Chocolate! It’s a long journey from cocoa tree to chocolate

It’s a long journey from cocoa tree to chocolate

It’s a long journey from cocoa tree to chocolate, but one always worth taking! Here are all the most crucial steps that see raw cocoa beans turning into shining chocolate bars:

The chocolate is finally ready to be savoured and enjoyed.

What a journey!

 

The 100% Cacao Chocolate

When it comes to sugar-free chocolate, big manufacturers usually rely on sugar substitutes. To make their products palatable without sugar, they use alternatives with lower calories but higher sweetening power. Sorbitol, maltilol, inulin and xylitol are just a few of the ingredients found in mass-produced sugar-free chocolate. They are cheap, produced in laboratories and easy to source in big quantities. These substances also come with contraindications for the human body, and their taste is not so pleasant.

Mass-produced chocolate definitely can’t satisfy the sugar-free demand without compromising on quality and flavor. Lucky for us, craft makers have a better answer: 100% cacao chocolate.

100% cacao chocolate doesn’t contain sugar. Every ingredient comes from the cacao beans. The percentage is divided between cacao solids (the “brown” part that contains health properties and chocolatey flavor) and cacao butter (the “white” part which is the fatty component of the chocolate). The ratio in a bar is approximately 50/50, but will vary depending on the producer.

It is also a similar product to unsweetened chocolate. The difference is that unsweetened chocolate is meant for cooking and baking. While 100% cacao chocolate is meant for tasting and savoring.

Instead of using chemicals like big manufacturers do, craft makers rely on smarter choices. To satisfy the demand for sugar-free chocolate, they are making their 100% cacao bars:

  • SMOOTHER: adding cacao butter is the most used strategy to make chocolate creamy and smooth. The percentage of cacao still remains the same, but by tweaking the ratio between cacao solids and cacao butter, makers manage to give a more pleasant texture.
  • CRUNCHIER: to give it a “twist”, craft makers have started including cacao nibs in their bars. Cacao nibs are bits of roasted cacao beans. This addition doesn’t interfere with the 100% definition, as cacao nibs don’t contain sugar.
  • MORE FLAVORFUL: depending on the origin and many other factors, chocolate can taste fruity, floral, spicy, earthy, nutty. With 100% cacao chocolate made by craft makers, the flavor is never flat or boring.

Roasting as a crucial step in the bean-to-bar process

Roasting is one of the crucial steps in the bean-to-bar process to develop chocolate as we know it. Whether it’s in a coffee roaster, an adapted commercial oven or a dedicated cocoa roaster, chocolate makers play around with timings and temperatures to get the best flavors out of their cocoa beans.

For each origin they use, chocolate makers elaborate a so-called “roasting profile”, which is a protocol that they can follow to get the same result every time. Temperatures usually range from 120°C (225°F) to 150°C (302°F), while times go from a minimum of 15 minutes to a maximum of 40 minutes. Makers can opt for a light, medium or dark roast for a shorter or longer period of time. You will be surprised by how the same cocoa beans can develop extremely different flavors when temperatures and times are changed!

Roasting doesn’t only develop cocoa beans’ natural flavors, but also kills microorganisms such as bacteria on the outer shell, effectively sterilizing the beans. It also helps to separate the outer shell from the inner nibs: cocoa beans have a papery outer shell that must be removed before they can be made into chocolate, and roasting helps to dry and loosen this shell so that it is easier to remove, and only the “meat” of the beans will be left to make the chocolate.

Some chocolate makers decide to skip this process entirely to keep their final product as “raw” as possible. By not exposing the cocoa beans to high temperatures, their intention is to preserve all the nutrients and the health benefits of cacao as much as possible.

When the cocoa beans finish the roasting process, makers crush them and then separate the nibs from the shells during the breaking and winnowing steps, to then proceed into other machines.

The ending aromatic profile will be hugely impacted by the roasting profile chosen by the craft chocolate maker.

 

What do we actually mean by “organic”?

The demand for Organic chocolate is only growing year after year, especially here in Europe. But what do we actually mean by “organic”?

In general terms, the word organic refers to cacao that has been grown without chemicals or artificial fertilizers. In the US, Europe and Australasia there are sever regulations about the use of this term on a label (for example, the product inside must contain at least 95% organic ingredients and be certified by a recognized organization).

Organic cocoa represents just 0,5% of production today, according to the International Cocoa Organization. Most of this organic cocoa comes from countries associated with fine flavor such as Madagascar, Bolivia and Costa Rica, while countries like Ivory Coast and Ghana, which together produce 70% of the world’s cocoa, are nowhere to be found on this list.

Contrary to popular belief, the key benefit of organic chocolate is not in its taste, but it is an environmental matter. Most cocoa farmers live on or below the poverty line, in areas where there is little education. So they are often motivated to use fertilizers and pesticides to significantly increase the productivity of their trees and their overall annual yields. Without controls or training, chemicals can be misused and harm the farmers, the environment, and even find their way into the chocolate.

However, keep in mind this: getting certified organic is extremely expensive for farmers already living on the poverty line. Since most organic certification programmes require an expensive fee from cocoa farmers, it makes sense for them to get certified only if they can get paid a premium price for their cacao, which happens very rarely. Therefore, despite the benefits of carrying an official organic logo, many small producers find that its cost isn’t worth the correspondent advantages.

For this reason, you can find a lot of chocolate on the market, especially craft bean-to-bar, that might be organic “by default” even without a certification. So stay open-minded on this subject.

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