Mere mention of this scrumptious food is enough to put your taste buds into action. Popular across globe for its delectable savor, chocolate is used in the form of candy bars, cookies, beverages, and many more types.
Manufactured on a grand scale across several continents, the history of its processing is as old as 2000 years. You may lick your chocolate to the last bite without wondering how it came into being, where it came from or what exactly are its ingredients. We’ll let you know about everything related to this yummy product.
What is a Chocolate?
A chocolate is the processed food manufactured from the seeds of cocoa bean which grows on a tree named Theobroma cacao. The seeds come from the branches and flowers of the cacao tree when it is about 4-5 years old. The seeds or pods are made up of a pulpy substance and beans/nibs.
From Where did it First Come from and History Behind It?
Cocoa tree has been cultivated in the countries of Mexico, Central and South America for last 3000 years. An important part of Aztec and Maya cultures where it was used as a beverage, chocolate was inherent to various ceremonies of Mesoamericans. They used to season it with several spices and were very fond of it.
The earliest evidence of its use dates back to 1100 BC in Honduras where apart from being used as a beverage, it was used for preparing alcohol. Chocolate was completely unknown to the rest of the world till 16th century; it was the European conquest of South and Central Americas that this beverage drink started gaining popularity. Today, a major chunk of total cocoa is cultivated in West Africa alone.
How is it Manufactured?
The seeds of cocoa have to cover a long journey before they become available in the form of chocolate. Before you can relish it in its finished form, it has to go through a number of processes which require both perseverance and skill on part of the manufacturer. Let’s talk a bit about various stages involved in this long process:
Harvesting and Scooping
Cocoa beans grow in clusters and are nestled within cocoa pods which remain hung from the branches and bark of the tree. Each bean is wrapped in sticky white fluid and is indispensable to its taste.The pods are detached from the trees either manually or by using machete (a cutting tool). Generally only the ripe pods are cut while the raw ones are left to grow. Once separated from branches, the beans inside each pod are scooped out manually.
After scooping is over, the beans with their white pulp are allowed to ferment. This is one of the critical steps in the process of manufacturing chocolate as it is when the actual flavor is developed. The time of harvesting has a direct bearing over the taste of chocolate. If unripe pods are made to ferment, there will be low pulpy content and the resulting flavor will not be as strong as desired.
Fermentation is done by placing the beans inside boxes; as a result, oxidation of pulpy sugar into acids takes place and the by the action of enzymes, the chocolate gets the flavor for which it is popular. The process is carried out for about a week and it requires a temperature of about 125 degree Fahrenheit.
Then comes the drying part… After fermentation is over, the beans are made to dry and loose their moisture content. This is done by keeping them under sun for many days. This step is also quite delicate as optimum temperature requirements and the time of drying have to be kept in mind or it will mar the taste of the chocolate. The beans are now ready for the next step, i.e. marketing.
Marketing and Processing
The beans are then shipped to the processing centers. While buying them from farmers, the buyers ensure the quality of fermented beans. The manufacturers clean and roast them. This is followed by removal of the outermost shell to take out the nibs. These nibs are crushed to convert them into fluid called chocolate liquor.
Blending and Tempering
The liquor obtained from the previous step is mixed in varying proportion with cocoa butter; this gives rise to a whole lot of flavors. Sugar, milk powder, vanilla, and emulsifying agents are also added. The resultant mixture is grinded and given a smooth texture by conching. This continues for 3-4 days and the fluid so obtained is kept in heated tanks. Now comes the last step. The chocolate mass is subjected to crystallization. Depending upon the rate and degree of formation of crystal, the chocolate so formed is soft or firm.
It is entirely made up of beans and has no sugar content in it.
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Due to its bitter taste, it is not consumed directly; it is often used in baking products and cooking.
Its main ingredients are cocoa butter, liquor, and condensed milk.
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Most milk chocolates contain atleast 12% milk products and 10% chocolate liquor.
The cocoa content in dark chocolates is as high as 80 %; there are no milk solids present in them.
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They are comprised mainly of cocoa butter, liquor, emulsifiers and sugar.
It is distinguished for not having any chocolate liquor in it. The sugar is as high as 55% with cocoa butter and milk solids in small proportion.
As no liquor is present, it does not even taste like a chocolate.
The other types are sweet dark, gianduja, couverture, and confectionary coated.
Companies like Hershey, Mars, Nestle, and Kraft Foods are the major players of chocolate industry. Hershey is the biggest name in this regard and is followed by Mars. Western and European countries garner profits in billions via this business and it gives employment to a large chunk of their population. For cocoa farmers, it is a cumbersome process to cultivate, ferment and dry the beans and finally earn money from it.
Today chocolate is being used in a wide variety of food products and is savored equally by both young and adults.