Learn how chocolate is made. From the tree to the pod to the bean, cocoa has a long journey before turning into your favorite treat.
(Or Cacao Powder)
When you read articles about the health properties of cocoa and chocolate, the stimulating effects for the brain, or antioxidant content, it is in the cocoa powder that most of chocolate's nutrition lies.
Often referred to as cocoa solids, this byproduct of cocoa bean processing used to be the most popular portion of the plant.
Today, cocoa powder is outclassed in popularity by cocoa butter, which is the primary ingredient in chocolate—the cocoa fat—that gives the creamy and delicious texture.
Despite the popularity of cocoa butter, the powder is finding a resurgence amongst health conscious individuals interested in making their own cacao products at home. (We love both at Wild Foods!)
As discussed in section 3, the way cocoa is processed plays the predominant role in the final nutritional makeup of the cocoa. Namely if it is dutched or natural. (Hint: go with natural non-alkalized cocoa powder for more health benefit, such as our Wild Chocolate Powder.)
Processing Cocoa Powder
A cocoa tree takes 3 - 4 years before they are ready to bear fruit adequate for cultivation.
Once mature, a cocoa plant will produce 20 - 30 pods a year with approximately 20 - 50 cocoa beans inside each. Through arduous manual labor, native workers hack down the pods with machetes before splitting the pods open and scooping out the cocoa beans inside.
The beans are heaped together and left for a few days of fermentation (referred to as “sweating”). This helps remove the bitterness from the cocoa beans. The beans are then fermented one last time for 1-2 weeks.
Next the beans are roasted. After the cocoa beans are roasted, the fat (cocoa butter) is separated from the solids using a hydraulic press that drains off the cocoa butter. The cocoa butter ends up being 54 - 58% of the total weight of the cocoa beans, which leaves the rest to be made into cocoa powder.
The resulting 42 - 46% of the cocoa bean is a fine, dry powder full of antioxidants, stimulating chemical compounds, vitamins, and minerals.
However the taste of the cocoa powder depends on the method of processing. The three methods for processing cocoa are below.
Broma Process - Named after “theobroma” (the Latin name for cocoa), the Broma process was the original option that uses heat and gravity to separate cocoa butter from the cocoa bean. This method was used until 1828 but is rare today after being replaced by Houten's pressing invention.
Dutch Process - One complaint Europeans had with cocoa was the bitterness, which Coenraad Johannes van Houten tried to remedy through his invention of the Dutch processing method. This method soaks the remaining cocoa powder in an alkaline solution so they are more chemically neutral.
While this helped expand the use of cocoa in chocolate, and is still used to this day, it comes with drawbacks—the cocoa is more difficult to bake with, has a significantly reduced antioxidant content, and the deep chocolate flavor is strongly muted.
Natural Process - This is cocoa that has not undergone dutch processing but has been processed using a hydraulic press. After being separated from cocoa butter, it is left as is. (Natural is the only form of cocoa powder we sell.)
Various Dutched Cocoa Powders
Because the Dutch processing method has become so popular over the past 150 years, there are many variations to produce a range of different cocoa powders.
Here are a list of different Dutch processed cocoa powders that you might come across:
Black cocoa - This is the most heavily Dutch processed cocoa, which provides the darkest cocoa and one of the richest flavors—of course, at the cost of all the health benefit.
Double-Dutch cocoa - Usually a double Dutch processed cocoa combines normal dutch processed cocoa powder with a black cocoa powder. This gives it a less intense flavor than black cocoa, but still more intense than regular Dutch processed.
Triple cocoa blend - Occasionally, a baking recipe can utilize the subtle flavors of black cocoa, Dutch processed, and natural all in the same product. That is what the triple cocoa blend provides.
Benefits of non-alkalized cocoa powder
While cocoa butter is filled with healthy saturated and monounsaturated fats, the other healthy part of the cocoa plant should not be discounted; the cocoa solids.
Much of the antioxidant value found in chocolate comes from the flavonoids in the cocoa powder, especially non-alkalized cocoa powder that has not been treated with chemicals or solvents and thus maintains the healthy antioxidant and flavonoids that are responsible for improving many markers of health including aiding against cardiovascular disease.
This 2006 study noted that flavonoid-rich cocoa had “...favorable physiological effects include: antioxidant activity, vasodilation and blood pressure reduction...decreased inflammation.” The antioxidant profile found in cocoa is particularly strong in natural cocoa powder as opposed to the Dutch processing methods.
Scientists published in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry found that light Dutch processed cocoa had less than half the antioxidants as natural cocoa powder. The moderately processed cocoa had 22.5% of the antioxidants while only 11.2% remained of the heavily Dutch processed cocoa powder. Losing so much of the health value makes the flavor hardly worth it!
Besides the antioxidant value, cocoa powder is full of vitamins and minerals not often found in other foods. Cocoa is especially rich in calcium, copper, and magnesium, among others.
High Quality Cocoa Powder
As we have mentioned, the highest quality cocoa powder comes from a non-Dutch processed producer, which has the original flavor, aroma, and health benefits.
The quality of the bean also makes a big difference, which is why organic cocoa is a wiser choice than mass-produced conventional cocoa products.
We recommend you always opt for the highest quality cocoa and chocolate you can find. Make sure you buy organic cocoa powder that is naturally processed for maximum flavor and aroma.