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How Chocolate Is Made

Chocolate is a delicious and decadent food made from the fruit of the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao). In its raw form, it tastes bitter, but when processed to become chocolate, it’s sweet and rich. Whether it’s eaten by itself or used in a variety of other foods and beverages, chocolate is enjoyed around the world. On average, Americans consume about 12 pounds of chocolate per year.

Chocolate production involves a complex series of chemical reactions. The main flavor compounds are polyphenols and pyrazines, which transform during processing into aldehydes, ketones and esters. In addition to these main ingredients, a wide range of minor ingredients, such as emulsifiers, flavorings, colors and inclusions, are added to enhance or modify the taste and texture of chocolate.

Most of the world’s chocolate comes from West African countries, including Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. Cacao grows exclusively in tropical climates. The beans that make up chocolate are fermented, dried and roasted before being ground into a cocoa paste. The paste is then pressed to remove the fat, which is what makes up the chocolate bar we all know and love.

The resulting cocoa powder is mixed with sugar, milk or other additives to make different types of chocolate. For example, milk chocolate is made by mixing melted cocoa with butter and other ingredients to produce a smooth and creamy chocolate. White chocolate is made by combining cocoa with sugar and adding other ingredients, such as salt or vanilla, to create a delicate, less-sweet and slightly nutty chocolate.

In addition to the various cocoa ingredients, the final product must be tempered, which means heating the chocolate to make it thicker and more solid. In the past, this process was done by hand, but modern equipment has enabled producers to temper in an automated way. This is important because improperly tempered chocolate can result in dull or dry flavors and a crumbly texture.

Cacao is a shade-tolerant plant, and when grown in a forest canopy, it can have a low impact on the environment. However, many cacao farmers in Africa are paid too little to cover their costs. As a result, they clear the forests to grow more cocoa and often use unpaid child labor, according to a 2018 report by the environmental group Mighty Earth.

When buying a chocolate bar, check the list of ingredients to ensure it’s an ethically sourced and sustainable product. Look for organic ingredients, fair trade certification and a “best by” date. When kept at room temperature, chocolate has a shelf life of up to a year. However, it’s best to eat it within its recommended “best by” date for optimal freshness.

These bars all scored high in our commerce editor’s taste tests for their balance of richness and flavor. Some have a more intense dark cocoa content, while others have more subtle notes of wood and tea. Regardless, these chocolates are all delicious and will please even die-hard dark chocolate connoisseurs.

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