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Know Your Cacao – Chocolate Production

As a kid, I would dream of stumbling into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory where chocolate fountains abound with whimsical chocolate-making machinery that magically transform cocoa beans into chocolate bars.The chocolate manufacturing process in reality is equally magical, but few are aware of how much effort goes into making that luxuriant chocolate bar that melts in your mouth. While there are essentially five main steps in the chocolate manufacturing process, there is also a lot of creativity involved in experimenting with different methods of getting the aroma and taste that you want from a piece of chocolate bar. This contributes to how chocolate manufacturer A tastes different from chocolate manufacturer B. More often than not, chocolate producers closely guard the details of their chocolate manufacturing processes.

Lets take a look at the five steps of the chocolate manufacturing process:

Roasting

Cocoa bean roaster at Ghirahdelli Square, San Francisco

Similar to how coffee beans are roasted, roasting cocoa beans is an important process that brings out the flavor of the cocoa beans by heating them at very high temperatures. With technological advancements, chocolate producers have more control over the process of roasting and can creatively experiment roasting cocoa beans at varying temperatures to get different flavors. Some chocolatiers like US brand TCHO have even experimented with using a modified bread toaster to roast their cocoa beans!

If you look at the tasting notes of a chocolate bar, you would notice that even if a chocolate bar uses cocoa beans from a specific region, the description on the tasting notes may differ. This is simply because there may be different roasting methods used by different chocolate manufacturers.

Winnowing (Cracking and Fanning)

This is how cocoa nibs look like.

After roasting, the cocoa beans go through a process of cracking and fanning. First, the beans are “cracked” by passing through a granulator to separate the bean kernel from the cocoa nibs. Next, the excess bean shells are “fanned” away by a current of air to separate them from the cocoa nibs, which is the basic material of chocolate. At this stage, you can already eat the cocoa nibs. You can get cocoa nibs commericially off the shelf, but there are few chocolate manufacturers in Singapore that sell cocoa nibs on their own.

Grinding and Refining Chocolate Liquor

Chocolate mill that refines cocoa butter into chocolate liquor at Ghirahdelli Square, San Francisco

Cocoa nibs contain approximately 53% of cocoa butter. These cocoa nibs are ground to produce chocolate liquor through a chocolate mill. As the cocoa nibs are ground, it releases cocoa butter (as a waxy ivory-yellow fat) and become more viscous. The cocoa nibs ground into a melted mass called chocolate liquor!

As the chocolate liquor is still considered grainy, it is ground further through a process called “refining”, which further reduces the particle size of the cocoa mass and distributes the cocoa butter evenly throughout the mass.

Conching

Conching chocolate machine at Ghirahdelli Square, San Francisco

But that’s not all – grinding and refining are just the preliminary steps to making good chocolate. There is more churning to be done in a process called “conching”. The conch machine has rollers or paddles that continuously knead the chocolate liquor and its ingredients over hours or days depending on the quality desired by the manufacturer. This process develops the flavor of the chocolate liquor and releases some of the inherent acids and bitterness found in the end-product chocolate. It also gives the chocolate its smooth, melt-in-your-mouth quality by dispersing the cocoa butter evenly around the cocoa particles. The longer the cocoa is conched, the smoother its texture.

Did you know the conching method was developed by Rudolph Lindt, founder of Lindt chocolate? In 1879, Rudolph Lindt revolutionised the chocolate-making process by developing this unique refinement method to make Lindt chocolate silky smooth, and this was done by conching the chocolate for three days and three nights!

Tempering

Finally, the chocolate that leaves the conch can be molded into chocolate bars. However, if it isn’t going to be made into chocolate bars immediately, it must be stored in a tank of around 45C. This is because, chocolate changes flavor at high temperatures and starts to solidify at lower temperatures.

The storage tank also needs to be periodically stirred so as to prevent the cocoa butter from rising to the surface and the cocoa solids from sinking to the bottom.

AND We have chocolate!

From this step forward, its easy-peasy. The chocolate is then molded into chocolate bars (or made into pralines) and packaged, ready to be bought off the shelves!