Cocoa is probably best known today as the raw material for chocolate.
Cocoa seeds, better known as cocoa beans are the source of commercial cocoa. Fermented seeds are roasted, cracked and ground to give a powdery mass from which fat is expressed. The three intermediate cocoa products are cocoa liquor, cocoa butter and cocoa powder.
Cocoa butter is used in the manufacture of chocolate. It is also widely used in cosmetic products such as moisturising creams and soaps. Cocoa powder can be used as an ingredient in almost any foodstuff. For example, it is used in chocolate flavored drinks, chocolate flavored desserts such as ice cream and mousse, chocolate spreads and sauces, and cakes and biscuits. Cocoa liquor is used, with other ingredients, to produce chocolate. Chocolate is used as a product on its own or combined with other ingredients to form confectionery products.
The cocoa tree grows best in tropical regions, on a belt between approximately 20° north and 20° south of the equator. Most cocoa is grown at an altitude of less than 400 metres (1,200 feet) above sea level. Ideal temperatures are between 18°C and 32°C (65°F to 90°F). Rainfall should be at least 1,000 mm but not more than 3,000 mm (400 to 1,100 inches) per year. For optimal production, the tree requires protection from direct sunlight and excessive winds.
Cocoa trees can grow to a height of around 10 metres when shaded by large forest trees. The fruit, or pod, is between 15 and 25 em (6 to 10 inches) long, and contains 30 to 40 seeds, which become cocoa beans when fermented and dried. The pods grow both along the main stem of the tree and throughout the canopy. A cocoa tree becomes productive four to five years after planting and can remain productive for several decades.
Criollo: mildflavour cocoa grown in parts of Venezuela, Central America, Papua New Guinea, the West Indies, Sri Lanka, East Timor and Java.
Forastero: provides the bulk of the 'basic' cocoa beans produced.
Trinitario: found mainly in the West Indies a cross between Criollo and Forastero
Harvesting cocoa consists of plucking the ripe pods from the trees, breaking them open, extracting the seeds from the pods, allowing them to ferment, and setting them out to dry - preferably in the open air and in sunshine. The dried seeds are bagged and brought to market as 'cocoa beans'. On some larger plantations this natural drying process may be assisted or even totally replaced by the use of artificial heat. When the cocoa is dried artificially, however, without the proper aeration, the acetic acid present in the beans does not have the chance to escape fully, rendering them more acidic and thus less acceptable.
After the cocoa beans have been received at the processing location, they are inspected and thoroughly cleaned of all extraneous matter, such as sticks, stones, metal fragments, as well as broken beans. This process involves blowers, which remove items that are lighter or heavier than cocoa beans, and sieves which eliminate items that are too small or too big.
Once the beans are cleaned, the processor has the option of roasting them before the shell is removed, or of removing the shell before roasting. Cocoa beans which have had their shells removed are the nib. Generally speaking, chocolate manufacturers prefer to roast the beans before shelling them, while
cocoa processors favour the nib-roasting process.
Bean roasting allows for more variety in the degree of roast and development of flavour, but requires beans of a uniform size, while nib roasting is more even and does not require uniform bean size. Removing the shell before roasting prevents migration of cocoa butter from the bean into the shell during the roasting process. This migration is an important yield factor.
Once the beans have been shelled and roasted (or roasted and shelled, as the case may be), the nib is ground into a paste. The heat generated by this process causes the cocoa butter in the nib to melt, hence the name' cocoa liquor'. It is also known as 'cocoa paste', 'chocolate paste', 'cocoa mass' or, as for example in the United States food standards of identity, simply as 'chocolate'. Once further refined, it is also called 'unsweetened baking chocolate'.
Cocoa liquor destined for processing in/cocoa butter and cake is refined to a very small particle size, as it is easier to reduce the particle size earlier, when the butter is still present, rather than later, when most of the butter has been pressed out. A smaller particle size makes butter extraction easier.
Cocoa liquor destined for chocolate production need not be as finely ground. Indeed, a larger particle size is preferable because it requires less cocoa butter than finely ground liquor to give the same mouth feel to the finished chocolate. This is an important economic consideration.
In the cocoa-processing operation, the liquor is now fed into hydraulic presses that remove a predetermined percentage of the cocoa butter, leaving behind a cake which, according to the processor's requirements, may contain anything from 6% to 24% of cocoa butter. The cocoa butter so extracted is then filtered and stored in tanks in liquid form until ready to be turned over to the chocolate
operation, if at the same location. Otherwise it is shipped to its final destination either in liquid form in tank trucks or in moulded form in cartons. It is sold as 'pure, prime pressed, natural' cocoa butter, usually considered to be best quality, particularly if made from all-Mrican cocoa beans.
The cocoa cake is either broken into smaller pieces (kibbled) and sold into the generic cocoa cake market, or it is ground into a fine powder. It is called natural because it has not been treated with alkali, as discussed below. Natural cocoa powder is primarily used in the baking and confectionery industry and often forms the flavour base for compound coatings.
The cocoa processor has the option of treating the nib or the liquor with an alkali solution (alkalizing), which will reduce the acidity by increasing the normal pH factor from about 5.0 up to 8.0. This treatment is also known as 'dutching'. It was invented in the late 1800s by the Dutchman C. J. Van Houten, who developed the cocoa butter pressing operation as well.
Alkalizing cocoa nib or cocoa liquor renders the powder darker, gives it a milder, but more chocolaty flavour, and allows it to stay in suspension longer in liquids such as milk. It generally commands a premium over natural cocoa powder. Although dubbed 'soluble', cocoa powders are not truly soluble in liquids - they are 'wettable'.
On the other hand, the cocoa butter extracted from alkalized liquor does have a more pungent and less desirable odour and flavour, and must be deodorized (normally by steaming it), as well as refined. It is then carefully blended with other cocoa butters, so that the resulting final butter for sale is consistent in its bland flavour, colour and viscosity. Typical of these butters are those marketed by the Netherlands cocoa-processing industry and known by their brand names.
Virtually all the cocoa butter produced by the international cocoa processing industry is used in the manufacture of chocolate, where it must be added to the liquor to achieve the desired result. The pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries, which also use cocoa butter, may obtain their requirements from sources using solvent extraction or methods other than pressing cocoa butter from cocoa shell. Some may use cocoa beans that are not suitable as a food item
West Africa continues to be the leader in world cocoa production, with roughly 70% of the supply. Asia and the Americas produce 16% and 14% respectively.