Ripe pods are carefully cut by hand to ensure the flower is not damaged and the vacant pod opening is sealed for the next incoming pod. The entire process of blossom to fruit takes about nine to ten months.
HOW TO TELL WHEN A POD IS RIPE
Pods are generally identified by color when it comes to ripeness but you can also tell by gently shaking a pod. The ripe pods, have loose beans and sound like a shaking rattle.
WHEN PODS ARE HARVESTED
Cacao pods are harvested around the clock in all months of the year. But the vast majority are harvested in the six months between October and March.
They are then cut in half exposing the seeds, which will eventually become cocoa beans. Initially though, these seeds are covered in white pulpy material.
Each pod is roughly the size of an American Leather Football. Each pod contains ~40 cacao beans.
It takes about 40 beans to produce a 2 oz. bar of 70% dark chocolate.
The seeds are then set out on racks/banana leaves and left to dry in the sun. Fermentation begins and takes about seven to ten days. Interestingly, the nutritional value of these beans are remarkably high for such small volume. Nutritional breakdown of the seeds/fruit is as follows:
14% Salt-free essences
After the beans are weighed and grouped, they go through a quality control to ensure high quality beans. As with most seasonal goods, yields may vary qualitatively as well as quantitatively.
THE COCOA BELT
All the chocolate in the world is grown in what is commonly known as the ‘cocoa belt’. This signifies the geographic area 20º North and South of the equator which contains a hot and damp climate. This belt is responsible for all the cacao that fuels the 9.8 Billion dollar industry.
Depending on whether it is craft chocolate or not, this could vary a bit. Generally for mass chocolate makers, the beans are now transported to a manufacturer either in the home country or across the sea.
by annual revenue
The beans are sifted and cleaned to remove any unwanted particles from the initial batches. Then they are heated to loosen their shells.
This is the most important stage for determining flavor and color.
Roasting can take anywhere from 20-40 minutes.
The beans now go through a process known as cracking & winnowing which rolls the beans down cascading shelves and separates the nibs from their husks. The husks are then vacuumed up and away leaving you with the true prize: the nib.
The nibs are ground against each other with pressure causing them to liquify into a single homogenous chocolate liquor. The level of particle size is rather dependent on dwell time in the grinding chamber than the grinding itself. The faster the material is fed the coarser the end product.
Nibs are highly bitter products and are often used by craft and home brewers to create Chocolate Porter. With their distinct taste you only need 6-8 oz. for every 5 gallons.
These include sugar, milk, and cocoa butter depending on the desired product end. The ingredient ratios/portions are dependent on what type of chocolate is the end goal: milk, dark, etc. The result is a batter so thick it resembles cookie dough.
This dough is then squeezed again under extreme pressure to convert it back into a liquid state.
The liquor is generally now spread out and mixed to ensure homogeneity throughout.
The ability to temper chocolate to solid form has only been in known existence for a mere eight generations or so (sources indicate since 1847).
These molds can vary in size, shape, dimension, and inform the overall form the chocolate takes once it sets. This also polishes the chocolate to give it the nice shine we all love.
TRULY 'BIG CHOCOLATE'
The largest chocolate bar ever made weighed over 5,000 pounds and was made in Italy in 2000. The largest slab of fudge was over 2,000 pounds and was made in Canada.
And pleasurably devoured by you!