[Note: We are bringing back this fascinating article from last year for Valentine's Day!]
Valentine’s Day is coming up, and what better way to show love than with a box of chocolates.
We usually get our chocolate from stores, but have you ever wondered how chocolate is even made in the first place?
Cacao Beans: Where It Begins...
The source of chocolate is the cacao bean that grow in pods on the cacao fruit tree
Although native to Central and South America, these trees are found in equatorial regions worldwide, particularly in countries of Africa and South America. It takes roughly five years for these trees to produce flowers and fruit, and it takes five months for cacao pods to grow.
After ripening for several weeks, these pods are harvested by carefully cutting the pods off from the trees. The pods are sliced open, and the cacao beans and pulp are scraped out. The beans are separated from the pulp and left out in the heat and moisture to ferment for a few days. Then, the beans are dried to prevent mold growth.
Once the beans are completely dried, they are shipped to factories to be processed. The beans are sorted, cleaned, and then roasted at around 210-290 F. The beans are then crushed into tiny pieces called “nibs.” The nibs are then further ground into a fine powder.
The powder may liquify from the frictional heat of grinding, turning into cocoa mass or cocoa liquor (which contains no alcohol by the way.) This liquor can be further separated into cocoa powder and cocoa butter, major ingredients of chocolate. After being mixed with other ingredients such as vanilla, sugar, and milk, the chocolate is smoothened out by rollers.
The chocolate mixture is “conched,” or mixed in a swirling machine to refine its final texture. After conching, the chocolate is tempered in large machines to cool the chocolate and prepare it to be packaged and sent off to be sold at stores, where you can buy it any time!
Cacao vs. Cocoa
You may have noticed that “cacao” and “cocoa” were used to describe chocolate. Turns out, both of these terms can be used interchangeably. However, there is a minor difference between these two words.
Cacao is used to refer to the cacao tree and the raw beans, but cocoa is the heated or processed form of cacao. Both can be turned into powder, but since cacao powder comes from the raw beans, it tends to have more nutrients than cocoa. However, cocoa powder is what we normally find at stores primarily in the form of chocolate.
Have a sweet Valentine’s Day! And read our article on the history of chocolate here!
Sources: onegreenplanet, chocolate.org, thespruce, facts-about-chocolate, wikipedia