In the western world, chocolate is everywhere - the local corner store, the big box chains, on the Internet and of course in small boutique chocolate shops. We eat chocolate to be happy
, to be healthy
and to celebrate our lives. Our demand for chocolate is evident, but have you ever wondered how a small hard bean turns into a silky smooth chocolate bar?
Collaborative efforts of many people and many countries are imperative when transforming bean to bar. From third world growers to western manufacturers, every step impacts the quality of the chocolate we eat. Chocolate means different things to different people. Artful attention to detail and a commitment to craftsmanship are vitally important every step of the way.
Cacao is valued worldwide as a trade commodity, local food and manufacturing product. For the next two weeks, let's explore, from the ground up, how chocolate is made - from bean to bar. It might inspire you to appreciate your chocolate just a little bit more.
Growing the Cacao Tree
Chocolate begins in the field, not the factory. Growing a healthy, vibrant tree is the first step in making quality chocolate.
The cacao tree originated in Central America but now grows in many areas of West Africa, Asia, Malaysia and Indonesia. There are about 2 to 2.5 million producers worldwide, 90% being small-scale farmers with 12 acres or less. Cacao trees thrive in these areas because of their humid tropical climates with regular rains and short dry seasons.
The trees can produce pods year round for 25 to 30 years. Thousands of flowers grow from the tree’s trunk each year but only about 1% will bear fruit called pods. The pod is of similar size and shape to a football and grows from the trunk or limbs of the tree. It takes five to six months for the fruit to ripen. Pods can grow in a range of colors: brown, orange, red, green and yellow.
Many modern day chocolatiers are working diligently to empower the farmers of the cacao tree by trading fairly, paying above market value and assisting with better working conditions. This helps both the farmer and the manufacturer to produce higher quality chocolate while encouraging more humane and fair practices.
Harvesting the Pods
Once the pods are ripe, they are harvested by cutting the stalk with a machete or long sharp pruning loppers. This is done with great care, as the stalk must be preserved for further pod production. If the stalk is damaged, that area of the tree becomes infertile and will no longer produce the flower or the pod. Pods can be harvested year round but are usually harvested every six months, coinciding with the rainy seasons.
Removing the Cacao Beans
Once on the ground, the pods are sorted by quality and placed in piles. In many areas this is a social affair, where stories, news and jokes are shared as everyone works. Skilled craftsmen will open the pods with a machete, with just enough pressure to open the pod but not damage the beans inside. The beans are heaped upon large leaves, usually banana leaves. The group socializes as they watch the fruits of their labor pile up.
The empty hulls are gathered and placed in the sun to rot. This will later be used as compost for nourishing the next crop.
Some farmers take their crop to fermenting houses, selling their beans by weight. For these farmers, it’s the end of the road. Others choose to ferment the beans themselves. Whether the fermentation happens on the farm or at the fermenting house, the harvesting has now ended and the beans move forward for further processing.
Many of the farmers who produce the cacao have never tasted a chocolate bar. The cacao trees are a source of community, spirit and livelihood among the farmers and their commitment to growing a quality product touches the world. Without the farmer, there would be no chocolate.
Join us next week as we follow the next phases of the chocolate journey.
At Chocology, research is one of our top priorities. Since we want to learn all there is to know about chocolate and pass that knowledge on to you, we’re always on the lookout for new chocolate covered theories.
We recently heard that chocolate might play a role in helping people achieve higher levels of productivity. Well. . . at the very least, it might make people happier and then stimulate more productivity.
In any case, a study organized by three university researchers, Andrew J. Oswald, Eugenio Proto, and Daniel Sgroi, set out to prove that happy people are more productive. You can find a full version of their paper entitled “Happiness and Productivity” here
You’re welcome to read the full report, but basically the trio compiled four control groups to study whether happiness had an effect on productivity. Two groups were shown funny comedian clips, one group was given free fruit, chocolate and drinks and the fourth group was asked to talk about a recent tragedy in their personal lives.
All of the groups were then asked to complete standardize math quizzes to determine if the comedy or food improved their productivity in these tasks. The three groups that were given incentives did much better on the quizzes while the control group that talked about their misfortunes did worse. In fact, the happy producing incentives raised productivity by an average of 12%.
Google is probably the most well known company to offer an array of workplace perks. It has been voted the best company to work for by Fortune.com
for the last five years and productivity at Google has increased by 37% since these perks have been implemented.
The driving force seems to be that the happier people are, the more productive they are.
So, how does this relate specifically to chocolate? Well, at Chocology we believe that chocolate does raise happiness levels. We know scientifically that it activates the pleasure centers in our brain. History
tells us that people through the ages have consumed it for it’s medicinal and mood elevating properties. In only stands to reason that if we eat chocolate, we become just a little bit happier, at least for the moments that we’re eating it.
If the study by Oswald, Proto and Sgroi is accurate, then consuming chocolate should increase our productivity! It might be a stretch, but it’s a stretch we’re willing to make. Chocolate won’t hurt you and it just might make you happier and more productive. It’s certainly worth a try!
How about you? Do you think chocolate increases happiness? Could happiness increases productivity? Have you seen incidents in which happiness increased productivity in your life? Comment here or join us on Facebook
and let us know what you think.
Since we’re talking about research, what kinds of things would you like to know about chocolate? Give us some ideas and we may choose it as one of our research projects for a future blog post.
It’s so much fun to learn about new and exciting things! We at Chocology love learning, especially when it comes to learning more about chocolate.
What have you learned about chocolate?
To celebrate all that we’ve learned so far, we’d like to invite you to test your knowledge. Hint: check out past blog posts to confirm your answers.
TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE -with our self grading test
|What are three of the health benefits of eating chocolate?
Fill in the blank: Scientific research has shown that the higher the ___________percentage, the healthier the chocolate.
|How does mindfully tasting chocolate expand our appreciation of it?
|Based on the poll Chocology did two weeks ago, what types of chocolate were most desirable? Suggestion: check our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Chocology?fref=nf
|Where do we get our knowledge about how cacao was first used?
|How did the chocolate press revolutionize the way we use cacao?
We would love to know how you did! Leave us a comment or head on over to Facebook and share what you know. Maybe you know something that we don’t. Give us a tip and it could be a featured topic on one of our upcoming Chocology blog posts.