How to Make Chocolate 101
Chocolate Making in Ecuador – it’s a delicious snack that happens to have a lot of benefits. It is loaded with nutrients such as iron, magnesium, manganese, copper, potassium, zinc and selenium, it’s a good source of antioxidants, and studies show that it can help restore flexibility to the arteries and increase blood flow.
Store-bought chocolate can be delicious but also filled with unnecessary and unhealthy ingredients like lots of sugar and milk. If you are living somewhere with access to cacao fruit or fermented cacao beans, here’s how you can do it yourself – your own healthy chocolate!
History of Cacao: born in Ecuador!
Cacao consumption was a common practice more than 5,000 thousand years ago in the Ecuadorian Amazon Region of South America. Amazon cacao, then was taken by some mechanism toward the center of America. Once it arrived there, it acquired great cultural importance. Mainly consumed as an unheated liquid by the Aztecs and generally heated by the Maya, chocolate was the drink of choice for the elites and with the addition of hot chilies, maize, spices, peanut butter, vanilla and other flavor and texture enhancers, made the chocolate beverage a spicy and sultry drink enjoyed only by those who are able to afford it or by those who are specifically chosen to enjoy its benefits. Later it was exported to Europe during colonial times. At the beginning Spain and Portugal kept it hidden from the rest of the world. By the late 17th century, chocolate became available to most of Europe and accessible to the general populations.
Note: If you are starting with fermented and dried cacao beans, please skip to Step 4.
Step 1: Harvesting
Take a machete, and go around to your cacao trees. Harvest any ripe cacao fruits by chopping them off the branch. You can walk around and collect them with a bucket, or whatever is convenient. If you are in Ecuador, you are usually dealing with one of two varieties: cacao arriba nacional or CCN51 (hybrid). The former will be yellow when ripe, the latter will be red with yellow stripes. Talking quality the highest cacao taste will be from the nacional also called amazonico, the commonly planted hybrid obviously produces much earlier and more quantity bust is used basically just for industrial / cheap chocolate as additional fat source…
Step 2: Fermenting
You can build a simple wooden box without a lid to ferment the cacao. Line the box with banana leaves so that the juices don’t make a mess.
Using the machete, open your cacao pods and empty the fruit into the box. When you are finished, you can cover the box with another banana leaf.
Let this ferment for 4-6 days.
Step 3: Drying
Once the cacao is fermented, it needs to dry. Common practice in Ecuador is to lay out the cacao beans on a concrete surface in the sun. If you live somewhere where it tends to rain often, you can dry them on a covered porch instead.
It is a good idea to turn the cacao over midway through the day so both sides have a chance to dry.
Using metal changes the flavor of cacao, so if you can get a wooden rake/shovel, you’re in good hands.
Step 4: Roasting
Once the beans are fermented and dried, you have to roast them to be able to remove the husks. You can do this over a fire or the stove.
Make sure to constantly stir the beans so they don’t burn! Nobody likes burnt chocolate.
To see if they are roasted enough, occasionally take out a bean and see if the skin can be removed easily. If not, keep roasting.
Step 5: Crack the beans
Before removing the husks, the beans should be cracked into nibs. Here are 3 methods for doing so:
- For a small batch, use a hammer.
- For a medium sized batch, use a mill set on coarse.
- For bigger batches, you can put the roasted beans into a sack, and wearing your farm boots, dance away on the bags to crack the beans.
Step 6: Remove the Husks
Now it’s time to discard the husks by winnowing. For a small batch, this can be done by placing the cracked beans in a bowl and stirring it, so that the husks come to the top and can be blown away. For a bigger batch, you can use a fan (set on low so you don’t blow the nibs away too). Place a tub on the ground, in front of the fan. Then, with the fan on low, slowly pour the cracked beans into the tub. The fan will blow away the husks as they are extremely light.
Step 7: Grind the cacao
Here you can use a mill, set on fine or a food processor to grind the cacao into a paste. Heat helps this process, so we ended up first using the mill to make a powder, and then putting that in the food processor to heat up and turn into a paste. I have heard that using a Champion juicer can also do this well. Play around with what you have available.
If you are not adding any sweetener or flavor, skip to Step 10.
Step 8: Add sweetener
Add your sweetener of choice to the paste and mix it by hand. For example, this could be panela, stevia or brown sugar.Try to use very little, if any.
If you want to be exact, you can weigh the paste and add a certain percentage of sugar.
The important thing is that it’s to your liking, so make sure you taste it before continuing to the next step. Remember, you can always add sweetener but you can’t take away, so be mindful.
Once you are satisfied with the sweetness, grind again so the granules become fine.
Step 9: Add flavor(s)
If you want to make flavored chocolate, here’s where you can separate the sweetened chocolate into batches and add the different flavors. Mix in whatever you are you are flavoring with by hand so it is spread throughout the chocolate.
Here are some examples of what you can use: candied ginger, candied orange peel, salt, chili pepper, peanut. To candy ginger or orange peel, you bring sugar and water to a boil, then add the chopped ginger or orange peel and simmer until the syrup thickens.
Step 10: Pour chocolate into molds, then refrigerate.
Here in Ecuador, you can buy plastic containers with lids for $0.10 apiece. We used the lids for the flavored chocolate and the containers for the unsweetened chocolate, which can be used for baking, hot chocolates, etc. Once the chocolate has set, you can remove it from the mold and store it in an airtight container. Enjoy!
Health benefits of the cacao superfood
Cacao, one of nature’s many miracles, is in fact the great super-food that many people seek. Cacao makes other so-called super-fruits pale in comparison!
Cacao is a titan of health benefits, the likes of which humanity has never known. It is the profound medicine that scientists and researchers toil to discover. If Cacao were a pharmaceutical drug, it would be hailed as the greatest medicine of all time, and its discoverer would reap the Nobel prize in Medicine. Cacao is all of that. Cacao is right out in the open, more protective than any other food, and more powerful than any medicine ever devised.
- Cardiovascular Health – One of the main health benefits of cacao is for the arteries in your heart and brain. Eating cacao foods such as chocolate several times per day may decrease your likelihood of having a stroke or heart attack, according to clinical studies published in the “Journal of the American College of Cardiology” and the “Journal of Internal Medicine.” In both studies, the frequency of stroke and heart attack in human subjects declined with an increase in chocolate intake.
- Antioxidants – In my opinion this is the best reason to eat cacao nibs or dark chocolate in general. Antioxidants help fight off free radical damage in the body which can cause DNA damage, premature aging and even cancers. Think of antioxidants as firefighters putting out a blaze. And cacao is one of the highest sources of antioxidants.
- Flavonoids – They come from plants and can be responsible for giving pigmentation and colors to being involved in UV filtration. They are similar to antioxidants in that they have a free radical scavenging capacity and have anti-cancer properties while other flavonoids show potential for anti HIV function. We get flavonoids from fruits, vegetables, teas, wine and a significant amount from cacao. Essentially the antioxidant activity comes from flavanoids.
- Can Fight Cardiovascular Disease – There is a positive relationship between intake of flavonoid rich foods such as cacao and lower rates of cardiovascular-related mortality. In the 1930′s to early 50′s flavonoids were actually referred to as ‘Vitamin P’ because of the effect they had on the permeability of vascular capillaries. That study linked here has shown that as little as 5 grams of cacao powder is sufficient to elicit significant vasodilation of the brachial artery.
- Fiber – There is a huge amount of fiber in just a one ounce serving of cacao nibs. 9 grams! This can help control your blood pressure and blood glucose levels. This fiber can also help lower blood cholesterol as well as helping keep bowel movements regular. You and I are close now and I think we can definitely talk about that…
- Magnesium – A one ounce serving of cacao nibs has 64 milligrams of magnesium making it one of the best dietary sources of it.