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From Bean to Bar
hillary — 4 years ago
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What is the proper name for the bean that chocolate comes from?
As a bit of a chocolate rookie, I am learning the tricks of the trade of how chocolate is made. It seems a bit alien how this vibrant green, thick, oval pods contain seeds that eventually become the perfect and smooth chocolate bars that we eventually consume. How does it all happen?
Now let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. It all starts with the cacao tree, a small flowering tree originally from South and Central America. The trees fruit is the cacao pod with a fibrous and thick husk. It looks like the child from an estranged relationship with a mango and a coconut. Each thick pod protects about 40 beans inside that sits in a soft bed made up of a sticky white pulp.
This pulp is actually edible, although for some reason it never quite made its way to our plates in North America. It’s a secret kept by most farmers, as they bite into the soft flesh and feast on the pulps sweet flavor from a ripe cacao pod. They must laugh at us for throwing away the best part. Think of peeling an orange, throwing out all the delicious fruit and keeping the seeds. Seems crazy right? Well that’s what we do! The beans that we do
keep are called a cacao bean. Fun fact: the layman’s term ‘cocoa’ was actually brought about by a spelling mistake by early English traders. It was just never corrected. O.K. back to the beans.
The cacao beans are dried in the hot sun and can be eaten at this stage. Think of an espresso bean. These beans are then broken into ‘nibs’- think shavings. These nibs are then ground and heated to create a chocolate liquor paste. Now, don’t go and get your shot glasses out yet. Despite it’s name there is nothing alcoholic about this mixture. Chocolate liquor is the base from which all chocolate products are made and way to bitter to eat. Sugar and cocoa butter is added depending on the degree needed for the particular product being created. At this stage there is nothing smooth about this bar and the molten mixture must be refined. Think heavy rollers, machinery and five-roll mills. Now, the chocolate must be tempered. This is where the real chocolate gods are made. The French and the Belgians swear by it as a game changer. Separating the men from the boys, woman from giggling schoolgirls or the mass producers from the chocolatiers. Alas, after all this chocolate as we know it is born.
Can I graduate from rookie to intermediate chocoholic now?