There are few things better than curling up on the sofa with a chocolate or four, but how does your favourite sweet treat come to be from its humble beginnings as a cocoa bean?
Harvesting and Roasting
We have the tropical cacao tree to thank for cocoa beans, which are cut down from the plant between May and December. The tree’s scientific name is “Theobroma cacao“, which literally translates to “cacao, food of the Gods”. After they’ve been cut down, the beans are popped out and covered in banana leaves – this helps them ferment. Between three and nine days later, they turn dark brown and start giving off that familiar cocoa-y aroma. Mmmmm.
Next up, it’s time to roast the beans, which helps develop their colour, flavour and aroma. A machine then cracks them open, separating the husks from the nibs (the good bit, or “meat” of the bean), in a process called winnowing.
Grinding and Tempering
The nibs are ground down into cocoa mass, which is solid at room temperature. When it’s placed under extreme pressure, it yields two products: cocoa powder and cocoa butter. These are then mixed with sugar and milk powder, before more grinding makes the cocoa bits even finer.
This is followed by conching – a refining process, which gets rid of any unwanted tastes or smells by heating, stirring and adding in flavours. Once the conching is finished, the chocolate is smooth and full of flavour.
The chocolate is then tempered, which requires cooling it from 45 degree Celsius to about 28 degree Celsius, then raising it again to 30 degree Celsius. This is an incredibly important stage of the process, because it crystallises the butter and gives the chocolate its firm, glossy finish.
And there you have it. From humble cocoa bean to landing on your doorstep ready for you to devour – it’s quite the journey.
Fascinating Chocolate Facts
Cocoa beans are a precious commodity – so much so, they’re said to have been used as a form of payment in the Mayan and Aztec times. Some people would even make counterfeit beans out of clay.
And chocolate is no less popular today. It’s Europeans who seem to love choccy the most, with Switzerland, Germany and Ireland consuming more than any other countries. In fact, the Swiss enjoy an average of 19.8lbs – that’s almost 9kgs – of chocolate a year.
The Swiss might be wiser than most, because chocolate has a number of health benefits. It can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and studies have shown that it can reduce your blood pressure. It’s also good for your mental health, because chocolate actually releases more endorphins in the brain than kissing does. It also speeds up your heart rate faster than a smooch.