Cocoa Fermentation – What is that?
Did you know that your cocoa and chocolate is made by tiny microorganisms in a process called cocoa fermentation?
Yes, it is true: the best cocoa and most chocolates are produced by fermentation of the cocoa beans. But let me start right at the beginning: Let’s go and see where your hot chocolate and chocolate bars come from.
Harvesting Cocoa Beans
Cocoa trees stem from South and Central American rainforests. However, nowadays they are grown in various tropical locations worldwide. They start bearing cocoa fruits when they are three to four years old. Throughout the year they produce white and pink flowers. Only some of those flowers develop into cocoa fruits. These are also called cocoa pods. In the end one tree only produced around 20 to 30 fruits per year.
Or in other words: It takes one tree to produce about 500 grams of chocolate. The actual amount of chocolate one can make depends on the content of cocoa in the chocolate. For example, milk chocolate has less cocoa content than dark chocolate.
The cocoa pod and beans
A cocoa pod ripe for harvest has a yellow-orange color. It takes up to 6 months for a cocoa flower to develop into a ripe cocoa pod. When the pod is opened one can find a sweet white pulp. In the pulp there is what you are looking for: the actual cocoa beans. There are between 30 and 50 cocoa beans in a fruit. Their color ranges from a pale lavender to dark purple.
The leathery rind of the pod is discarded and the cocoa beans together with the surrounding white pulp are kept to be processed into great cocoa.
Cocoa Fermentation – The magic of chocolate making
Cocoa seeds have a strong, bitter taste. If you tried them you would not like them. At this point comes the magic. Our friends, the tiny microorganisms make the cocoa beans taste better through the process of cocoa fermentation.
Fermentation is the work of yeasts, as well as of acetic and lactic acid bacteria. Here is what they do in a nutshell:
Yeasts make alcohol from the cocoa pulp. The bacteria convert the alcohol to lactic and acetic acid. At the same time through the bacterias´ actions the temperature rises. All these activities kill the cocoa bean and also alter the bean chemically. The end result is a cocoa bean as you know it: brown and with the typical chocolate flavour.
The cocoa producers call this process “sweating”: The seeds and pulp are heaped into piles and left for the bacteria and yeasts to do their work. The microorganisms ferment the beans and the pulp, which is liquefied as it ferments.
The fermented pulp over time trickles away. Left behind are the fermented cocoa beans. This process takes about 2 to 5 days.
Finally the cocoa beans are collected and dried. They are now ready to be made into cocoa powder, drinking chocolate, chocolate bars, and all the other chocolaty things you like so much.
To learn more about cocoa and cocoa beans have a look here.