Raise your hand if you’re a self proclaimed chocolate lover! Whether you enjoy dark or milk chocolate, bon bons or bars, single-origin or blended, we can all agree that chocolate sparks joy in our lives. But do you know how cacao is turned into one of the most beloved treats in the world?
In Ecuador, cacao has been around since prehistoric times. Ranked 4th in the world for cacao production after the Ivory Coast, Ghana and Indonesia, they help to grow 65% of the world’s production and export 86.45 million pounds of cocoa beans to the US.
In celebration of National Chocolate Lover’s month, this February, the ProEcuador council in New York City visited ICC to discuss the intricacies of Ecuadorian cacao. As experts in exportable goods and services from Ecuador, alongside Ecuadorian chocolatier Jenny Samaniego of Conexion Chocolate, they shared their vast knowledge of cacao—from harvesting, fermenting and roasting to packaging and consumption—in a tasting of single origin cacao beans and chocolates. Below, check out what we learned about the different steps to turning cacao into chocolate!
The harvesting of cacao pods is a culmination of years of hard work. It can take anywhere from 3-5 years for the trees to grow to the point that the flowers, and eventually cacao pods, will be ready to harvest.
Once ready, each tree produces around 30 pods each, depending on the size. The pods are then cracked open and approximately 40-50 seeds per pod are removed. It takes one tree’s entire annual harvest to make roughly 1 lb of chocolate—that’s a lot of beans!
Fermenting is a crucial step in the cacao to chocolate process. It is through this process that the natural aromas from the beans are brought out, and ultimately how the flavor is developed. As the beans ferment, a liquid excretes out and allows the bean to dry. This process can take around 7 days as the beans are left in the sun to dry, bringing out the flavors.
After the drying process, the beans are cleaned to remove sticks and leaves. Similarly to coffee beans, cacao beans also have to be roasted before being turned into chocolate.
This roasting brings out the flavor from the fermentation process, but duration of roasting and at what temperature will depend on the chocolate manufacturer. During roasting, the bean are opened, allowing the part of the bean that can be eaten to be extracted.
After the roasting is complete, the outer cacao shell is removed the the inner “meat” is extracted. This is ground into a powder, which can also be separated into cocoa butter. It is this cocoa butter that can be liquefied and turned into cocoa liquor, which is then cooled and formed into blocks commonly known as bakers chocolate.
After all of these steps, the once cacao pod is turned into bakers chocolate, ready to be packaged and shipped to manufacturers!