The UK loves chocolate
It’s official: the UK loves chocolate. According to the British Heart Foundation, during their lifetime the average Brit will consume 7,560 chocolate bars, 2,268 slices of chocolate cake and 8,316 chocolate biscuits!
But what is chocolate made of and where does it come from? If you’re looking for answers, keep reading!
Chocolate grows on trees!
What is chocolate made of?
Well, the ingredient that makes chocolate... err... chocolate, is cocoa beans. Cocoa beans are found inside cacao pods, which grow on cacao trees.
The cacao tree is a small, evergreen tree that’s native to the tropical regions of Mesoamerica. Today, the trees are grown in hot climates all over the world — and extensively in West Africa, which produces around 70% of the world’s cocoa beans.
How many cocoa beans are needed to make chocolate?
One cacao tree bears around 30 cacao pods every year. Each pod contains around 40 cocoa beans — enough to make 1kg of chocolate.
In Britain, we eat around 660,900 tonnes of chocolate every year. To make this amount of chocolate, you’d need 26 billion cocoa beans.
How are cacao pods harvested?
Cacao pods can only be harvested, when they’re fully ripened. At this point they will have grown to around 20cm long and have turned yellow/orange in colour.
Cocoa farming methods haven’t changed since the 1920s. The farmers still harvest the cacao pods by hand, cutting them from the trees with a machete. It’s important that the pods are cut, and not pulled, from the tree to keep the tree healthy and productive.
Preparing the cocoa beans for export
Fermenting the cocoa beans
Cocoa farmers use machetes to slice open the harvested pods’ leathery rind and remove the cocoa beans inside.
The beans in the pod are covered with a sweet, sticky pulp. They’re scraped out onto banana leaves, covered with more banana leaves, and left to ferment on the forest floor for 6 to 10 days.
Fermentation happens naturally, but it helps to stir the beans occasionally. This is a vital part of the process and does two important jobs.
First, it allows the full cacao flavour to develop. Second, it destroys the seed coat and germ, which are not needed. The part that’s left behind is called the kernel and this is what’s used to make the chocolate.
Drying the cocoa beans
The cocoa beans that have fermented are taken to the cocoa villages where they’re left to dry in the sun for 5 to 10 days.
Sorting the cocoa beans
The dried cocoa beans must be sorted to remove any bad ones. This includes flat beans, and beans that have broken, germinated or turned mouldy.
The best beans are put into sacks and exported to the chocolate makers.
How is chocolate made from cocoa beans?
When the dried beans reach the chocolate manufacturer, they go through several more processes. Here are those processes, step by step:
The beans are removed from the sacks, then cleaned and roasted.
Roasting is important. It removes any organisms and destroys any bacteria left over from the fermenting process. And it brings out the flavour, so your chocolate will taste amazing.
As the beans are roasted, the the cocoa nibs inside separate from the outer husks. Winnowing uses machines to crack the bean open and remove the husks completely, leaving just the cocoa nibs behind.
The roasted cocoa nibs are ground into a paste. This is known as cocoa mass and contains equal portions of cocoa solids and cocoa butter.
Cocoa mass has a strong chocolate aroma and a rich bitter taste, which come purely from the cocoa solids. Cocoa butter is a fat. It has no smell or flavour, but gives the chocolate its meltingly smooth texture.
In this part of the process, sugar and flavourings are added to the cocoa mass, plus milk powder if it will be milk chocolate. These are ground further, into a smooth velvety paste.
The conched paste is then blended with more cocoa butter. The amount of cocoa butter depends on the type of chocolate that’s being made.
The lighter the colour of the chocolate, the more cocoa butter is used. Dark chocolate contains the least and white chocolate contains the most.
Tempering involves heating and cooling the blended paste to different temperatures. The process breaks down crystals that form in the cocoa butter to give the chocolate its trademark smooth texture and uniform colour.
The tempered chocolate is then shaped into bars or poured into individual chocolate moulds and filled.
Craving some chocolate?
Bother sells a whole range of chocolate bars, biscuits, drinks and spreads. They include a number of fair trade brands, which give cocoa farmers a better deal. Below are some of our favourites:
- Tony's Chocolonely Fairtrade Milk Chocolate
- Tony's Chocolonely Fairtrade Dark Chocolate Almond Sea Salt
- Tony's Chocolonely Fairtrade Milk Chocolate Caramel Sea Salt
- Tony's Chocolonely Fairtrade Dark Milk Chocolate Pretzel Toffee
- Cafédirect Fairtrade Drinking Chocolate San Cristobal
You can browse our full chocolate range here.