Bean to Chocolate: A Photo Story
Cacao, popularly called Cocoa is a tropical evergreen tree grown for its beans that are largely used to make chocolate. Its scientific name Theobroma cacao means “Food of the Gods” in Greek. Cacao is native to the Amazon rainforests and Orinoco river basin in South America, but almost 70% of the world’s cocoa beans currently come from four West African countries, namely Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon.
Cacao cultivation was first introduced in India in 1965 by ‘Cadbury’ in Wayanad, Kerala. Cacao is now cultivated mainly in the southern part of India; Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka and also along the western ghats belt of Maharashtra and Goa.
In this photo story, we are sharing our very first experience of making chocolate directly from the beans with minimal ingredients and using minimum equipment. One of the reasons why we took up this study was that the ‘chocolate compounds’ that one gets to buy from the market to make ‘homemade chocolate’ is not just cacao. They contain vegetable fat, oil, and various chemicals in the form of preservatives and emulsifiers which are unhealthy. Also, there has been a lot of emphasis on ‘bean to bar chocolate’ off late by major brands across the world. We wanted to see if one could source their own beans and make chocolate directly from the beans according to one’s own preferences and taste.
This attempt in chocolate making was done at ‘Aikanthika’, a natural and conscious living and learning space in Davangere district of Karnataka with the help of Raghava who runs the farm and his 13 year old daughter daughter Visista. Let us go through the various processes involved starting from harvesting.
1. Harvesting ripe cacao pods
Cacao trees mature within 4-5 years of planting them and start flowering to form pods. Harvesting of pods take place throughout the year, but the months of November, December and January are marked with the largest harvest in India. The cacao pods attain a yellowish colour when ripe.
2. Pods heaped together for extracting seeds
3. Beans are extracted
The pods are cut open and the beans (seeds) are extracted along with the white flesh that covers them.
4. Heap method of fermentation
Fermentation is done in a cool dry place where there is no direct sunlight. Banana leaves are spread out and the cacao seeds along with the flesh are now heaped together. They are now covered over the top with banana leaves. Weight is kept on top of the heap to ensure that no light enters in. The whole setup is placed in a slanting position so that the liquid that gets released flows out.
It is left so for 7 days, but opened and mixed well every alternate day. One can feel the heat dissipated during the fermentation process while mixing the beans. By the seventh day, the outer flesh dries and forms a thin layer around the beans.
5. Drying beans under the sun
The beans are then dried under the sun for around 4-5 days.
6. Dried beans
Dried beans can be easily mistaken for almonds as they look very similar with their amber coloured skin. They don’t smell that great due to the fermentation process involved. The beans can now be stored in a cool dry place for later use.
7. Roasting beans
As the first step in making chocolate, sun dried cacao beans are roasted for around 5-7 minutes. If on holding a handful of beans and try crushing them one can hear a slight crackling sound, it means that the beans have been roasted well.
8. Removing the outer skin
The amber coloured outer skin is to be removed now.
9. Readied cacao beans
The chocolate brown colour of the cacao beans is now revealed.
The beans are now powdered well in a mixer grinder. It now absorbs moisture. Leave it open for some time until it dries down. The powder now attains the peculiar smell of chocolate.
11. Ingredients to make chocolate
The only basic ingredients required in making one’s own chocolate are cacao powder, milk and sugar/jaggery. Since no milk or milk products are consumed at Aikanthika, we alternatively used coconut milk as the base. Sugarcane molasses was used as the sweetener.
12. Chocolate making
Some amount of water was boiled in a container, to which we added the cacao powder, coconut milk and molasses. We kept on stirring in low flame for about 1 hour 15 minutes, until a fine consistency was achieved. We were tasting the mixture in between and adjusting the levels of coconut milk and jaggery to suit our preferences of taste.
Once the consistency is achieved and a thick paste is formed where it is not possible to stir anymore, it can be left for cooling and also be frozen in a refrigerator. As an experiment, we buried our chocolate underground overnight. And yes, it tasted amazing!