How Dark Chocolate is Made

April 26, 2016

CHICAGO – The botanical name for the cacao tree is Theobroma cacao, which translates to “food of the gods.”  In the April issue of Food Technology magazine, published by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) contributing editor Tara McHugh, PhD, explains the steps taken to create our modern day version of the food of the gods: dark chocolate. 

Step 1: Growing and Harvesting
Dark chocolate begins as a cocoa bean. The beans grow best under the canopy of tropical rain forests typically located within 20 degrees of the equator. Once the pod containing the bean ripens, they are harvested by hand. They are then split open and the beans are removed from the fruit. 

Step 2: Fermentation and Drying

Fermentation is a critical step in developing the full flavor of the cocoa bean. Immediately after harvesting, the beans are fermented and the pulp is liquefied during this process. Fermentation lasts five to seven days, and then the beans are dried in the sun or by specialized driers to stabilize them and prevent mold growth.

Steph 3: Roasting
Once the beans are dry, they are roasted in ovens at temperatures between 105 degrees and 150 degrees Celsius (221 and 302 degrees Fahrenheit) for 20-30 minutes. 

Step 4: Winnowing, Grinding, Milling and Refining
After the beans are roasted, a winnowing machine cracks the shells and leaves pieces of the inner bean called “nibs.” The nibs are then ground, resulting in chocolate liquor: small particles of nibs suspended in oil. At this point, the liquor may be mixed with other ingredients such as cocoa butter, sugar, vanilla or milk. For instance, if milk is added the product will result in milk chocolate. If just cocoa butter is added the product will result in white chocolate.

Step 5: Alkalization
Alkalization includes treating cocoa nibs or cocoa liquor with a mild alkali-solution in order to raise the pH. This can improve the taste by reducing bitterness, increasing solubility and creating a brown/red color. 

Step 6: Conching

A conch is a surface scraping mixer and agitator that evenly distributes cocoa butter within chocolate, which helps develop the flavor.  The conching process can take anywhere from four hours to three days. 

Step 7: Tempering
Tempering is important to control the crystallization of the cocoa butter and allows the crystals to pack tightly together. During tempering, chocolate is first heated to 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) to melt any fat crystals. Then it is cooled to about 27 degrees Celsius (80 degrees Fahrenheit) to allow two different fat crystals to form. Then, the chocolate is reheated to 31 degrees to remove one type of fat crystal, but leaves the other intact. 

Step 8: Forming into Final Products
After tempering, the dark chocolate is ready to be molded into its final product form. 

Read the article in Food Technology magazine here

About IFT
Founded in 1939, the Institute of Food Technologists is committed to advancing the science of food. Our non-profit scientific society—more than 17,000 members from more than 95 countries—brings together food scientists, technologists and related professionals from academia, government and industry. For more information, please visit ift.org.