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Chocolate FAQ - FAQ
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Sunday, 14 December 2008 18:44

What is CACAO? 
Cacao, Theobroma cacao, is a tropical evergreen tree in the family Byttneriaceae. It is native to Central and South America and is cultivated extensively for its seed, which is the source of COCOA, CHOCOLATE, and cocoa butter. Cacao is a wide-branched evergreen that grows up to 7.5 m (25 ft) tall and bears seedpods up to 30 cm (1 ft) long and 10 cm (4 in) thick, with a hard leathery shell. Pods contain as many as 40 seeds, or beans, some up to 2.5 cm (1 in) wide. Several species of Theobroma are cultivated in tropical America. The principal species used for cocoa, is grown throughout the wet, lowland tropics, especially in south-east Asia, South America, and West Africa, where the trees are planted under the shade of taller trees. They usually bear fruit 4 years after they have been planted. Workers harvest cacao beans with knives. After extraction from the fruit, the beans are placed in piles, covered with banana leaves, and allowed to ferment; afterward they are dried to prevent moulding. They are then sacked and shipped to chocolate or cocoa manufacturers. Cacao beans were once used as money by the people of Mexico and Central America. There are three broad types of cocao plant: FORASTERO and CRILLO plus TRINITARIO which is a hybrid of Forastero and Crillo. Within these types are several varieties.

What is COCOA? 
Cocoa is finely pulverised de-fatted, roasted CACAO kernels, to which natural and artificial spices and flavours may be added. It is commercially manufactured by pumping hot CHOCOLATE liquor (semi-liquid ground cacao kernels) into hydraulic cage presses where, under extreme pressure, part of the fat, or cocoa butter, is removed. The fat content of cocoa varies from less than 10% to 22% or more for breakfast or high fat cocoa. Cocoa may be Dutch-processed by mild alkali treatment to change and darken colour and improve flavour. Cocoa is the flavouring ingredient in many confections, baked goods, ice creams, puddings, and beverages. It is also used to flavour some tobaccos and pharmaceuticals.

What is the origin of the Cacao tree? 
We don't know much about cacao's origins. The Theobroma gene seems to date back to millions of years ago, whereas the Theobroma Cacao species might be 10 to 15 thousand years old, and maybe they stemmed from the man-made hybridation of species such as the Theobroma pentagona and the Theobroma leiocarpa.

What is the geography of the Cacao tree? 
The cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, is a tropical species having its natural habitat in the lower layer of the rainy forest. All wild-growing cacao species live between the 18°N and the 15°S, in regions characterized by heavy rains (125 to 180 cm per year), high and quite even temperature (18/21°C to 30/32°C), high humidity (70 to 100%) and thick shade. The optimum soil is at least 2 metres deep, made of 50% of sand, 10 to 20% of silica and 40% of clay; its organic matter content is 4% and its pH ranges from 6 to 7.5. The cacao tree starts growing vertically, getting as high as 2 metres. Next, its arms stretch horizontally in a roof-like shape. The standard height of the cocoa tree ranges from 5 and 10 metres. When the cacao tree is 2-3 years old, it can produce flowers. Just 1 to 5% of its flowers will be successfully pollinated by small pollinating insects and midges which reproduce themselves in the decaying vegetation.

How does the Cacao tree grow? 
The cacao tree starts making fruits in the fourth year. In the plantations it is necessary to check weeds, parasites, diseases; to manage the shade; to lope the tree, thereby strengthening it and modify its shape in view of a better productivity; to spray fertilisers, if used; to maintain the access ways and water supply.

What is Cabosse? 
This is the fruit of the cocoa tree, which flowers almost all year round, with one or two major flowering periods. The plant of the STERCULIACEE family is defined with the botanical name THEOBROMA CACAO L. and its most prolific flowering period is during the tenth to the twelfth year in the life of the tree. Cocoa pods have differing shapes and sizes. The Cabosse that hangs directly down from the trunk of the tree weighs between 300 and 700 grams per pod.

What is Criollo? 
The word Criollo means "Creole" in Spanish. The Criollo bean was originally grown in Mexico. Its organoleptic qualities are excellent. The bean is very aromatic, just slightly bitter and has a delicate flavour. It is the finest quality of cocoa, but never exceeds yields of more than 1% of world production. It is primarily grown in Venezuela.

What is Trinitario? 
This is a hybrid cocoa variety, originally grown in the lower Amazon region. It is made from crossbreeding Criollo and Forastero beans and it displays characteristics of both varieties. The first Trinitario cocoa trees were grown widely in Trinidad, and were introduced onto the American continent only during the 19th century, first in Venezuela and later in Ecuador. Today, Trinitario cocoa is grown in all the countries where Criollo was once grown: Mexico, Trinidad, the Caribbean, Colombia, Venezuela, and in part in South-East Asia.

What is Porcelana? 
This is the first chocolate in the world produced exclusively with cocoa beans of a single genetic variety, called "Porcelana". It is believed that Porcelana cocoa was grown in the south-western area of Venezuela as early as Pre-Colombian times. According to historical sources, it seems that at the time of the conquest, this cocoa was already being grown in the same area where Porcelana still grows today and was used mainly as a beverage and during ceremonies held by the indigenous people. In colonial times, Porcelana cocoa was called Maracaibo, since it was primarily exported from this Venezuelan port. Until the 1920's, Maracaibo cocoa was classified as one of the world's highest quality cocoas, along with a few other Mexican and Colombian cocoas beans. Unfortunately, Porcelana cocoa is not very resistant against disease and the Mexican and Colombian cocoas of this genetic quality have disappeared. In these areas, you can now find only hybrid cocoas with inferior organoleptic qualities. The unmistakable toasted almond flavour enhances the unique characteristics of this prized cocoa variety.

How is Cacao harvested? 
The cacao tree makes fruit following a constant cycle and generally it provides two harvesting periods: before and after the rainy seasons. It takes about 6 months from pollination for a tree to produce ripe fruit. The world average harvesting is lower than 3 million tons per year. About 80% of worldwide cacao is grown in 1 to 2-hectare plantations. The yield per hectare changes a lot. There are plantations exploiting advanced techniques whose yield can exceed 2 tons, whereas others produce less than 100 Kg. The rough world average is about 500 Kg per hectare per year, where 25 fruits give one Kilo of dried product and an optimum of 800 trees per hectare.

What is fermentation? 
Cacao beans fermentation takes place, according to the countries, in baskets, wooden boxes or cylinders stored away from light. Cacao beans should be wheeled in order to ease an even fermentation. It is during fermentation that the cacao beans start developing their flavors. Their sugar content, their low pH, the anaerobic conditions promote the activity of 16 kinds of yeast, which turn sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The bacteria start to oxide alcohol into lactic acid first and into acetic acid next. The latter produces heat, making the temperature achieve 50°C. The fermentation process lasts from 3 days (for some criollo varietals) to 6/7 days.

What is drying? 
This process is basically aimed at lowering the humidity rate to 6-7%, even if the chemical reactions occurred during fermentation continue in this stage as well. Drying can be done by the sun or by artificial techniques. Sunlight drying lasts a few days and gives better results, as the acetic acid has time to be let out. Next, cacao beans are stored into jute sacks and ready to be sold on the market. On average, each cacao bean contains 6.5% of water; it consists of 2 cotyledons accounting for 87.1% with 4 to 5% of humidity, a germ accounting for 0.9% and a shell making 12%, with an 8 to 10% humidity content.

What is cleaning? 
A special machine takes off any foreign matter such as jute fibres, stones, sand, metals, seed bunches by means of air suction, magnetic separators and brushes.

What is roasting? 
By roasting, humidity is lowered down to 2 or 3% and flavors start developing through the Maillard reaction. The aroma of roasted cacao is made of a combination of compounds resulting from fermentation and not involved in roasting, compounds resulting from fermentation and increased by roasting, and finally new compounds which are developed during roasting. Generally speaking, during the roasting process of fermented cacao beans quite all reducing sugars and 40% of free amino acids are consumed.

What is Winnowing? 
This step is based on the different density of the shell and cotyledon and is helped by the combined action of blades and air. The aim is to remove the shell and obtain the cotyledon which is cracked into shelled, de-germed smaller pieces called nibs.

What is grinding? 
This step turns the nibs into the so called chocolate liquor or cacao mass or paste. The nibs contain 53 to 58% of cocoa butter and the warmth and friction of the rollers make it melt into a fluid mass made of 100 micron particles.

What is refining? 
This step reduces the particle size to 25-30 microns both in chocolate liquor and in sugar. In some cases, extra cocoa butter is added to chocolate liquor.


What is Conching? 
Conching is a process which removes humidity and undesired volatiles, reduces the viscosity chocolate liquor, completes the dispersion of solids into cocoa butter and promotes the full development of the cacao flavor.

What is tempering? 
Cocoa butter has a polymorphous structure, namely it is basically made of four types of crystals which melt at different temperatures. By tempering, cocoa butter goes through a number of variations of temperatures and an inner grid of beta, stable crystals is formed. This process results in a smooth taste and good-looking texture of the finished product, preventing cocoa butter from appearing on the surface and form a filmy residue and helps put off chocolate once it has gone through the moulding tunnel.

What varietal of Cacao are there? 
The International Germplasm Database of Cacao drawn up in 1997 includes about 12,500 cacao clones. Its exactness will be tested only when a cost-effective method for the detection of cacao molecular DNA is designed and used as a bar-code for clone identification. Criollo, Forastero and Trinitario are the three leading types of Theobroma cacao. Their difference results from their pod structure, the colour of their beans and the number of beans per pod. The Criollo varietal was probably grown by the Meso-american civilisations. Its fresh beans are thick and have white or pink cotyledons, low acid levels and low bitterness, and once processed they produce a smooth, very flavored cacao. The Forasteros come from the subspecies Theobroma cacao sphaerocarpum, and have flat, violet-coloured beans, with high astringency. They are divided into two species, growing in the Amazonian Highlands and Lowlands respectively, and the latter is the most commonly grown cacao in the world, especially in Brazil (comun and parà) and western Africa. The Trinitario is a hybrid bean of Criollo and Forasteros, emerged after a natural disaster that occurred in Trinidad in 1727 and destroyed the criollo plantations. Thirty years later the Capuchin friars built their missions again and planted some Forastero seeds, that hybridised with the remaining criollo trees and soon the new varietal of Trinitario was born. The latter combines some flavor and sensory features of the Criollo with the strength and high yield of the Forastero. In terms of quality standard, cacao is distinguished into: flavor or fine or special or sweet cacao and bulk cacao. The first includes: Criollo, Trinitario and Nacional, which actually is a Forastero but is the only flavor cacao of this kind and is solely grown in Ecuador. The second group consists of the Forasteros.

Are there any other species in addition to the Theobroma cacao? 
Yes, there are. The Theobroma bicolor is a species similar to the cacao tree, and is grown from southern Mexico to Bolivia and Brazil. Its beans are called pataxte; they are used to make a special drink, and can also produce a chocolate surrogate. The Theobroma grandiflorum, also known as cupuacu in Brazil, is used to make a drink obtained from the pulp surrounding the beans. Today in Amazonia the Arawete and Asurini native Americans grow the Theobroma speciosum; they can produce a chocolate surrogate from it, but more frequently they eat its pulp.

What is the ideal yield of a cacao plant? 
The ideal yield that DOMORI expects from its plantations of flavor cocoa is: 700 plants per hectare - 70-100 fruits per plant - bean index above 1,8 (average weight of the dried bean) - pod index below 17 (number of fruits divided by the weight of dried cacao beans obtained from them) - butter content above 53% - shell not exceeding 11%

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Last Updated ( Sunday, 14 December 2008 19:26 )

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