There are so many ways we use and consume chocolate on a regular basis, many of which we don't even realize.
From the tree to the bean to the bar, cocoa produces a wide array of products that many enjoy around the world.
Like coffee, cocoa is a crop with a tumultuous past that has become a global phenomenon.
In this guide, we'll learn all about cocoa; how it's made, where it comes from and how to use it.
The history of theobroma cacao, or cocoa as it is often referred, echoes the history of many native species found in the South Americas.
It goes something like this:
The hot cocoa beverage made by the natives—which was usually thick and never sweetened—was too bitter for the European pallet, and so they started adding sugar to the recipe. This helped drinking chocolate quickly become a sought-out commodity after becoming a staple of the rich and noble in Europe.
As it goes with most new foods to the European market, once it becomes popular with the rich and powerful it becomes only a matter of time before the rest of the classes get access.
The Mesoamerican cultures during the middle of the century enjoyed access to thousands of species of plants to experiment with. The lush forests of central and south America are the perfect breeding ground for a rich, natural bounty.
One such species of plant, a tree usually ranging from 13-26 feet, is where our story of chocolate begins.
The earliest recorded history of the cocoa cultivation dates to around 1900 BC off the Pacific coast of modern day Chiapas, Mexico.
Buried within the “Mokaya” archaeological site, researchers discovered ceramic pots and vessels containing cocoa residue.
It's clear from the archaeological evidence that these ancient people did not use cocoa the way we do nowadays. What archaeologists found, based on chemical sampling, shows us that this early cultivation fermented the cocoa beans to make alcoholic beverages.
In the Mokaya civilization, cocoa was also mixed with ground corn to make a drink called “atole.” This atole drink was found in elaborate pottery, and is thought to have been used in social settings in a host to guest type of situation.
Of course, it wasn't only the Mokaya people that discovered the many uses of the cocoa tree. By the time the Europeans arrived in the new world, societies ranging from the Mayans to the Aztecs were using cocoa in a handful of ways.
Like tea in Asia, the cocoa bean quickly became an important part of South American daily life. The upper and lower class were exposed to cocoa and it quickly became the preferred currency for many peoples of the region.
For example, the Aztec empire received an annual tribute of 7.8 million cocoa beans from local tributes under their control.
As cocoa grew in popularity as the de facto currency of central and south America, counterfeiters started creating counterfeit cocoa beans. It wasn't long before court officials became more aware of the unique cocoa bean features as a means of dealing with these counterfeit beans circulating through the market.
Although cocoa was initially cultivated for fermentation and alcoholic purposes, the integration into native societies made it popular to use cocoa in other ways. The Maya used cocoa for ceremonial purposes in the form of a warm, frothy, bitter drink.
In time, central Americans started adding flavorings to reduce the bitterness and enhance the flavor of this dark brew. Vanilla and chile pepper were added, and soon after, honey became a popular ingredient that helped improve flavor. This was the product of the Aztecs, who also enjoyed cocoa consumed cold instead of the Maya way of consuming it hot.
Today, the legacy of these American civilizations still lives on in chocolate bars on store shelves. The “Maya Gold” chocolate bar, among dozens of others, includes chile pepper, vanilla, and a variety of other ingredients indigenous to Mesoamerica.
The term theobroma is Latin for “food of the gods,” and was coined after Europeans discovered the cocoa bean.
Christopher Columbus noted mysterious looking “almonds” in 1502 when his crew captured a canoe on an island in the Caribbean. At the time, Columbus did not realize the gravity of this discovery.
In 1519 Spanish conquistador, Hernan Cortes, witnessed and recorded the widespread use of cocoa in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan.
Before overrunning Montezuma and conquering the Aztec, Cortes learned much about the bean and shipped it back to Spain for the royalty to experience.
Once in Spain, the drink spread quickly, but primarily through the upper classes. The king of Spain enjoyed the frothy drink and spread it through the nobles.
As it trickled down to the common folk and royalty of other nations, demand spread in Spain.
By 1602 chocolate had spread from Spain to Austria and it was not long before it made it to France, Portugal, Britain, and other far flung regions of the world.
Through the bustling globalized trade of the period, chocolate made a rapid jump from an exclusively central and south American product to a world-wide favorite in a relatively short period of time.
Of course, the cocoa product had obvious physical effects, like increased mood, concentration and alertness, that it sold itself.
And the more it sold, the more demand grew.
Although chocolate and cacao grew in popularity in Europe, it was the new world that was to bear the brunt of this expansion.
Europeans did not have the proper climate for growing cocoa beans and so the only way to produce it was to expand far from home to new and existing overseas colonies.
The Spanish started cultivation on their colonies in south America. Portuguese, French, and English settlers soon followed.
The process to create cocoa products—cocoa powder, cocoa beans, cocoa nibs, cocoa butter and chocolate—is time and labor intensive. This prompted European countries to bring boatloads of slaves to assist in the effort.
Between the early 17th and late 19th centuries, the slave trade flourished in the new world in order to provide labor for many crops, among them cacao. As the industrial revolution took hold, and the morality of slavery was questioned, Europeans were forced to find new methods of producing cocoa in ample supply.
In 1815, a Dutch chemist named Coenraad van Houten introduced a method for reducing the bitter flavor of chocolate by using alkaline salts through a specific process. This is now called "dutched" or "dutch" process and is in use to this day.
13 years later, Houten patented the method of pressing the fat (cocoa butter) from roasted cocoa beans. This improved the overall quality of cocoa and consistency while reducing the cost of cocoa by introducing cocoa powder that became the base for all chocolate products.
While technological innovations made up the bulk of European advances in cocoa processing and growing, another greater contribution to the global chocolate supply was bringing the cocoa plant to tropical colonized regions in other parts of the world, most specifically West Africa.
The English and French colonies of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire have in recent times become the largest producers of cocoa during the 19th century.
And while some shun chocolate from Africa compared to the native South American cocoa, this African cocoa became responsible for mass-produced chocolate, again lowering the cost and spreading its availability.
In the early stages of cocoa cultivation by humans, processing methods of cocoa was limited. Beverages were the common mode of consumption due to the well-known method of grinding cocoa seeds into a paste before mixing with water (or cornmeal).
With innovations like those made by Coenraad van Houten, Europeans started creating entirely new products out of the cocoa bean.
Joseph Fry created mold-able chocolate in 1847 when he melted cocoa butter and blended it back into chocolate liquor. Less than 30 years later, Daniel Peter mixed powdered milk with the liquor to create the modern “milk chocolate” that has become so popular today.
Before long, modern companies such as Cadbury, Nestle, and Hershey, produced chocolate for the masses. The Swiss and Belgian became known for their artisan chocolate. France had their truffles. And so on.
Nowadays, chocolate is a staple in most of our lives.
I, for example, keep a bar of delicious dark chocolate in my house at all times to serve as a low-sugar dessert or snack anytime I feel my sweet tooth knocking.
Most of us think of chocolate bars and candy as the main form of cocoa available today. But these are not the only products to come from the humble cocoa bean.
The cocoa tree produces a modicum of products that many of us enjoy on a regular basis.
The most basic cocoa husks are used as animal feed. The bean, once roasted, is often broken into cocoa nibs. These nibs are used in smoothies and provide a crunchy, bitter flavor. Or you can lightly sweeten cocoa nibs with sugar to create a energy-dense superfood snack.
Once cocoa beans are roasted, the cocoa liquor (mass) is processed further to produce cocoa powder—which is consumed separately in shakes, smoothies, and even hot chocolate—and cocoa butter—used to create chocolate, white chocolate and used in a plethora of skincare products.
Although the history of cocoa is tied to slavery and the extermination of many South American peoples, it is a product that has developed over thousands of years.
In spite of its tumultuous past, the cocoa bean and its byproducts have become some of the most widely consumed ingredients in the world.
Their popularity is a testament to not only the flavor and properties of the bean itself. As true as it was in the day of Cortes and the Aztecs, the cocoa bean sells itself.
Cocoa was first found in South America, which is where the "best" cocoa in the world is still grown to this day.
In the last 500 years or so, the plant responsible for producing cocoa has moved to other parts of the world.
It is now grown in Africa, India, and the southeast Asian islands of the Pacific.
Because cocoa requires specific climate conditions to grow, it has only been a successful crop in small regions around the world.
First discovered by the Toltec people, the cocoa plant is grown along a narrow belt between 10 degrees N and 10 degrees S of the Equator.
Many experts agree that this narrow strip of land produces the best cocoa in the world.
There are other climates in which cocoa can grow, namely the lower altitude areas of the rainforest that have certain rainfall, sunlight, and temperature conditions.
In general, the theobroma cacao plant won't survive in anything less than 64° F. It can withstand temperatures as hot as 86-89° F.
Rainfall is abundant in the Mesoamerican rain forest, something cocoa needs. Cocoa grows best with 59 - 78 inches of rainfall per year.
After temperature and rainfall are accounted for, the last important ingredient for producing quality cocoa is shade.
The best cocoa is grown among the rainforest canopy, which the tall and thick jungle setting provides for plenty of shade. (This is exactly how the best coffees are grown as well—and guayusa.)
When the Europeans tried to cultivate cocoa in the 16 and 17th centuries, it did not go as planned. In Spanish Dominican Republic, Trinidad, and Haiti, initial cocoa planting provided no results. The Caribbean was thus dubbed inhospitable to cocoa, but this was not true. The English and French were able to successfully recreate conditions on many islands and on the south American continent before the century was over.
More recently, cocoa bean production has expanded beyond the traditional central and south American countries.
In fact, the three highest cocoa bean producers in the world are in Africa and Asia. The leader being Ivory Coast followed by Indonesia and Ghana. In total, west African countries now account for 69% of the world’s cocoa bean production, most of which is used for mass-produced chocolate products.
The plant has come a long way since the time of Cortes and the fall of the Maya empire. Since then, cocoa has continued to spread across the globe through new and improved methods for growing, cultivating and processing.
The processing methods for growing cocoa vary greatly depending on whether you buy organic or conventional.
While some organic products are not much different than normal grade (and some are), conventional cocoa is one of the world’s most heavily sprayed crops in the world (again, just like coffee).
And since the cocoa butter (the fat) of the beans easily absorbs and retains pesticides, it is a product that you should always try to buy organic (like coffee).
After three or four years of growth, a cocoa plant will start bearing fruit. Once mature, cocoa trees produce 20 - 30 pods per year, each of which yield 20 - 50 beans each.
Of course, not all cocoa beans are the same. There are three main cocoa beans, each varying in flavor, aroma, and nutritional makeup. These are:
Harvesting cocoa is usually done with the machete wielded by skilled laborers.
Once the pods are cut down from the tree, they split the pod with the large knife, expose the beans, and remove the pulp.
Next the cocoa beans are fermented in a process called “sweating," which aims to remove some of the bitterness from cocoa beans.
After 4 - 7 days of fermentation, the beans are then dried for 1-2 weeks.
The best cocoa farmers in the world manually harvest the beans, mix fermenting beans every couple of days, and sun dry their product on raised beds to prevent moisture accumulation and mold.
The final step for the beans is roasting. This process depends on the type of bean. For example, cocoa nibs are roasted at temperatures of 215° - 248° F, with the time roasted depending on whether the final product is meant for producing cocoa or chocolate.
After this processing, the fermented beans are sent to various manufacturers for producing the various chocolate products, such as cocoa powder, cocoa butter, chocolate bars, cocoa nibs, and so on.
To produce great cocoa, it is important that skilled laborers harvest, process and manufacture the cocoa by hand through the entire process. While this increases the cost of the cocoa, it produces a far better tasting product (as well as a better quality of life for the workers and farmers and a better result for the environment).
The cocoa bean has been used for hundreds of years and throughout this time, cultivation and processing methods have developed. Even still, with all the technology we now have access to, it's the traditional, handcrafted methods with an eye for precision and quality that produce the finest cocoa.
The cocoa plant is a unique Central and South American native species, which has grown in popularity across the globe since European discovery in the early 16th century.
Cocoa has exceptional health properties ranging from increased vitamin and mineral consumption to cardiovascular disease prevention.
Of course, the type of cocoa plant, the conditions and method in which it was grown, and the processing methods used to produce the final cocoa or chocolate product, all play a significant role in just how healthy the cocoa is for you.
Hint: The better quality cocoa, the better it is for you.
When it comes to the health benefits of cocoa, organic is the only way to go.
Because the cocoa plant is so susceptible to disease and insects, non-organic cocoa is heavily sprayed with pesticides that leach into the cocoa beans and end up in your cocoa product.
The cocoa butter inside the cocoa beans is where most of these pesticides retain, but with heavily sprayed cocoa trees, it's not uncommon to find traces of synthetic chemicals in every part of the tree, cocoa pod and bean.
Health benefit number #1 of quality cocoa: Avoiding the synthetic poisons.
The type of cocoa plant also plays a role in how nutritious cocoa is.
The common “forastero” bean, which is cultivated across Asia, Africa, and makes up 80 - 90% of the cocoa consumed in the world. While it is lacking in authenticity, quality and flavor, it makes up for it in practicality and cost to produce, which is why it is most commonly used in mass-produced cocoa and chocolate products.
The rarest form of cocoa, the criollo bean, is even more susceptible to disease, which makes them a prime candidate for pesticides. Of course, most criollo is so expensive to produce that you usually find it only in expensive organic chocolate products.
Since 1828 much of the cocoa powder processed in the western world has gone through "Dutch processing."
Cocoa powder that has not been dutched is referred to as "natural cocoa."
The dutch process involves washing cocoa powder with a potassium carbonate solution to improve alkalinity and produce less bitter tasting cocoa. While this makes chocolate taste better, it also makes chocolate less healthy.
A 2008 study found that Dutch processing had a significant impact on the antioxidant value of cocoa powder, which is arguably the most unique and important part. Antioxidant levels of processed cocoa powder:
One of the primary benefits of cocoa is the high flavonoid and antioxidant content.
These natural micro chemicals help improve markers of health and are found in a variety of foods, such as green and black tea, coffee and blueberries, to name a few.
Cocoa has a unique flavonoid profile, which makes it highly valuable. A 2015 study showed that flavanol consumption improved cognitive function, blood pressure control and metabolic profile in elderly subjects.
The antioxidants in cocoa help reduce signs of aging due to the cocoa polyphenols stimulating cell survival and preventing cellular death. By promoting cell health, not only can these cells last longer, but they can also be more resistant to cancer.
The antioxidants and flavonoids in cocoa help to impart cardiovascular benefits that can help prevent the disease altogether.
One Harvard Medical School study focused on the island Kuna people from Panama who consume cocoa heavily.
Compared to mainlanders who consumed little to no cocoa, the Kuna were far less likely to develop cardiovascular disease.
Markers and byproducts of cardiovascular disease, such as cholesterol and blood pressure, have also seen marked improvement through cocoa consumption. Long term cocoa consumers reduced LDL (bad cholesterol) and cocoa powder was found to reduce blood pressure better than black or green tea, which are traditionally considered unique and antioxidant rich.
The antioxidants and chemical compounds in cocoa have shown in numerous studies to be beneficial for brain health and cognitive function.
Stimulants like theobromine and caffeine provide much needed boosts in attention and concentration in the short term.
Using blood-oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) contrast imaging, one study found cocoa powder increased blood flow to the brain by up to 40%. This led to better learning capabilities, memory, and even physical reaction times.
Beyond memory and learning, cocoa powder has strong stress-reducing and mood enhancing properties.
By influencing the production of brain chemical serotonin, cocoa enables one to have a better mood and reduce feelings of anxiety and worry.
No wonder we reach for the chocolate when we are feeling down!
When you read articles about the health properties of cocoa and chocolate, the stimulating effects for the brain, or antioxidant content, it is in the cocoa powder that most of chocolate's nutrition lies.
Often referred to as cocoa solids, this byproduct of cocoa bean processing used to be the most popular portion of the plant.
Today, cocoa powder is outclassed in popularity by cocoa butter, which is the primary ingredient in chocolate—the cocoa fat—that gives the creamy and delicious texture.
Despite the popularity of cocoa butter, the powder is finding a resurgence among health conscious individuals interested in making their own cacao products at home. (We love both at Wild Foods!)
As discussed in section 3, the way cocoa is processed plays the predominant role in the final nutritional makeup of the cocoa. Namely if it is dutched or natural. (Hint: go with natural non-alkalized cocoa powder for more health benefit, such as our Wild Chocolate Powder.)
A cocoa tree takes 3 - 4 years before they are ready to bear fruit adequate for cultivation.
Once mature, a cocoa plant will produce 20 - 30 pods a year with approximately 20 - 50 cocoa beans inside each. Through arduous manual labor, native workers hack down the pods with machetes before splitting the pods open and scooping out the cocoa beans inside.
The beans are heaped together and left for a few days of fermentation (referred to as “sweating”). This helps remove the bitterness from the cocoa beans. The beans are then fermented one last time for 1-2 weeks.
Next the beans are roasted. After the cocoa beans are roasted, the fat (cocoa butter) is separated from the solids using a hydraulic press that drains off the cocoa butter. The cocoa butter ends up being 54 - 58% of the total weight of the cocoa beans, which leaves the rest to be made into cocoa powder.
The resulting 42 - 46% of the cocoa bean is a fine, dry powder full of antioxidants, stimulating chemical compounds, vitamins, and minerals.
However the taste of the cocoa powder depends on the method of processing. The three methods for processing cocoa are below.
Broma Process - Named after “theobroma” (the Latin name for cocoa), the Broma process was the original option that uses heat and gravity to separate cocoa butter from the cocoa bean. This method was used until 1828 but is rare today after being replaced by Houten's pressing invention.
Dutch Process - One complaint Europeans had with cocoa was the bitterness, which Coenraad Johannes van Houten tried to remedy through his invention of the Dutch processing method. This method soaks the remaining cocoa powder in an alkaline solution so they are more chemically neutral.
While this helped expand the use of cocoa in chocolate, and is still used to this day, it comes with drawbacks—the cocoa is more difficult to bake with, has a significantly reduced antioxidant content, and the deep chocolate flavor is strongly muted.
Natural Process - This is cocoa that has not undergone dutch processing but has been processed using a hydraulic press. After being separated from cocoa butter, it is left as is. (Natural is the only form of cocoa powder we sell.)
Various Dutched Cocoa Powders
Because the Dutch processing method has become so popular over the past 150 years, there are many variations to produce a range of different cocoa powders.
Here are a list of different Dutch processed cocoa powders that you might come across:
While cocoa butter is filled with healthy saturated and monounsaturated fats, the other healthy part of the cocoa plant should not be discounted; the cocoa solids.
Much of the antioxidant value found in chocolate comes from the flavonoids in the cocoa powder, especially non-alkalized cocoa powder that has not been treated with chemicals or solvents and thus maintains the healthy antioxidant and flavonoids that are responsible for improving many markers of health including aiding against cardiovascular disease.
This 2006 study noted that flavonoid-rich cocoa had “...favorable physiological effects include: antioxidant activity, vasodilation and blood pressure reduction...decreased inflammation.” The antioxidant profile found in cocoa is particularly strong in natural cocoa powder as opposed to the Dutch processing methods.
Scientists published in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry found that light Dutch processed cocoa had less than half the antioxidants as natural cocoa powder. The moderately processed cocoa had 22.5% of the antioxidants while only 11.2% remained of the heavily Dutch processed cocoa powder. Losing so much of the health value makes the flavor hardly worth it!
Besides the antioxidant value, cocoa powder is full of vitamins and minerals not often found in other foods. Cocoa is especially rich in calcium, copper, and magnesium, among others.
As we have mentioned, the highest quality cocoa powder comes from a non-Dutch processed producer, which has the original flavor, aroma, and health benefits.
The quality of the bean also makes a big difference, which is why organic cocoa is a wiser choice than mass-produced conventional cocoa products.
We recommend you always opt for the highest quality cocoa and chocolate you can find. Make sure you buy organic cocoa powder that is naturally processed for maximum flavor and aroma.
When we think of chocolate, we think of a product that is far removed from the cocoa tree and bean it came from.
One way to get back to the source of chocolate is with the nib.
Cacao/cocoa nibs are the rawest form of cocoa most popular as a consumer product.
After cocoa beans are harvested and roasted, they are husked to remove the outer shell and then broken into smaller pieces and sifted to remove small particles. What's left is a small piece of cocoa called a nib.
Cocoa nibs have grown in popularity with the growth of the healthy and organic food trends.
Nibs make a great healthy alternative to chocolate chips. And while they are bitter to eat alone, they are great sprinkled on desserts or savory dishes. You can also bake with them.
Despite cocoa nibs being an early stage product of the cocoa bean processing, modern technology combined with ancient methods are helping producers create high quality nibs that produce a deep chocolate flavor reflecting the growing conditions of environment—known as the "terroir" of the chocolate.
Once a new cocoa plant has grown for three or four years, it will start producing cocoa pods. In each pod, as much as 50 beans can be harvested with the stroke of a machete.
The beans are then manually separated from the pod and left in bins or grates to ferment. Over the course of 4 - 7 days, the cocoa beans are fermented, which helps reduce bitterness.
Once that process is over, they are either taken to dry in the sun or through other methods. The sun-dried method is always a higher quality as it ripens the flavor of the beans.
During this process, a tough outer layer is formed around the cocoa beans. This outer "shell" is removed before breaking the cocoa beans into nibs.
For many years, this tough exterior layer was considered less desirable because it had a bitter, nutty and crunchy taste. Today, it is considered a delicacy and is one of the healthiest ways to consume cocoa.
After the shell is removed, the nibs are made by carefully crushing and then sifting. At this point, you have a small piece of pure chocolate.
The flavor of the nib first depends on the variety of cocoa plant.
Forastero, the most commonly grown strain, has a fruity and bitter flavor. The native Criollo beans are creamy with almost no bitterness while the hybrid Trinitario beans are sharp and fruity.
Chocolate is usually filled with sugar and additives that make it sweet or preserve the texture and look of the product. While this is appealing to most, it has far fewer health benefits (and more health risks due to sugar consumption) than cocoa nibs.
The cocoa nib health benefits provide everything that is healthy about chocolate without any of the sugar or additives.
First, cocoa nibs provide a high quantity of antioxidants, which can help bolster immune health, prevent diseases like cancer, and reduce inflammation. However, because the cacao nib is a more pure form of the cocoa bean, it has higher antioxidant content than any other form of chocolate.
A Harvard Medical School study on the Kuna people of Panama, showed significantly lower rates of heart disease compared to mainland peoples with no cocoa consumption. The scientists and researchers at Harvard concluded that improved blood flow from flavanols in cocoa helped improve heart health.
That same enhanced blood flow showed cocoa can improve memory and learning ability. It also prevents age related neurological decline, which is becoming a bigger problem in the western world.
Additionally, cacao nibs are a perfect source of fiber and micronutrients. In a single ounce of nibs, you can get 18% of your daily fiber allotment. Within that same serving there is 21% of your daily requirement for iron and magnesium as well.
While cocoa nibs have less caffeine than coffee, it does have some stimulating properties. This is due to the small quantity of caffeine in the nibs in addition to theobromine, a stimulant specific to the cocoa plant that has a relaxing effect.
Now that you understand the process for creating cocoa nibs and the health benefits associated with the product, it’s important to seek out the highest quality nibs that you can find.
Cocoa is one of the most sprayed food crops in the world because it is susceptible to disease and pests. Because of this, the cocoa fats (within the cocoa bean) collect the pesticides and are in the cocoa nibs when you consume them.
This is why it's paramount that you consume only the highest quality organic nibs you can find.
Not only are organic nibs beneficial for you and your health, it is also better for the forested regions where cocoa is grown. With conventional cocoa, pesticides pollute local water supplies and kill wildlife.
Another objective is to find fair trade cacao nibs because the cocoa manufacturing process is so labor intensive. There are reports from Africa of forced child labor and poor conditions for workers. With fair trade products, you are more likely to get humanely grown, manufactured, and produced cocoa nibs.
Check out our Wild Cocoa Nibs options: Wild Raw Nibs - Organic nibs and nothing else
Cocoa butter is the fat, which is pressed from the cocoa beans after fermentation, roasting, and separation from the cocoa bean hulls.
It is yellow white and solid at room temperature. In its raw form, you can eat it or use it on your skin and hair. The antioxidant profile in cocoa butter makes it a perfect stable fat source for use in soaps, lotions, and similar skin care products.
It's also great blended into smoothies, coffee and is a primary ingredient in making creamy homemade chocolate!
Cocoa butter is one of the most staple fats found in nature, and made up of 57-64% saturated fats in the form of stearic acid, palmitic acid, myristic acid, arachidic acid and lauric acid. The reminder of the fat is comprised of unsaturated fats consisting of 29-34% monounsaturated (oleic acid and palmitoleic acid) and 0-5% polyunsaturated (linoleic acid and a-linolenic acid).
Once the cocoa beans are harvested, they are taken to ferment and then roast. When the roasted and fermented beans are ready, the cocoa solids undergo one of two different processing techniques:
Broma Process - This process is used to extract cocoa butter from the beans by hanging bags in a warm room and allowing the butter to melt and collect underneath. This process is considered more desirable and natural because it uses gentle temperatures to separate the butter from the cocoa solids.
Dutch Process/Press- Invented in 1828, the Dutch process is the more common way of separating the cocoa bean into butter and powder. The only difference with Dutch processing is that the beans are soaked in alkaline solution so they become chemically neutral. It is the basis for much of our modern chocolate, but the process makes the cocoa flavor more mild.
After one of these processes, a hydraulic press is used to press out the remaining cocoa butter.
These different processing techniques coupled with the different species of cocoa tree influences the final quality of the cocoa butter.
In South American countries, like Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia, the resulting cocoa butter is the softest in the world. Central America and African countries have intermediate levels of hardness and the hardest cocoa butter comes from Asia and the Pacific islands.
The hardness of the cocoa butter makes it more suitable for various products in the food and cosmetics industries. For example, the soft cocoa butter from South America is better used in cosmetic products while the Asian cocoa is hard and useful in chocolate making.
After the cocoa butter is extracted, most cocoa butter undergoes a process to deodorize the aroma and flavor. Even though cocoa butter is the fat from cocoa beans, it's strong flavor can strongly influence the taste of a final chocolate product.
This is why most cocoa butter used to make chocolate is deodorized. Of course, this comes at a loss of some nutritional benefit. Our advice is to use non-deodorized cocoa butter for personal use as it's unlikely you'll be able to taste the subtle difference.
After extraction, cocoa butter is used in various products. The main one being the manufacturing of milk chocolate, dark chocolate and white chocolate.
In order for white chocolate to be considered such, it must use at least 20% cocoa butter. Even though the finished deodorized cocoa butter is perfect for milk and dark chocolate, deodorized cocoa butter can produce a bland tasting white chocolate.
This is why some white chocolate manufacturers use non-deodorized cocoa butter to give their product more richness and chocolate flavor.
Beyond edible uses, cocoa butter is used in skincare products across the globe. It is commonly found in moisturizing products, marketed as a tool to prevent and remove stretch marks.
Cocoa butter is a complex blend of saturated and unsaturated fats, which has health benefits for topical applications as well as consumption. With around 57 - 64% saturated fat, cocoa butter is a stable fat not prone to rancidity.
The balanced mixture of saturated and unsaturated fats, along with the antioxidants traditionally found in cocoa, make cocoa butter the perfect product for skin care soaps and lotions. They are particularly useful for pregnant women who have stretch marks and require non-invasive treatment to prevent or remove them.
Besides stretch marks, cocoa butter has moisturizing properties that make it useful for general skin care even without a specific use.
It is great for treating dry lips, wrinkles, sunburns, and a variety of other mild skin conditions.
Cocoa butter is the perfect ingredient for making your own homemade soaps, lotions and creams.
Cocoa butter is great for skincare, haircare and food and drink recipes!
*Optional ingredients you can experiment with: Nuts/Seeds, Sea Salt, Dried Fruit, Coconut Flakes, Spices, Lemon/Orange Zest, Cinnamon.
*Optional ingredients you can experiment with: Nuts/Seeds, Sea Salt, Dried Fruit, Coconut Flakes, Spices, Lemon/Orange Zest, Cinnamon.
This recipe is nearly identical to our Wild Butter Brew Coffee recipe, but by using milk or water instead of coffee as the base (butter being optional, you end up with the drink recipe below.
A thing we often encourage here at Wild Foods is experimenting in the kitchen.
That means to look at a recipe as a "template" and not a "recipe."
We want you to look at a recipe, like the one below, and follow it as a rough guideline, making tweaks here and there and tasting and refining your final concoction.
Because you are a unique little snowflake (and I mean that with all sincerity), you have a different palate and preference for the foods and drink you eat.
You might like your drinks sweeter or not sweet at all. You might prefer iced over hot drinks (like I do). And so on.
The recipe below is our Wild Recipe Template take on traditional hot Cocoa/Drinking Chocolate.