You will be surprised to know that chocolate (cacao) actually DOES grow on trees! Raw chocolate comes from beans which are grown on cacao trees that are native to Central & South America. It is also grown commercially and approximately 70% of the worlds cacao is grown in Africa.
Chocolate is best known as an indulgent confection, but historically it has also been consumed for its purported healing properties. Foods and beverages made from beans from the Theobroma cacao tree (cocoa, cacao) have been consumed by humans since at least as early as 460 AD. [nih.gov]
The cacao tree has a large orange fruit about the size of a small pumpkin and contains small beans. The raw beans can be very beneficial and contain loads of vitamin C and magnesium. They also contain quite a lot of caffeine in them. The fruit also attracts forest animals who eat the fruit, but throw the beans aside, lucky for us!
So these seeds, that we commonly refer to as beans get harvested in order to create chocolate.
Ripe cocoa pods are harvested twice a year and the process of turning these pods in to chocolate happens straight away. The pods are cut open with machetes and the white pulp containing the cocoa beans is scooped out. The workers scoop these pods out with their hands, being careful not to damage the beans.
Fermentation then begins. The sticky beans with their pulp are put inside wooden bins and covered with banana leaves and left to ferment. Fermentation changes the flavor from bitter to a smoother, more chocolatey taste. The sugars inside the bean also turn in to acids, which cause the color to change from pale to dark brown.
The fermentation process length is all dependent on the type of bean. Some higher quality beans only ferment for a few days, whilst others sometimes require more than a week.
Related: 5 Ways to Add Raw Cacao to your Diet
After the fermentation process is complete, the beans are dried out for about a week which allows the flavor to continue to develop. When the beans are completely dry, they are then shipped to a factory and turned in to chocolate.
The journey from cocoa tree to chocolate bar is not difficult, but it does require the careful treatment of the beans to get the best finished product. Chocolate makers will often deal directly with cocoa farmers and have a say in exactly how the beans are treated from the moment they are harvested.
At the factory, the cacao beans are first inspected for foreign objects- rocks, machetes, whatever may have fallen into the mix. The cacao is weighed and sorted by type so that the manufacturer knows exactly what type of cacao is going into the chocolate.
The beans are then roasted for 30 – 120 minutes, as the heat brings out a richer flavor and aroma and also darkens the beans.
Then the cacao beans are cracked and winnowed, that is, their outer shells are cracked and blown away, leaving the crushed and broken pieces of cacao beans, called “nibs.”
The nibs are then crushed and ground into a thick paste called chocolate liquor, but there is no actual alcohol involved. Chocolate liquor is bitter and not very smooth, but can be sweetened to improve the taste. The manufacturer will add things like vanilla, cocoa butter and sweeteners.
The chocolate is now ready to eat, but may not have the same texture you are usually used to.
The cacao is still pretty grainy at this stage so it is run through a series of steel rollers to even out the texture. To really bring out the flavor, the mixture is then “conched.” That is, it’s run through a chocolate making machine that mixes the chocolate. Conching can last a few hours for cheaper chocolates, and up to six days for the expensive stuff!
The chocolate is then tempered by stirring it, letting it cool, heating it back up slowly, and repeating the process several times. This will help the chocolate melt properly and give it a nicer exterior.
Temperature, Cooling Chocolate Crystals
Making chocolate is complex, and it is during these finalization processes that an effect called Chocolate Bloom may occur.
Chocolate bloom is either of two types of whitish coating that can appear on the surface of chocolate: fat bloom, caused by changes in the fat crystals in the chocolate; and sugar bloom, due to crystals formed by the action of moisture on the sugar.
Out of the 6 types of chocolate crystals we are going for "Type V" which is the most desireable for fine chocolate.
And there you have it…your chocolate is ready to eat!
If this article sent your chocolate cravings in to overdrive, check out our range of Raw Chocolate products here, including the popular Lovers bar.
From Ecuadorian cacao farm to your kitchen, enjoy the complex flavor profile of Criollo cacao paste. Hand crafted, dark chocolate made by farmers in the Manabi province. Just shave little off of the brick into a cup of hot water, add honey or other sweetener for a cup of liquid chocolate. Taste the richness.
From Ecuadorian cacao farm to your kitchen, enjoy the complex flavor profile of this single-origin Criollo cacao paste. Hand crafted, these amazing cacao beans are lightly toasted on the fire and hand-ground into chocolate powder.
Just pour a little off into a cup of hot water, add honey or other sweetener for a cup of liquid chocolate. Use in smoothies or in baking to make a chocolate molé. There's a great molé recipe in my book, The Raw Chocolate Diet. Also in this interview.
As founder of medicinal foods, I've visited the source of this cacao and can tell you that this is some of the tastiest, most ancient Heirloom cacao you can find. It's grown only organically on rich, fertile Ecuadorian land from the Manabi province. The families that run these farms are joyful, love cacao and take great pride in the work they do.
Enjoy from their farm to your table!