The first cacao trees grew wild in the Amazon basins in north Brazil. Today cacao is cultivated in tropical climates. The cacao tree likes climates within 10 to 20 degrees of the Equator. The trees need warm, humid weather and loose rich soil. They also like shaded sunlight with little or no wind. The largest growers of the cacao tree are Brazil, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, and Nigeria.
||Three main varieties of cacao beans are grown today. The criollo bean is a native of Central America. Approximately 10 to 15 percent of the cacao trees are criollo. These trees are small and hard to grow. The forastero cacao is much easier to grow and makes of 70 percent of all the cacao grown. The forastero is more bitter than the criollo. The third type of cacao bean is the trinitario. It is a cross between the criollo and the forastero. About twenty percent of the cacao beans produced are forastero.|
Three main varieties of cacao beans are grown today. The criollo bean is a native of Central America. Approximately 10 to 15 percent of the cacao trees are criollo. These trees are small and hard to grow. The forastero cacao is much easier to grow and makes of 70 percent of all the cacao grown. The forastero is more bitter than the criollo. The third type of cacao bean is the trinitario. It is a cross between the criollo and the forastero. About twenty percent of the cacao beans produced are forastero.
Although cacao trees grow about sixty feet in the wild, plantation owners trim them to about 20 feet so that workers can reach the pods at harvest time. Since the cacao tree prefers shade banana trees, rubber trees, or coconut palms are planted beside the cacao tree in the orchard.
The pods take five to six months to develop. When the pods ripen they turn from green or yellow to orange or red. Cacao trees can be harvested twice a year. Workers use a machete to cut the pods off the trees. They are placed on banana leaves in large wooden boxes. They are left to ferment for several days. Criollo beans usually ferment for two to three days while forastero and trinitario beans fervent three to seven days. During fermentation the beans become darker and wrinkled and lose their bitter taste.
After fermentation the beans are sun-dried for several days. They are then packed in burlap sacks and shipped to factories. When the beans arrive at the chocolate factory they are sorted and cleaned. The beans are roasted at 250 to 350° degrees for thirty minutes to two hours depending on the type of bean. They are roasted in large revolving drums. The cacao beans give off a wonderful aroma during the roasting process.
After roasting the beans are winnowed. This is the process that removes the outer shell. The shells are sold as animal feed. The inner nib is then crushed then heated to melt the cocoa butter and ground to a thick paste. This paste is called chocolate liquor, but contains no alcohol.
If the nibs are to become Dutch-processed cocoa they are treated with an alkali. If left untreated with alkali the chocolate liquor becomes cocoa powder. To make cocoa power a large press extracts all but 10 to 25 percent the cocoa butter from the chocolate liquor. The remaining cake is then ground and sifted through fine nylon, silk, or wire mesh. Low fat cocoa contains between 10 to 13 percent fat where high-fat contains 15 to 25 percent. Low-fat cocoa is usually used for cocoa drinks. The high-fat cocoa is used to flavor desserts.
To make unsweetened or "baking" chocolate the chocolate liquor is molded and solidified. Dark chocolate is made by combining chocolate liquor with sugar, cocoa butter, and vanilla. To make milk chocolate chocolate liquor is combined with cocoa butter, sugar, and milk solids or powder. White chocolate is made without chocolate liquor. It is the cocoa butter that gives it the chocolate flavor. Dipping chocolate is made with more cocoa butter than regular eating chocolate.
Chocolate is mixed with .3 to .5 lecithin. This helps it mix more easily and makes the chocolate smoother. Another type of chocolate is gianduia. It is a blend of chocolate and roasted hazelnuts.
Once the ingredients are combined the chocolate mixture goes through a refining process. It is kneaded between large steel rollers. This make the mixture smooth. Next is it conched. During this process the liquid mixtures is heated and continuously mixed, ground, and stirred. High quality chocolate is conched for several days and lower quality chocolate are conched for onbly a few hours.
After conched the chocolate is tempered. This is the process that gradually raises then lowers and raises the temperature to a set degrees. Now the chocolate is ready to be molded into chocolate bars.
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