Earlier this year we visited The Grenada Chocolate Company and had a tour of the cocoa making process that produces the key ingredient for chocolate making. I’d really recommend a visit to the chocolate company if you are lucky enough to be visiting Grenada. They run regular tours, you’ll get to try some of the chocolate and there’s an opportunity to buy some too in their onsite shop.
Fermenting or Sweating
The first step in the processing of cocoa is the fermentation of the fresh beans. Once removed from the pods, the beans are fermented for 5-9 days in large wooden bins that are covered with banana leaves and jute bags.
The cocoa beans themselves are surrounded by a white sweet pulp. The fermentation process begins when yeast converts the sugars in the pulp to alcohol and carbon dioxide. Bacteria oxidize the alcohol into lactic acid and acetic acid. During this process the white pulp liquefies, the bitterness subsides whilst flavour and colour develop.
Fermentation generate temperatures as high as 45 degrees centigrade and activates enzymes that exist within the beans. These enzymes act to enable chemical reactions that produce the compounds that provide the chocolate flavour for the beans when they are roasted.
Cocoa beans are turned from one bin to another every two days to increase oxygenation and to ensure an even fermentation. The end result is a fully fermented bean with a rich brown colour. This rich brown colour is a sign that the cocoa is now ready for drying.
Fermented beans must be dried to preserve them. They are placed on wooden trays with wheels or in sliding racks to dry in the sun. this process takes approximately 5-7 days. The cocoa farmer walk through the beans regularly to maximise their exposure to the sunshine and the air, plus this quickens the drying process. During that time, any defective or germinating beans are removed. If it rains the trays can be pushed under cover. Properly dried beans crackle when rubbed together in your hands.
Drying reduces the moisture content of the beans from around 60% to just 7.5%. The process must be carried out carefully to ensure that undesirable flavours do not develop, for example this can happen if the beans are dried too quickly or too slowly.
The beans are ground up and after that the process varies depending on the product being produced. The beans can be used to make cocoa butter, cocoa powder or used in chocolate making.