Harvesting and Processing the Cacao Fruit

The cacao fruit goes through a long and extensive process before it is made into the delicious chocolate that we all love. Learn how the cacao fruit puree is processed to become tasty chocolate.

Process of making chocolate from cacao fruit

A native of South and Central Americal rainforests,Cacao fruit cacao trees are now cultivated in many tropical locations all around the world. Generally, there are two methods used to establish cacao tree plantation. Young trees are interspersed with temporary or permanent shade trees like bananas, coconut and plantains. In large plantations in Asia, coconut and cacao trees are planted together and are both harvested commercially. Alternatively, forest trees are thinned out and cacao trees are planted between established trees.

Popular Types of Cocoa Pods

1. Forestero

Making up the greater part of all cacao fruit grown, Forastero is vigorous and hardy, producing beans with the strongest flavor. The variety is most widely grown in Brazil and West Africa is Amelondaro. IT has pale purple beans and a smooth yellow pod.

2. Criollo

With its weak flavor, Criollo is grown in South and Central America and Indonesia. Criollo trees are not as hardy, producing softer red pods with pale purple beans.

3. Trinitario

Plants not found in the wide are cultivated hybrids of the first two types. Trinitario cacao trees are mainly grown in the Caribbean, as well as in Papua New Guinea and Cameroon. They have mostly hard pods with beans of varying color.

Harvesting the Cacao Fruit

Harvesting cacao fruit pods is labor-intensive. In fact, in West Africa small holdings, the whole family, along with neighbors and friends help out. Ripe pods are gathered every few weeks during the peak season. High pods are cut with knives attached to poles, ensuring that the flowers or buds are not damaged. The pods are then collected in baskets that workers will carry on their heads and piled up ready for splitting.

The pods are split open by hand and the fruit beans and seeds (which are covered with mucilage (a sweet white pulp) are removed and are made ready to undergo the second part of the curing process, which is fermentation and drying. This will prepare the beans for the market, and is the first stage in the development of the chocolate flavor.

Processing the Cacao Beans

1. Fermentation

In this process, the cacao fruit pulp that clings to the beans matures and turns into a liquid that is drained away for the true chocolate flavor to start developing. There are several fermentation methods from one country to another, but there are two main methods when fermenting cocoa fruit puree: using heaps and sweating boxes.

2. Drying and bagging

Once fermentation is complete, the wet mass of beans is dried. The cured beans are packed into sacks for transportation. After quality inspection, they are shipped to the processing factory where the cacao fruit beans are cleaned and sorted.

3. Winnowing

The dried beans are roasted in special ovens. Actual roasting time depends on whether its end use if chocolate or cocoa. During roasting, the cacao fruit nibs darken to this rich, brown color and get the characteristic chocolate aroma and flavor. However, this flavor starts to develop during fermentation.

4. Grinding

The roasted nibs are ground in stone mills until the heat and friction of the milling reduce them to a thick chocolate-flavored liquid, now called mass. It has 50 to 60 percent cocoa butter and solidifies when cooled. This is the basis of all cocoa and chocolate products.

5. Pressing

The cocoa mass is pressed to extra the cocoa butter, which is important in making chocolate. The solid blocks of compressed cacao fruit that remain after extraction are pulverized into a fine powder to create high-grade cocoa powder for use in cooking or in beverages. The cocoa fruit mass, cocoa powder and cocoa butter can then be processed to make chocolate.

There are several cocoa fruit uses, and one of the most popular is in making chocolate. You might see this as a mere sweet treat, but there are many cacao fruit benefits that are carried over to chocolate. You just have to make sure that you consume the right kind of chocolate (the more cocoa content, the better) and in the right amount to experience these benefits.

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