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How Chocolate is Made

Foamy Chocolate Drink

The chocolate that we enjoy today starts out looking like nothing remotely appetizing. It all begins south of the equator in large pods that grow on the cacao tree. Ready for a field trip? Let’s go.

From the halls of Montezuma

Ancient Mesoamerican civilizations used to give the cacao tree an important place in society. The Mayans and the Aztecs used to use cocoa beans as currency. Crushed cocoa beans were used to make a bitter liquid called xocoatl. Only royalty and the best military warriors could gain access to the drink.

It wasn’t until European settlers came to South America and Africa that the cocoa bean made its way to the modern world. Even though that has a few hundred years ago, the process of prepping the cocoa bean for chocolate manufacturing remains pretty much the same.

How it all begins

Cacao trees produce large fruit pods on the trunk of the tree. The pods are harvested with machetes. When you crack them open, you’ll find about fifty or more seeds within a sweet pulp. The pulp and the cocoa beans are removed and placed in buckets for fermentation.

Depending on the type of cacao tree and the manufacturer, the process can take a week or longer. Fermentation gives the beans some semblance of the chocolate taste we like. Once the fermentation process is complete, the cocoa beans are spread out so that they can dry naturally in the sun.

It is the dried beans that are shipped to chocolate manufacturers all over the world. Once there, the beans are roasted, much like coffee beans. Roasting intensifies the final taste of the chocolate.

When the beans are ready, the shells are then removed. What you are left with is the essence of the bean – cocoa butter and other chocolate solids. A machine grounds the shelled beans into a paste that is referred to as chocolate liquor even though it is not a liquid nor contains alcohol. From here, it is a magical process, if you will, that varies from manufacturer to manufacturer.

Even though some of the ingredients are trade secrets, the process is quite similar. The chocolate paste goes through a machine that removes the cocoa butter. This leaves you with a powdery cocoa. Substances like cocoa butter (re-added), sugar, milk, oil and the like are added to reconstitute the powder into chocolate.

The last step in chocolate making is conching. The chocolate is mixed in a large machine until it is the consistency the manufacturer likes. After, the chocolate is poured into molds, allowed to cool, wrapped up and then packaged for shipment.

Who knew that chocolate didn’t just grow that way on the vine? Oh well, at least the manufacturers take the time to turn Montezuma’s elixir into our sweet obsession.

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