How Chocolate Is Made

While making cocoa powder is about removing much of the cocoa butter from chocolate liquor, making chocolate (the common eating varieties, at least) is about adding extra cocoa butter, as well as other ingredients, to the chocolate liquor.

Cocoa butter is an absolutely essential component of chocolate. Indeed, it accounts for about 25 percent of the weight of most chocolate bars.

Cocoa butter has such enormous importance in the making of chocolate because of its unique qualities (which also make it valuable in pharmaceutical and cosmetic manufacturing). It is the only vegetable fat that is solid at room temperature, allowing for the production of chocolate "bars" and other molded chocolate candies.

Cocoa butter is also unusual in that it melts at 89 to 93 degrees Fahrenheit -- just below body temperature -- and so is responsible for giving chocolate its melt-in-your-mouth appeal. Last but not least, cocoa butter resists oxidation and rancidity very well, allowing it to be stored at room temperature for years without spoiling.

To make eating chocolate, then, additional cocoa butter is blended into chocolate liquor; depending on the type of chocolate being made and the manufacturer's recipe, sugar and other ingredients may be added, as well. The amounts of cocoa butter, chocolate liquor, and other ingredients are strictly dictated by the manufacturer's proprietary formula. The ingredients are thoroughly mixed together, in some cases for hours. The mixture is then refined by being passed between heavy rollers (multiple times for the finest chocolates) to smooth out grittiness.

Next, the chocolate mixture is poured into a special shell-shape machine for a process called "conching." Conching was invented in 1879 by Swiss chocolate-maker Rodolphe Lindt and helped usher in the age of modern, velvety-smooth chocolate.

Conching is a mechanical kneading process in which heavy rollers move back and forth through the chocolate mixture. The rollers agitate and aerate the chocolate, developing the chocolate flavor and further breaking down the chocolate and sugar molecules to make the chocolate silkier and more pliable. By carefully adjusting the speed of the rollers and level of aeration, the manufacturer can alter the chocolate's flavor and texture. In general, the longer chocolate is conched, the smoother it will be.

Conching may be performed for as little as a few hours, although a high-quality chocolate may be conched for as long as three days. Additional cocoa butter may be added at this stage for a richer chocolate. A fat called lecithin, derived from soy, is often added as a stabilizer at this stage, too. And any additional flavoring ingredients, such as vanilla, that were not added earlier may be included at the conching stage.

Some manufacturers supplant or supplement the conching phase with a step called emulsifying. In this process, a sort of giant eggbeater breaks up the sugar crystals in the chocolate, resulting in a more velvety texture.

Before the chocolate can be poured into molds, dripped over fillings, or shipped off in liquid form to other food manufacturers, it needs to go through one more step, called tempering. Friction during the conching process naturally heats up the chocolate. During tempering, the chocolate is slowly, carefully, and repeatedly cooled and heated while being stirred continuously.

Tempering is a stabilizing process that helps to keep the chocolate crystals from clumping together, which would give the chocolate a grainy or crumbly texture. It also gives the final product a smooth, glossy appearance and prevents the cocoa butter from separating out and causing a dull, grayish "bloom" on the surface of the chocolate. It's a complicated process that, done improperly, can seriously affect the quality of the final chocolate product.

Thanks to modern chocolate-making processes, fans of chocolate have many varieties to choose from. Keep reading to learn about one of these varieties, dark chocolate.

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