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Where Does Chocolate Come From? You'll be Amazed to Know

Debopriya Bose Feb 18, 2019
For all those of you who love the taste of chocolate slowly melting in your mouth, have you ever wondered where does chocolate come from? This write-up traces the history of this divine food and travels through the cocoa lands to the factories, from where it is made.
"Where does chocolate come from?" From trees! Surprised? Well, the secret lies inside the pods of cacao (pronounce ka-kow) trees that grow in the tropics.
Wisely named Theobroma which means 'food for gods', it is the beans of the cacao tree from which we get chocolate, that has become synonymous with celebration all over the world!

History of Chocolate

The cacao tree is native to Central and South America. People inhabiting these areas have been using the fruits of this tree since the ancient civilizations that spawned in the region. The Mayans and the Aztecs are known to have made drinks using cacao beans.
They used to ground the cacao fruit seeds and mix them with various seasonings to make a spicy and frothy drink. The pods of the cacao fruits taste bitter, and the word 'chocolate' has its origins in the word 'Xocolatl' that means 'bitter drink' in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs.
Although, Christopher Columbus is said to have been the first to bring cacao beans with him to Spain, the seeds became popular in Europe, only after, the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs. The natives of America were known to mix cacao beans with vanilla, chile pepper, and achiote.
The Europeans removed the chile pepper and added sugar and milk to the process. Later, further modifications were included to make the present day versions. Though, initially it was an item of luxury in Europe, with the Industrial Revolution, chocolate became easily available to the general population.

Manufacturing Process

Now, let us learn about the steps involved in processing the cacao bean to produce chocolate.
● The cacao tree contains fruits or pods that are harvested twice a year. Each pod contains almost 30 to 40 seeds, which is where we get the chocolate from.

● Once the pods are harvested, they are carefully opened by hand, so that the fruits do not get damaged.
● The beans, that are still sticky with the pulp, are then placed in earthen pits or wooden bins which are then, covered with banana leaves and left to ferment. While good quality pods take a couple of days, those that are of a poorer variety take almost a week to ferment. As the beans ferment, the bitter taste becomes more 'chocolaty'.
● After fermentation, the beans are dried in the sun for about a week. The flavor, in the beans, become stronger due to this process.

● Once they have dried, the beans are packed and shipped to the manufacturing units.
● Once in the factory, the beans are sifted for impurities like stones, fragments, etc. Then, as per the requirement of the manufacturer, they are sorted according to their type.
● Next, the beans are roasted in a rotating oven at temperatures between 210 - 290 degree Fahrenheit, for about half an hour to 2 hours. The heat treatment gives a stronger flavor and aroma to the beans and also makes them harder and darker in color.
● The beans are then cracked, and their outer shells winnowed away. What is left are called the 'nibs' - the real chocolate! But this product is bitter. To get the chocolate bar that eveyone loves, the nibs have to be further processed.
● A thick paste, known as chocolate liquor, is made by grinding the cacao nibs. The paste tastes bitter and to change it into more edible forms, sugar, vanilla, cocoa butter, and milk are added to it.
● Now, the chocolate tastes much the way we love it. However, if a bar were to be made from this paste, it would not have a smooth texture. To get a smooth and soft bar, the mixture is 'conched' - a process in which the chocolate is swirled and aerated. More cocoa butter and soy lecithin are added during this process, to make the paste smooth.
● The conching process may last for a couple of hours to up to a week. It may then be stirred further, cooled, and heated slowly. This process is repeated a couple of times, so that, our chocolate has a smooth texture and a fine shiny look!

Major Chocolate Producing Countries

There are quite a few countries that are known to produce chocolate. The top cacao bean producing countries are:
  • Ivory Coast
  • Ghana
  • Indonesia
  • Cameroon
  • Nigeria
  • Brazil
  • Ecuador
  • Dominican Republic
  • Malaysia
Here is a list of some of the countries which have been dominating the chocolate market for very long:
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Holland
  • France
  • Switzerland
  • Finland
  • United Kingdom
It is probably, due to the dominance of the European countries that, when one considers the question "Where does chocolate come from?", it's these countries that first spring to our mind. However, probably, it is the lure of the smell and taste of chocolate that has traveled far out of its land of origin and has established its popularity all over the world!