Ask A Scientist

How is chocolate made?

Asked by: Hayden Smith
School: Maine Endwell Middle School
Grade: 6
Teacher: Mr. Wagstaff
Hobbies/Interests: Hunting, baseball, basketball, football and archery.

Answer from John E. Enright II, CEC

Campus Executive Chef, Binghamton University

Research area: Culinary Arts
Interests/hobbies: Coaching youth sports, traveling, teaching and entertaining.
Family: Wife, Amy and three children, Kyle, Patrick and Mitchell
Web page address: http://budining.com/index.html

Chocolate production starts with a small tropical tree, simply called, “cacao.” (ka-KOW). Cacao is native to Central and South America, but it is grown commercially throughout the tropics. About 70% of the world’s cacao is grown in Africa.

A cacao tree produces a ridged, football shaped pod, the pods (not quite like the “I pod” of today), hold a sticky white pulp and about 30-40 seeds. The seeds (which we call beans) are incredibly bitter, not at all like the finished chocolate that comes from them.

First, the pods are harvested, by workers on the ground, using a machete to cut them down. The pods are then opened by hand, carefully not to damage the beans inside.

Next is the fermentation process. The beans are placed in pits or wooden bins and covered with banana leaves, then left to ferment. The heat of fermentation changes the bitter flavor in the beans into something more edible.

After fermentation, the beans are dried in the sun for about a week. Once the beans are dry, they are shipped to a factory that actually processes the cacao beans.

The beans are roasted in large, rotating ovens, at temperatures of about 210-290F for one to two hours. The heat brings out more flavor and aroma, and it dries and darkens the beans.

Later the cacao beans are cracked and the outer shells are blown way, leaving the crushed and broken pieces called “nibs.”  At this point we have something edible and really chocolaty, but still bitter.

The cacao nibs are then crushed and ground into a thick paste called chocolate liquor (there is no alcohol in it).  Chocolate liquor by itself is bitter and not very smooth and creamy. To sweeten it up and improve the texture, the manufacturer will add things like sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla, and milk.

You could eat this now, and it would taste pretty good, but it wouldn’t have the texture you associate with a chocolate bar. The cacao and the sugar are still pretty grainy at this point, so the mixture runs through a series of steel rollers to refine the texture.

To further refine the texture, and to really bring out the flavor, the mixture is run through a chocolate making machine that mixes and mashes and swirls and aerates the chocolate. At this point some more cocoa butter and maybe some soy lecithin gets added to give the chocolate a silky smooth texture. This process can last a few hours for inexpensive chocolates, and up to six days for the higher quality chocolate.

The chocolate is then tempered by stirring it, letting it cool, heating it back up slowly, and repeating the process several times. This will give our chocolate that nice glossy look, and it will help it melt properly.

At this point, the chocolate is poured into the manufacture’s desired shapes and or sent off to the Easter Bunny!

Last Updated: 9/18/13