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.
Despite originating in Central and South America, cocoa is now grown in a much larger area and the biggest producers are actually in West Africa. This is due to the expansion of production and the opening of new markets. It’s all down to supply and demand really and people will always want chocolate. It’s one of those products that works on two levels.
It can be fantastically expensive and saved for an extremely special occasion or it can just be a simple treat – a bar of chocolate bought from the newsagents at the end of a busy day. For that reason, it will always be popular and it was necessary to find new areas to produce it. Currently, there are eight major cocoa producing countries in the world. They are:
There are obviously countless others but these are the big players and the ones that supply most of the world’s cocoa beans. Production does tend to change year on year and will very much depend on the climatic conditions and the harvest for that particular year.
However, The Ivory Coast and Ghana tend to produce around half of all the cocoa, which is the equivalent to a whole lot of chocolate bars. It’s quite nice to know, however, that most of the cocoa produced in Africa is grown on relatively small farms, rather than huge plantations. These farms tend to be owned and run by families, ensuring that profits can be fed back into the family business.