Where does chocolate come from?
Everybody loves chocolate, but not everybody knows its history and what it’s made of. Dark Chocolate Day is an excellent opportunity for Hadar Hakun, our chocolate technician, to recall her visit to Ecuador and tell us about the source of chocolate and how it’s made.
The main raw material in chocolate is cocoa, which has made an appearance in different cultures around the world throughout history. The best-known among these cultures are the Aztecs and the Mayans, who made a bitter drink from it. It served as currency, was given as a prize and was served in the meals of kings.
Later, sugar and spices were added to it, making it even more popular. During the Industrial Revolution cocoa began to be mass produced for beverages, and it was discovered that the addition of cocoa butter to cocoa produced a sweet, solid confection – chocolate. Eventually milk was added, and thus, chocolate, as we know it today, was born.
Cocoa has its origins in the fruit of Theobroma cacao, the cocoa tree. The fruit, or pod, has a thick skin which conceals the precious cocoa beans. The cocoa tree is difficult to grow since it demands very specific conditions, and as a result, it grows only in hot, rainy tropical areas within twenty degrees latitude north and south of the equator. Today, cocoa is mostly grown in countries such as Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Ecuador, Brazil, Malaysia and several others. Like any fruit, there are a number of species of cocoa, and each species will yield cocoa beans that are slightly different, resulting in chocolate with a different taste.
The cocoa tree will yield fruit several years after being planted, and all going well, cocoa pods will grow on its trunk, ripening twice a year. The fruit is then picked, typically with the help of a machete, and sliced open to remove its content.
The cocoa beans inside the pod are covered by a layer of pulp, a moist white fibrous substance, which protects them. But unlike the pulp of other fruit, cocoa pulp has a sweet and slightly acidic flavor and is used to make juice, which is sold in the cocoa growing countries at roadside stalls.
Hadar Hakun, Strauss’s chocolate technician
The cocoa beans are carefully removed from the pods and collected. In some countries they will be piled in heaps on grates on the ground, and in others, piled in buckets. The beans are then left to ferment. Fermentation can take place in wooden crates, in sacks and using other methods – each culture has its own method of processing the cocoa beans.
After several days of fermentation, the chocolate flavor develops inside the beans. The beans are then dried. In some countries they are left to dry in the sun for several days, while in others special dryers are used. After drying, the grower will sell the beans to a factory that produces cocoa from them. The beans undergo sample tests, and the price that is paid to the grower is determined according to quality and species.
The dried beans are transported to a factory that produces cocoa, where they are cleaned of stones, twigs and earth and are sorted by size. They are then roasted at high heat, which gives them their chocolaty flavor and sterilizes them. The shells are removed to extract the cocoa nibs, which, in fact, are the first cocoa product that is ready to eat. Cocoa nibs have a deep, bittersweet taste and a hard texture, and people who like dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa solids like to combine them in certain dishes.
The nibs are finely ground, resulting in cocoa mass – dark brown with a bittersweet taste. Cocoa mass contains 50% fat, which is cocoa butter and can be extracted from the cocoa mass by giving it a good hard squeeze.
At the end of the process we have three distinct cocoa products: cocoa mass, cocoa butter and cocoa powder, which is obtained from the cocoa mass after most of the butter has been extracted.