Are you ready to take a journey through chocolate with us? No, unfortunately we’re not donning a purple tailcoat and taking you on a wild, sometimes creepy, and often weird Wonka-esque ride down a chocolate river. But we are about to introduce you to all the deep, surprising, and unfortunately dark realities of the world of chocolate making.
We’re kicking off our blog series for you with an in-depth look at how chocolate is made and what it takes to get your favourite treat to you from farming, to processing to production.
Before we get to the music makers and the dreamers of dreams we’ve gotta start with the plants. Chocolate doesn’t grow on trees, but cacao beans do, inside cacao pods, on cacao trees and our journey to chocolate starts with beans grown overseas.
Farmers and their cacao pods
Farmers grow and harvest the large cacao pods and extract the wet beans in tropical countries near to the Equator. These include countries such as Indonesia, Nigeria, Cameroon, Brazil and Ecuador, but over 70% of the world’s cocoa is grown in West Africa in nations such as the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon. Reference
The cacao tree grows a pod, the flesh of which can be eaten fresh, and the wet beans processed into a number of cocoa products.
The economic status of these countries means that many who grow and produce cocoa haven’t ever tasted chocolate before. However, to improve the lives of these producers more work is being done by fair trade organisations to empower growers to produce their own chocolate at the origin point.
While, by no means perfect, purchasing fair trade certified chocolate is one of our most effective methods as consumers to help protect the rights of farmers to earn and producers to set fair prices for their product. Stay tuned to this series for more information about that later.
Ferment, dry and transport
After the wet beans are harvested they are either processed by the farmer or sold on to a company to complete the processing.
Smaller farmers will form cooperatives to negotiate the sale of wet beans to chocolate producers to engage with the market on a small-scale.
Cacao beans are packed tightly into large fermenting boxes from 25kg-2500kg reference and covered with thick, damp cloth or banana leaves to keep the heat in and create the perfect conditions for fermentation. Temperatures in these fermentation boxes typically reach up to 45 degrees and the beans take around 2-7 days to ferment, dependant on the conditions.
Science time! The fermentation process requires the presence of microorganisms, mostly yeast, which grow on the fleshy fruit around the beans. The yeast feeds on the sugar of the pulp, converting it to ethanol which in turn begins to oxidise. This oxidation process causes temperatures to rise to 40-45 degrees Celsius. The acids created by this process ‘kill’ the cacao bean and allow the cell walls to break down - now some serious chemical changes are happening! This process of enzyme activity, protein breakdown and oxidisation are how the beautifully complex flavours of cacao are created. Reference
Does that 45 degrees Celsius temperature jump out at you as significant? If you’re a raw vegan it just might! In the vegan world there are so many diverse ways of eating in line with our ethical and health values. When it comes to raw vegan, chocolate can get tricky. In the raw vegan world most people classify food that is heated to 42 degrees and below as ‘raw’ foods, however, in the chocolate market we are flooded with raw chocolates which use cacao products created with these exact conditions.
The fermentation, drying and processing - and later roasting - requires temperatures to rise above that 42 degrees to create the flavour we know (and love) as chocolate.
Once the cacao beans are fermented and aerated in their boxes the beans are dried and ready for transport.
Transport + agencies
After beans are processed at the country of origin they’re then sent on to chocolate producers worldwide, the largest of which are in places such as Switzerland, France and Belgium.
This is a complicated system with numerous agencies involved from road transport to shipping to customs and government agencies overseeing the massive trade of cacao globally.
The drive to create more chocolate at the point of origin will hopefully shift more power to producers over time so farming communities receive investment and empowerment to be self sufficient and have more strength to negotiate fair conditions for workers and farmers.
Supporting Fair Trade organisations who are on the ground working with these communities by buying exclusively fair trade products is one of the most approachable ways individual consumers can support workers.
In our next post we’re going to look at how these cacao beans are turned into the chocolate we all love, yum!
Read on for Part 2, Chocolate Makers, coming soon.
We’ve touched on the concept of Fairtrade certification a few times throughout this series so far and this week we’re deep diving into covering what it’s all about.
It’s time for our favourite part of this in-depth look at how chocolate is grown and produced. This part is all about us, the chocolatiers!
A chocolatiers job is to take the chocolate makers product and turn it into confections.