04.How is chocolate made?
Cocoa comes from the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao. It originated in the rainforests of South America, but is now grown all over the tropics, including in Australia. There are several varieties of cocoa. The most common variety is Forastero. Criollo and Trinitario (a cross between Forastero and Criollo) are generally considered to be superior varieties.
Cocoa beans grow in large pods (botanically they’re actually berries and the beans are its seeds). After being hand-picked, cocoa pods are husked and the beans removed. If they’re left too long in the pods, the beans start to rot or dry out.
The beans are then allowed to ferment for a length of time determined by the type of bean. Fermentation affects the chemical composition of the cocoa, and has to be done correctly for optimal chocolate flavour.
The beans are then dried, which reduces their acidity and water content. If they’re dried too slowly they may go mouldy; too quickly and the acid levels remain too high. Some companies use substandard beans, inevitably resulting in lower-quality chocolate.
After cleaning and roasting, the dried beans are shelled and separated from the ‘nibs’ inside, which contain about 53% cocoa butter and 47% cocoa solids. The nibs are crushed to form cocoa liquor. At this point the liquor can be separated into cocoa butter and cocoa solids.
To make dark chocolate, the cocoa liquor is mixed with more cocoa butter, sugar is added and often vanilla — beans or ‘flavour’. The product is then ‘conched’, a kneading process that improves its flavour and texture. The longer the conching, the better the quality of chocolate. Time is money, so some companies reduce conching time to reduce costs.
Finally, the chocolate is tempered — heated, cooled and heated again, with frequent stirring — which gives it a glossy finish and a good snap. Faults in this process show up in the appearance of the chocolate — rather than glossy, it’s dull, may have white spots (fat bloom) or a greyish film. It’s then poured into moulds to create the finished product.
Premium chocolate essentials
- Appearance It should be smooth and shiny.
- Snap When you break a piece of chocolate it should give a good, clean snap.
- Aroma In good chocolate, you might be able to detect lots of different smells, such as vanilla, fruit, floral, wine, tobacco, grass and earthy-woody smells. Smoky, burnt, mouldy or dirty smells are a bad sign.
- Texture The chocolate should be hard and smooth, and melt easily but not too easily. Bad chocolate is gritty, chalky or waxy, and becomes gluggy when it melts in the mouth.
- Taste Apart from the flavours of cocoa and vanilla, if it’s been added, you might also experience any of the other flavours under ‘aroma’ above. It should also be pleasantly bitter, although ‘pleasant’ is a personal thing. Poor-quality chocolate has a tongue-curling effect caused by acid.