Chocolate is produced from the seed of the evergreen cacao tree (Theobroma cacao), a native of tropical regions in the Americas. The seed of this tree is extraordinarily bitter, as anyone who has tasted unsweetened chocolate can attest.
With high quality, dark chocolate products, there is typically a percentage of cacao indicated on the label. The more cacao, the more bitter the treat. So what is the secret for transforming bitter beans into mouth-watering, rich chocolate?
How Chocolate Is Made
There is a lot more than you might think involved in the production of chocolate bars and candies. It all starts with processing of the cacao bean.
In order for the cacao beans’s flavor to be developed, it must first be extracted from the shell, and then fermented, dried, cleaned and roasted. After this process, the bean is ultimately referred to as a cacao nib.
The nibs are usually ground, to release the oil within them. The heat of grinding transforms the nibs into chocolate liquor; a very dark, thick substance which can be poured into molds. Upon hardening, the liquor becomes the solid bitter chocolate used for baking and candy-making.
Transforming Chocolate from Bitter to Sweet
To make chocolate sweet, other substances, such as sugar, cocoa butter, a sometimes other flavorings, are added. Cocoa butter, a byproduct of the cocoa making process, is obtained by separating the fat from the rest of the ground nib. The butter of the cacao bean is what gives chocolate its rich, smooth, melt-in-your-mouth consistency.
Once the ingredients are blended, chocolate is often subjected to a process known as conching. Conching uses many small metal beads to grind up the chocolate, breaking it down into microscopic bits to remove the grittiness. The end product is smooth, rich chocolate. The longer the chocolate is conched, the smoother and higher quality it will be.
The final step in chocolate production is tempering. Crystals form when chocolate cools from a liquid to a solid, and tempering ensures that the chocolate crystals are uniform in size. This is important, because if the crystals vary widely, the chocolate will be crumbly, and not have that smooth sheen and crisp bite that is part of the chocolate eating experience.
What Is White Chocolate?
White chocolate is still chocolate, but made without the use of the dark chocolate liquor. The only component of white chocolate that comes from the bean is cacao butter. Without the dark liquor, the chocolate product stays light in color. Sugars and other flavors are then added to sweeten it up.
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