently attended a From Bean to Bar workshop hosted by the Choco Museo in Lima, Peru (they also have locations in Cusco and the Sacred Valley) and we made our very own tasty chocolate from scratch! We learned all the steps starting from the harvest of the cacao bean, to flavoring and moulding the final masterpiece.
How to Make Chocolate from a Cocoa Bean:
1. Harvesting and Sorting
Cocoa pods are opened to remove the beans within a week to 10 days after harvesting. Harvesting involves removing ripe pods from the trees and opening them to extract the wet beans. The best way to split the cocoa pod in half is by machete, then it is easy to remove the beans by hand. The beans need to be dried before they are sorted and bagged.
2. Roasting the Beans
The cocoa beans need to be softened and cracked by heat. Roast them in an oven or on the stove for about 30 minutes to an hour, at temperatures of about 210-290F. We roasted the cocoa beans the traditional way, on the stove, however most manufacturers use industrial sized ovens for roasting. The heat brings out a flavourful aroma and it cracks, dries and darkens the beans, making it easy to remove the outer shells.
3. Cocoa Nibs
Remove the outer shell from all of the cracked cocoa beans. At this point, the beans are easy to crush and can be broken down into smaller pieces. These bits of cocoa beans are call Nibs. Cocoa nibs are edible, and dark chocolate lovers will often sprinkle cocoa nibs on a salad, oatmeal or chocolate cake. Depending on the cacao species, the nibs contain approximately 53 percent cocoa butter. They are tasty but also very bitter!
The trick with the grinding process is that you need to create enough friction to slightly melt the cocoa nibs. The grinding is usually done in a grinding machine (a melangeur). The cocoa nibs are crushed to liquify and produced a type of cocoa paste called chocolate liquor. For the second refining process, most chocolate manufacturers use a roll refiner, which has two functions: to further reduce the particle size of the cocoa mass and to distribute the cocoa butter evenly throughout the mass, coating all the particles.
This process is the longest but most important. It develops the flavor of the chocolate liquor, and gives the chocolate that smooth, melt-in-your-mouth quality. The machine has rollers that continuously knead the chocolate liquor and its ingredients over a period of hours (or days!) depending on the flavor and texture desired by the manufacturer. This is also the step where you add in sugar, milk, spices or caramel.
6. Tempering and Forming the Chocolate
The last step is everyone’s favorite! This is the step where you can mould and flavour your chocolate. Factories typically mould the liquid chocolate into bulk bars, or send the cocoa liquid to another production cycle of producing specialised chocolate products, like the common Mars bar or Snickers. In our case, at the Choco Museo, we were able to select our own chocolate mould tray and use various ingredients to flavour our chocolates. Most of us tried a little bit of each ingredient: sea salt, dried pepper flakes, almonds, dried fruit, cocoa nibs and sprinkles. Once the chocolate is poured into the mould tray and flavoured, it needs to be cooled in a refrigerator for 30 minutes to an hour before it’s ready to eat!
Visit the Choco Museo's website to learn more about the activities they offer. If you don't have the time, you can skip the From Bean to Bar workshop and learn how chocolate is made by taking a quick tour and tasting some of the different chocolate flavours they offer. Contact Us if you would like more information about booking an Amazon jungle tour, who knows, you might be lucky enough to stumble upon a cocoa tree!