FROM BLOS­SOM TO BAR

How co­coa grows and is trans­formed into the choco­late we crave

EatingWell - - SWEET POTATOES -

■ The jour­ney starts with tiny or­chid­like flow­ers that bloom on tall, spindly trees grow­ing in a thin belt 10 to 20 de­grees north and south of the Equa­tor. Each tree pro­duces up to 100,000 flow­ers a year.

■ Midges, a type of small bit­ing fly, pol­li­nate be­tween 1 and 5 per­cent of the pink and white blos­soms.

■ Roughly 2 per­cent of pol­li­nated flow­ers pro­duce pods—around 20 to 30 per tree—which ripen five to six months later. Af­ter har­vest­ing, the fruits are cut open with ma­chetes and the pulpy ca­cao seeds are scooped out.

■ The seeds are then fer­mented in wooden boxes or un­der ba­nana leaves, where bac­te­ria and yeast cause the thin layer of pulp to dis­in­te­grate. This mi­cro­bial ac­tiv­ity is key to fla­vor de­vel­op­ment, where tan­ta­liz­ing aroma com­pounds be­gin to de­velop and off-fla­vors dis­si­pate.

■ The seeds, now re­ferred to as beans, are dried, sorted and shipped around the world. (Once pro­cess­ing be­gins the beans are called co­coa, rather than ca­cao.)

■ When the beans reach the maker or man­u­fac­turer, they’re sorted, roasted, bro­ken and shelled.

■ The smaller pieces, called co­coa nibs, are ground into a paste, mixed for sev­eral days to im­prove tex­ture, and tem­pered—a process of heat­ing and cool­ing that re­ar­ranges the fat mol­e­cules in co­coa and im­proves the look, tex­ture and melt of the end prod­uct.

■ Fi­nally, molten choco­late is poured into molds, chilled and pack­aged. The en­tire process from blos­som to bar can take seven to eight months.

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