Chocolate Grows on Tree
In the first in a series of posts about the chocolate manufacturing process, Haim Palgui, chocolate food technologist at Elite's confectionary plant, takes us on a journey of cocoa growing in the remote fields of Ghana, and describes the initial production stage of this favorite candy.
In June 2010, I had the privilege of traveling to Ghana. There I studied and followed the production of cocoa from the harvest phase, through to the treatment of beans and finally the delivery to target countries to produce the world’s favorite candy – chocolate! The information collected on the ground (both literally and figuratively) will now be shared with you in a series of posts that lay out the chocolate production process from start to finish.
Ghana is the second largest cocoa producer in the world, trailing its neighboring country, Ivory Coast. With an annual capacity of 700,000 tons, Ghana accounts for more
than 20% of global cocoa production. About 800,000 farmers in that region make a living out of cocoa growths, each owning just a small area of a few acres.
And just as important as quantity is quality, of course. Ghana’s cocoa beans are regarded as finest-quality produce, primarily due to government supervision and the assistance provided to growers.
The cocoa tree and its fruits
The cocoa tree is a tropical tree that typically grows in hot and humid areas. Since it is considered a “spoiled” growth that doesn’t like exposure to the sun, cocoa plantations are planted with tall trees that serve as sunshades for cocoa trees. A cocoa tree bears fruit twice a year, and they grow on its trunk and large branches. The main crop appears between October – December, and the secondary growth between April – June: About 100 fruits per annum in total.
The cocoa fruit is covered with a hard shell and contains a white, sweet pulp that encloses the cocoa beans. Each fruit carries between 40-60 beans.
Picking, fermenting and drying cocoa beans
The cocoa fruits don’t all ripen on the same day. Every day farmers pick the fruits that ripened and whose color turned from green to yellow-orange-red (depending on the varieties of cocoa.) The fruits are cut open with a machete (long knife), emptying the pulp and beans inside which are then stacked on a bed of banana leaves. Yeast and other types of bacteria, begin to ferment and break the sugars in the pulp. Fermentation takes between 5 to 7 days.
The wet beans are taken to dry on “tables” lined with mats (as seen in the pictures), in an area exposed to the tropical sun. The drying process also takes between 5 to 7 days, depending on the number of rainy days. This process is important in preventing the beans from going bad during storage and delivery to cocoa processing plants around the world.
Packaging, quality control and delivery
Once the drying process is complete, the beans are packed in burlap bags and transferred to a regional collection station. There they undergo a quality check, and the sacks are weighed and transferred to the warehouse of the company responsible for their sale.
This concludes the first stage. In my next post we will talk about processing practices at the cocoa and chocolate plants.