What I learnt about the cocoa bean (when I decided to make craft chocolate)

With Easter days away, it’s impossible to not see chocolate everywhere I turn. I’m not complaining, I love chocolate and think it should be its own food group but, recently, I’ve started to look for something different in my chocolates beyond your standard name-brand hollow egg.  I’ve even been thinking that I might make my own.
Craft Chocolate UK has a great blog post that told me everything I needed to know about making my own chocolates.  It also told me things I didn’t know or didn’t expect – like I might want to think about roasting my own beans. I’m not sure what I thought I would be doing when I made my own chocolates, but it definitely wasn’t that. I didn’t even know I could buy cocoa beans, but you can and there are plenty of options out there, from specialist sites and stores to large-scale sellers like Amazon because making craft chocolate is a growing trend, following in the footsteps of craft beers and coffees.
With a wide range of buying options, I decided to do my research first.  I’m pleased to report, I’ve managed to find a number of suppliers that should hit the mark.  I’ve also found out plenty of things I never knew about the cocoa bean.  Geek that I am, I found them fascinating, and – for all my fellow chocolate-loving geeks out there – I thought I’d share some of those “I never knew that” facts…
First up, is just how long it takes to grow cocoa beans.  Trees take three to four years to flower, and only a small number of these flowers produce fruit that becomes the cocoa bean, meaning they’re much rarer than you might think given how much is on the shelves.  In fact, one tree only produces enough beans to make 450g of chocolate a year (think 10 bars of dairy milk).
Given how rare cocoa beans are, it’s no surprise they were first used as money by the Mayans, who then seemed to discover how good they tasted because they began using them to make a not-so-sweet hot chocolate, crushing beans in hot water.
I also didn’t realise they were used for more than making chocolate, but cocoa beans also make cocoa butter and are used in animal feed and garden mulch.  Thankfully, it’s just the hulls as I’d hate to think of all that lovely chocolate making potential going to waste.
When they are being used to make lovely chocolate, the beans have to be roasted; before that, they don’t taste or smell like chocolate.  They do, however, have around 300 different non-chocolatey flavours.
I am not sure what these 300 flavours taste like, but I can’t imagine any taste better than chocolate.  I also don’t know which wonderful Mayan man or woman first decided to roast them but, whoever it was, I would like to say thank you.  You have made me, and many other people, very happy.  Now I just need to turn these lovely beans into lovely chocolate!
Emma x

collaborative postThis is a collaborative post with Craft Chocolate UK

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