Chocolate is enjoyed in its many varieties all around the world. It has a unique flavor from the cocoa that is used to make it. Depending on your taste buds and health concerns, you might prefer dark chocolate, milk chocolate, or white chocolate. Before that happens, however, your chocolate bar must go through a unique journey from plantation to production, and finally to the retail store where you can pick one up easily. This article looks at the different processes and phases required to make a bar of chocolate.
As mentioned above, the signature ingredient in chocolate is the cocoa. The use of cocoa in beverages dates to between 1900 and 1650 BC. Since then, the industry has grown tremendously and supports an estimated 50 million people for their livelihoods. Cocoa beans are picked from the cacao tree. Most cocoa beans are harvested from plantations in West Africa—about two-thirds of the total. Ivory Coast produces most cocoa beans.
The cacao tree is a small evergreen tree growing to a height of 15-26 feet. Although it originated in South America, it is now grown in different parts of the world in its different varieties. The seeds of this tree, when they are dried and fermented are known as cocoa beans. These seeds are harvested from the tree by cutting off the ripe pods. Yeast, lactic acid bacteria, and acetic acid bacteria enable the fermentation process. After the typically 7-day process, the familiar chocolate taste begins to form.
From here, the beans are taken to a chocolate manufacturing site where they are cleaned, roasted, and graded. The inner parts of the seeds, or nibs, are separated from the shells and then ground and processed into pure chocolate liquid. Further processing produces cocoa solids and cocoa butter. These products are used to make chocolate bars.
Besides cocoa, chocolates have several other must-have ingredients as well as some optional ones; it all depends on what kind of chocolate you are talking about. Most chocolates are quite sweet as you might expect for a candy bar, but there are many unsweetened and lightly sweetened ones for diabetics and other health-conscious people.
Chocolate bar production takes place after a process of blending. This combines varying quantities of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, and sugar. Vanilla is also added to white and milk chocolates, and only sometimes to dark chocolate. Milk or milk powder is added to milk and white chocolate.
Different emulsifiers may be added to the mix to create a smoother texture. Most manufacturers have a signature blend based on the type and quality of chocolate they are producing. Fine dark chocolate can have as much as 70 percent cocoa products, but this goes down to 50 and 35 percent in milk and white chocolates. The processing time also affects the type of chocolate produced, with longer processing resulting in a smoother blend. This applies to both the blending and conching processes.
Conching is the next stage of chocolate making. It results in a smooth texture. During this operation, the blended chocolate is kept in in a container filled with small metal beads known as grinders. This process can take anywhere from 4 to 72 hours for finer chocolates.
The last stage in chocolate production is known as tempering. This creates uniformity in the size of the crystals in chocolate. When these crystals are large and of different sizes, the chocolate crumbles easily. The time, temperature, and other conditions of these processes needs to be monitored to produce chocolate of a consistent quality.