The transition from the cocoa bean to the various presentations of chocolate is the historical result of a series of transformations that have come to concentrate on the various stages. Here we present it as it is done in Venezuela, even though it is a similar process in all parts of the world.
Cocoa bean treatment
By storing the harvested fruits indoors, unopened, for a period of 5 to 10 days, the chemical agents that cause astringency and bitterness are reduced, thus increasing the intensity of the cocoa flavor.
It is carried out to eliminate the mucilage that covers the almonds, and eliminate the embryo that is inside them. For this, the almonds are placed in containers that allow the evacuation of the liquids produced during the process. The grains are covered in such a way that a semi-closed environment is created to shelter them.
The process takes about three days for Creole cocoas, and five to seven days for other varieties. As a reference, cocoa from Chuao takes 24 to 48 hours to ferment, that from Choroní about 96 hours and that from Oriente or Barlovento up to 5 days. This step is essential for the formation of the precursor substances of the chocolate flavor and aroma.
The fermentation process consists of two stages. The first is the hydrolysis stage or alcoholic phase, where the yeasts help transform the sugars in the mucilage into alcohol and generate the acetic acid necessary to kill the embryo contained in the almond. This stage is carried out at temperatures of 40 ºC and with an acidic pH of 4,0 and 5,0. The second stage is oxidation, which begins along with the greater penetration of oxygen into the almonds. As a result, the humidity level gradually decreases.
It is done after fermentation and before drying. In this step, the mucilage residues that may still remain in the almonds are removed to reduce the risk of the action of mold on the seeds. This action gives the almonds a toasty color.
In this instance the humidity of the almond is reduced from 60% to 7%. This humidity level is ideal for handling and storing cocoa efficiently. If the percentage of humidity is lower, the almond becomes brittle, and if it is higher, it can generate fungus or mold.
During drying, the grains are spread out on so-called drying patios, usually made of cement and occasionally covered by a plastic or glass roof. The grains remain there exposed for a period of 6 to 8 days. This process should not be done on the asphalt, on the sidewalks, in the patios of the houses or in places where coconuts, tobacco or coffee have previously been dried, since the cocoa is vulnerable to the flavors and smells of other elements and its flavor can be significantly impaired.
The dry grains are then selected and classified, bagged (in jute bags) and stored in dry and ventilated places. The storage conditions of the cocoa almond must be quite rigorous; the humidity of the almonds must be kept at 7%, the relative humidity of the air must be less than 70% and the stacks of bags must be separated from each other by aisles 1 meter wide.
The first step in the production of chocolate, takes place already in the factory and is known as primary processing or grinding, from which cocoa liquor, cocoa butter and cocoa powder are obtained. For this, the grains are first cleaned, the shell is separated and the germ is removed. Then roasting or roasting is carried out, the duration and degree of temperature depending on the origin of the grains and the desired final product. This step pursues the development of the aromas preformed in the fermentation, in addition to the reduction of the water content to 2%.
Subsequently, the grains are subjected to alkalinization to develop flavor and color. Afterwards, grinding takes place from which a dense paste called liquor is derived. Pressing is then carried out, from which a liquid part and a solid part are extracted.
The liquid part is the cocoa butter, which will be deodorized, filtered and molded to obtain blocks after solidification. The solid part is the cocoa cake, which contains between 8% and 20% butter. The cake is crushed and ground to obtain cocoa powder. Each of the products obtained has a huge number of uses, but the most important is the production of chocolate.
To make chocolate, the liquor is mixed with cocoa butter and other ingredients such as sugar, milk and essences. This mixture undergoes a refining process through a series of rollers to form a smooth paste.
The next process is "conching", which further develops the flavor and texture of the chocolate. It consists of a kneading or smoothing process in which the paste is shaken and smoothed in large cellars at a temperature between 60 °C and 80 °C for several hours, and even days. In this way the paste acquires a firmness that will give the chocolate softness and creaminess.
Next, tempering takes place, in which the chocolate is heated to make it go from the liquid to the solid state. This increase in temperature favors the stable crystallization of cocoa butter. In this way, a homogeneous chocolate is obtained, with a shiny appearance, which allows better conservation. At this point, the chocolate is ready to be transformed into bars and chocolates.
types of chocolate
Most dictionaries define chocolate as "a paste made from ground cocoa with sugar, usually flavored with cinnamon or vanilla." This, despite being technically true, is still a term that lends itself to controversy and contradictions, due to the wide variety of products that are known under that name.
But, according to the strict quality control standards imposed today. The product of dry substance from cocoa, chocolate is called chocolate, whose only fat present is cocoa butter. The range of chocolates that are commonly known owe their name to the cocoa content they have and to their combination with certain raw materials, as can be seen below:
Also known as cup chocolate, it contains a high percentage of cocoa butter. It has wide uses in the kitchen. To be used in the elaboration of bathrooms or covers, it must be melted and subjected to the tempering process, to achieve a fine and shiny effect.
Dark or plain chocolate
It is composed of a mixture of cocoa cream with sugar. There are several presentations that range between 45% and 70% cocoa content, with a minimum base of 25% butter.
It is made by substituting a part of the cocoa solids for milk solids to give it a sweet flavor and smooth texture. There are two ways to make it: with powdered milk and with sweetened condensed milk.
It is not actually chocolate, as it does not contain cocoa solids. It is made by mixing cocoa butter with sugar and milk solids. For this reason it does not have the characteristic brown color of roasted cocoa almonds.
The possibilities to taste preparations with cocoa and chocolate are almost endless. Whether it is traditional or innovative recipes, international cuisine classics or everyday inventive products, they all offer a myriad of options to experience that familiar taste, between bitter and sweet, which is pleasant and comforting. Here are some of those recipes.