Cocoa Production: Ghana

Well I thought it was about time that we took a closer look at some of the biggest chocolate producing countries. As Ghana produces somewhere in the region of one-quarter of the world’s cocoa beans, I figured this would be a good place to start. Cocoa is an extremely important part of the country’s economy and it has been grown here since the mid 1900s.

Ghana was at one time the world leader in terms of cocoa production but it was hit by a dramatic drop in prices on the world market in the 1970s. This forced many producers to abandon cocoa production altogether in favor of more lucrative crops. However, as prices stabilized and production was encourage, people have been tempted back to the wonderful cocoa tree and the country is back up to the top of world production.

One of the reasons for the success of Ghana in the cocoa production stakes is probably the fact that it produces some top-quality cocoa beans. Most of this is exported to other countries and made into chocolate. In fact, much of the cocoa produced around the world is grown for export: the countries that make the most chocolate don’t actually grow the trees themselves, as they don’t have the right climate.

As with other African cocoa producers, most of the cocoa beans grown in Ghana are from smallholdings. There are somewhere in the region of two million cocoa farms in Ghana, which sounds like an incredible number but when you consider that most of them only produce a relatively small amount, it makes sense. Many farmers are at the mercy of fluctuating world prices and this can have a dramatic impact on their livelihood from one year to the next.

Processing the Cocoa Bean

So, how exactly does a knobbly looking pod, filled with a load of little beans end up being a delicious bar of smooth, creamy chocolate? Well, there’s a pretty complicated process involved and I’m happy to leave it to the professionals and just enjoy the end results.

Cocoa pods are ready to pick when they’ve turned green. They have to be harvested at just the right time to ensure the correct amount of cocoa butter, which in turn will have a big impact on the final flavour of the chocolate. The seeds are removed from the pod, along with the rind and the rest of pod is tossed aside, no longer required.

After harvesting comes fermentation and this is basically the process that separates the seeds from the pulp and begins the transformation into the more recognizable and usable cocoa beans. All the seeds and pulp are laid out on racks for a number of days. The pulp goes gooey and drains away, leaving behind the wonderful seeds. It’s at this stage that the seeds are promoted and can now be called ‘beans’.

The beans then need to dry out completely before they can be used to create chocolate. This can be done naturally under the blazing sun, or artificially in big heated vats. Most producers choose the natural method and I have to say I like the idea of my cocoa beans having a bit of a sunbathe.

And now the beans are ready to safely stored before undergoing a magical transformation into chocolate.