Making Chocolate Better

What is cocoa?

Cocoa is essential to the making of chocolate. Food standards define which ingredients can be used to make a food product in order to be allowed to call it by a certain name. For milk chocolate, the quantity of cocoa solids plays an important role in determining the quality. Mars Chocolate Australia’s chocolate meets the Australian New Zealand (FSANZ) and international food standards (Codex). This means that all of our chocolate contains at least 25% cocoa solids and 12% milk solids.

The making of chocolate starts with cocoa, which is harvested from the pods of a small tropical tree, the Theobroma cacao, or more simply called cacao. "Theobroma" is Greek for "food of the gods." Cacao is native to Central and South America, but it is grown commercially throughout the tropics. About 70% of the world’s cocoa crop is grown in West Africa. The processing of cocoa at farm level involves the removal, drying and fermenting of the cocoa beans (seeds from the cacao pods),  a labour-intensive and time-consuming process

Fermentation: The cocoa seeds are fermented in wooden boxes or covered heaps for between four to seven days, depending on the variety and the region.  At the start of fermentation, yeasts convert the fruit sugars to alcohol, similar to the process of grape fermentation. Next is a short phase of lactic acetic fermentation. Correct fermentation is essential for the formation of the proper aroma and flavour and to prevent the development of undesirable microorganisms.

Drying: The cocoa beans must be dried straight after fermentation. Most cocoa is dried in the sun for about eight days until the bean moisture is reduced to 7–8%. The main purpose of this drying is to avoid the development of fungus and bacteria that could spoil the flavour of the final product.

Breaking and peeling: After being cleaned from impurities, the dried beans are broken in order to remove the shell.

Roasting: The beans are then roasted. This removes moisture and contributes to the development of colour, aroma and flavour. Roasting is essential to obtain the quality characteristics of the cocoa, both flavour and microbiology.

Grinding: After being peeled and roasted, the cocoa beans are ground to a fine particle size. Because the pod has a fat content of more than 50%, the resulting product is not a powder, but a paste of fine particles, known as cocoa mass or cocoa liquor. This cocoa paste can be used in two ways: for the direct manufacture of chocolate or further processing to cocoa powder plus cocoa butter. Cocoa liquor is the basic ingredient for the various kinds of chocolate: milk chocolate, semi-sweet and dark chocolate.

Pressing: For the production of cocoa powder and cocoa butter, the cocoa liquor goes through a hydraulic pressing system that results in cocoa butter on one side and cocoa cake on the other, which becomes cocoa powder after being after pulverised. Cocoa butter is used in the manufacture of chocolate (and some skin care products), while cocoa powder is more typically used for things such as chocolate drinks, baking mixes and cookies.