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How is chocolate made?

The sweet chocolate everyone enjoy so much is made from the cocoa bean, found in pods growing from the trunk and lower branches of the Cacao Tree. The Latin name of the Cacao Tree is 'Theobroma Cacao' which means "food of the gods".

The cacao tree is a tropical American tree that grows in wet, lowland areas. Generally, cacao trees can be found in the Caribbean, Asia, Africa and the South Pacific Islands.

The process of making chocolate is very difficult and requires a lot of time. Here is an overview of the chocolate manufacturing process:

Harvesting

Cocoa beans are harvested twice a year. During the harvesting process, the pods are cut from the tree and split open with a large ax. The beans and pulp are then removed from the pod and placed in holes in the ground or shallow boxes, where they will begin to ferment.

Fermenting

The average fermentation period is 5-7 days. As the flavor development begins during the fermentation process the pulp and beans should be frequently turned and mixed so the beans can take the moisture they need in order to expand. During the fermentation process the beans turn a brownish-red color and take a sharp fragrance.

When the fermenting has finished, beans are dried in the sun or in a special kiln after which are bagged and shipped to a cleaning factory.

Cleaning

In order to remove any contaminants such as twigs, rocks, dust and other debris the bagged beans are subjected to several methods of cleaning. After cleaning, beans are weighed and mixed with different types of beans to make specific combination of beans which are used to prepare many kinds of items such as candy bars, cocoa mix and cocoa butter.

Roasting

In order to improve beans flavor they go through the roasting process. Roasting also is destined to reduce beans acidity and lower their moisture content. During the roasting process, which lasts in average from 30-minutes to 2-hours, the shells from the beans detach and the beans reach a more deep color.

Winnowing

During the winnowing process, the shells are winnowed from the beans with cracking machines and then the beans are separated by means of a high-speed fan.

Crushing

The most valuable beans, which consist of 53-percent cocoa butter, are then conveyed to mills, where they will be crushed. Beans are crashed using large grinding stones or steel discs. Due to friction and heat the cocoa butter from beans liquefies and forms chocolate liquor, which is cooled until it has hardened. The solidified cocoa butter is known as cocoa mass.

Distribution

Hardened bricks of chocolate liquor are distributed then to cocoa manufacturers and factories.

Blending

At factories cocoa liquor is mixed back with cocoa butter and other ingredients in different quantities to make different types of chocolate. The consistence of cocoa mass and cocoa butter in the finest chocolate should be the following:
- 70% or more for Plain or Dark chocolate
- 30% or more for Milk Chocolate
- 25% or more for White Chocolate

In addition to cocoa solids most chocolate contains a sweetener, usually sugar, as well as vanilla, lecithin as an emulsifier, possibly dry milk powder and other ingredients.

Refining and Conching

In order to smooth and improve the chocolate texture, the blended chocolate goes through a refining process. A sweetener, vanilla and other ingredients are added to the melted cocoa liquor and then emulsified. A small amount of soy lecithin is added in most cases to help with emulsification. The refined and blended chocolate mass is agitated in a container called conch in order to smaller all the particles of the chocolate mixture. The conching process may take at least a number of hours and sometimes up to days. The length of time given to the conching process determines the final smoothness and quality of chocolate. The chocolate mass is then stored at a temperature of 46°c (115°f) and ready for the final process called Tempering.

Tempering

The conched mixture is then cooled slowly to about 29°c (84°f) while it is still in movement, and warmed up again to about 31°c (88°f). As the cocoa mass has an unstable crystalline structure, in order to produce the desirable properties of a good tasty chocolate, the crystalline structure should be broken and re-establish in its normal order. Once tempering has been accomplished, the chocolate is considered to be ready!

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