When you think of cocoa butter, you probably think about Palmers or Queen Helene‘s cocoa butter lotion and cream. I remember as a child loving the sweet smell of Palmer’s cocoa butter on my freshly washed face. But it was so greasy. Queen Helene’s lotion was watered down and had no remnants of the sweetness Palmer’s butter provided.
On my trip to Ghana in 2019, I went to the Aburi mountains with my family. As we drove up the street they were ladies on the sidewalk selling fruits and produce. Soursop, star fruit, sour orange, passion fruit, and all other fruits we call here in the states by european classification “superfoods”. I noticed the cacao fruit amongst their items.
We continued our journey to the botanical gardens and were presented with an array of passionate dedicated and intelligent staff members. After numerous minutes of dialogue and questions, I was gifted with the cacao fruit. I was informed that many of the women who sold our fruits have never tasted chocolate in their life. These women created chocolate from seed to bar and couldn’t tell you how it tastes in its finished product. We left the fresh air of the botanical gardens and drove back down the sloped road. I asked my dear cousin to stop the car as we pulled up towards the market ladies. We bought all the fruits we can, including the cacao fruit.
We then continued our trip back to Accra. I allowed the fruit to ripen and had my aunt and grandmother help me open the fruit. Exposed was a collection of individual seeds covered in off-white flesh. I sucked on the pulp which has an indescribable flavor. Thai Richards describes it as juicy fruit, which is the closest comparison. Notes of citrus, honey, and custard apple covered my mouth. It tastes nothing like Hershey’s bland chocolate bar.
The Makings of chocolate
The fermentation process is a crucial step in chocolate production. The cacao seeds are placed in a large, covered container and left to ferment for several days. During this time, the seeds are exposed to heat and moisture, which causes them to undergo biochemical changes. These changes are what gives chocolate its distinct flavor and aroma.
Once the fermentation process is complete, the seeds are spread out on large drying racks and left to dry in the sun. This can take several days, and the seeds must be regularly turned to ensure even drying. The drying process is important because it removes any excess moisture from the seeds and helps to further develop their flavor.
Once the seeds are fully dry, they are roasted to bring out their rich, complex flavor. The roasting process is another crucial step in chocolate production, as it helps to develop the characteristic nutty and caramel notes that are present in high-quality chocolate.
After roasting, the seeds are crushed to remove the outer shell and reveal the cocoa nibs. The nibs are then ground into a fine paste, which is known as chocolate liquor. At this stage, the chocolate is still quite bitter and intense, and it is not yet suitable for eating.
To make the chocolate more palatable, sugar and milk are added to the chocolate liquor. The mixture is then conched, a process that involves grinding and kneading the chocolate to give it a smooth, silky texture. Conching can take several hours or even days, depending on the desired texture and flavor of the final product.
Once the chocolate has been conched, it is tempered to give it a shiny, smooth appearance. This involves heating and cooling the chocolate to specific temperatures, which helps to ensure that the cocoa butter and other ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the chocolate. Finally, the chocolate is poured into molds and left to cool and solidify. Once it is fully hardened, it can be removed from the molds and packaged for sale.
Making chocolate from scratch is a time-consuming and labor-intensive process, but it is also incredibly rewarding. By creating chocolate from seed to bar, one gains a deeper appreciation for the skill and artistry involved in chocolate production.
Or, of course, if you can get your hands on the raw product, enjoy it in its most natural state.