What would we do without chocolate?
March 20, 2018
I'm a choc-o-holic. I love dark chocolate and think it should be considered one of the main food groups. I saw an article on how chocolate is grown (and gets to my mouth) on CropLife.org. The article was called "Chocolate Chain: From Farmer to Consumer" (Feb. 14, https://croplife.org/news/chocolate-chain-from-farmer-to-consumer/). It started with this: "Ever wonder how the chocolate we know and love gets from the tree to our hands?" And I thought cocoa beans grew on a bush, not a tree.
Cocoa trees grow in tropical environments protected from sun and wind (I wonder if we could grow one in a pot indoors?). The plants are sensitive and succumb easily to pests: "Every year an estimated 30-40 percent of the cocoa crop in West Africa is lost to pests and disease."
Because of the warm tropical environment, cocoa pods can ripen for harvest throughout the year. Trees start bearing around five years old and can produce for another 10 years. Each pod may contain 20 to 50 cocoa beans, depending on the variety. Once picked, cocoa beans go through a flavor-developing fermenting process that lasts three to seven days. After this, the beans are dried, often in the sun.
Special purchasing stations and agents exist to buy a farmer's beans. They then take the beans to an exporting company where additional drying may take place. Bags of beans are loaded onto ships, taken to the receiving country where the beans are stored in warehouses until a processor or manufacturer wants them. Just like we sort and wash beans before cooking them, cocoa beans are also inspected and then cleaned before roasting. Some beans are roasted in the shell, others without their shell.
The next step is to grind the shelled beans into a paste, which releases cocoa butter and creates a non-alcoholic "cocoa liquor." A hydraulic pressing process divides this liquor into butter and cakes. The cakes can be sold as they are or ground into powder. Now comes the best part. "To make chocolate, cocoa liquor is mixed with cocoa butter, sugar and in some cases, milk. White chocolate contains cocoa butter only …"
The mix goes into a large agitator to "stir and smooth the mixture under heat." All this lovely liquid chocolate is shipped in tanks or formed into blocks in molds.
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More than 4.5 million tons of cocoa beans are consumed around the world each year. I certainly eat my share!
JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.