How is chocolate made?

Chocolate production begins at the cocoa tree, where cocoa pods containing cocoa beans in a cotton wool-like pulp are harvested between October and December. The beans are placed between layers of banana leaves for six days to drain the pulp away, a method known as ‘heap’, before being dried in the sun, packaged and sent to a factory for chocolate making.

Inside a chocolate factory, the beans are heated inside a continuous roaster as they travel along a conveyor belt. The time of this process varies depending on the flavour required. Once suitably roasted, they are broken down into small pieces and their brittle shells are removed, leaving only the meaty centres of the beans, the ‘nibs’, which contain the essential cocoa butter for chocolate production. A mill grinds these nibs into a thick brown liquid known as ‘cocoa liquor’, the basis of all chocolate products, which is then mixed with varying amounts of sugar and milk depending on the required type of chocolate. Typically, dark chocolate consists of 70% cocoa liquor, while milk and white chocolate have 30%.

Vacuum ovens then dry this mixture into what is known as a chocolate ‘crumb’, before giant rollers squash the liquid together. It is then grinded between rollers to improve the silky texture, before being smoothed even further in a process known as ‘conching’. This involves kneading the mixture in giant tanks at about 46°C, with the very best chocolate being conched for more than a week. The final process is tempering, where the liquid is continuously cooled and heated in a cycle until it is a stable chocolaty consistency.

After this stage of the chocolate-making process, the liquid can be poured into moulds, cooled and wrapped at high speeds to make products like bars of chocolate. To make chocolate with a particular filling, such as caramel, the insides of the bars pass along a conveyor belt and are ‘enrobed’ by the liquid chocolate before being cooled and wrapped.

How chocolate is made
How chocolate is made

The origins of chocolate

Chocolate is derived from the theobroma (‘food of the gods’) cacao tree and was consumed by the Mayans as a drink. Chocolate became a sacred elixir to both the Mayans and Aztecs; it was used during state executions and religious ceremonies. Archaeologists have discovered residues of chocolate in ancient jars that were found in Honduras and dated to 1100 BCE.

Cocoa trees grew in abundance throughout the Mayan territories, and by 600 CE their pods (pictured) were processed in order to produce a frothy, bitter drink. The Mayans blended their chocolate with spices like chilli pepper and vanilla; once consumed they were believed to ward off tiredness. Evidence suggests that cocoa beans were also ground to a powder. During this process, other ingredients could be added – in this instance, the resulting powder was mixed with cold water to create porridge.

A theobroma cacao tree
A theobroma cacao tree

Record-breaking chocolate

Largest bar of chocolate

In September 2010, Armenian-Canadian JV ‘Grand Candy’ Co Ltd made the world’s largest chocolate bar, a mammoth 4,410kg hunk of chocolate.

Largest chocolate bar collection

American Bob Brown holds the record for the largest chocolate bar collection, racking up an impressive 770 different variants of the sweet brown stuff.

Longest bar of chocolate 

Italian A Giordano Laboratorio Di Cioccolato produced a record-breaking bar of chocolate, measuring 11.57 metres long and 1.1 metres wide, in 2010.

Most valuable chocolate bar

An uneaten 100-year old Cadbury’s chocolate bar became the most valuable bar in the world when it sold for £470 in 2001 to an anonymous bidder.

Most strawberries dipped in chocolate in one minute

Here’s a bizarre one that sounds breakable: American Collin Gouldin set the record for the most strawberries dipped in chocolate in one minute in 2008. He managed 53.

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Plus take a look at:

Why is chocolate bad for animals?

Why do we eat chocolate eggs at Easter?

Can food make us happy?