Making anything with chocolate is fun and tasty. There is a process to get the cocoa you bake and cook with to your shelves, and it starts in the regions where cacao grows. The pods that will eventually produce chocolate grow up to 20 degrees north and south of the equator, and depending on the region, the quality can change. The highest-quality cocoa receives careful monitoring for the ideal grown, fermented, and dried beans.
What are Cocoa Beans?
Cocoa beans, also called cacao beans, are then dried, roasted and fermented seeds of the cacao tree. The beans go through a process that prepared them for meals and baking. The beans are the key ingredient in making chocolate or other dishes and delicious drinks.
Cacao beans are the same as cocoa beans. They are the beans before any processing occurs. Cacao beans are pure in form and have not gone through the process of fermenting or roasting. You can buy them at the store for certain kinds of recipes that require cacao beans rather than cocoa beans or cocoa powder.
Cacao nibs are a common ingredient in certain baked goods along with regular cocoa for flavouring or contrast. Make sure you check your recipes before you go to the store, so you know what you are buying. Cocoa is sweeter after fermentation, while cacao is more bitter as it still has the alcohol it produces during its growth.
Why are Cocoa Beans Fermented Before Drying?
Once the cocoa bean harvest has occurred, they go through a process of fermentation. Fermenting the beans helps bring out the natural flavours of the beans and to help kill any bacteria that might be living in the bean. The process of fermenting starts right after picking the beans. The pulp of the pods the beans come from is crucial to ferment correctly.
As you prepare to ferment the beans, you extract the beans and the pulp together and spread them out together evenly on mats or in special crates for fermenting. The pulp around the beans changes into alcohol while the beans ferment because of the yeast that enters the air and mixes with the heat of the sun or oven. The combination of beans and pulp produces alcohol that gradually ferments into acetic or lactic acid.
Depending upon the region, the process of fermenting the drying cocoa beans might vary, but most follow a similar pattern. The beans are placed in a series of wooden boxes from four to eight days to let them ferment. Rotating the beans frequently ensures they are uniformly dry, and no soft spots occur. It also helps keep the airflow around the beans.
The boxes have holes drilled in the bottom to hell the alcohols produced by the beans during the fermentation process to leak out of the box. As the alcohol drips out, the bean rotation is critical to prevent them from molding or becoming mushy in juices left behind.
The process of fermenting the beans in boxes also requires you to rotate the beans out of boxes frequently. As alcohols release, while the holes let most of the alcohols and acids seep out, the beans require a clean, dry box to continue their preparation for becoming a quality product for chocolate makers.
As the beans are fermenting, other beans are drying. There are different ways to dry the beans, and each changes the flavour of the bean depending on the type of bean and the length of time it takes to dry them.
How to Dry Cocoa Beans
If you are asking yourself, “how are cocoa beans processed?” then be prepared for a multistep introduction. There are a couple of different methods that depend on the region and the availability of materials. There are two main ways of drying beans.
Solar Drying of Cocoa Beans
Solar bean drying indicates what it means. It is using the sun to dry and prepare the beans properly. Drying the beans using the sun is the more traditional way to process the beans. The beans rest on reed mats in direct sunlight. You can rotate the beans by hand over the entire drying process or by machine if you have one.
The beans require you to rotate them multiple times during the day to ensure they are uniformly dry. In areas where there is a lot of moisture or rain, the beans will require more time to dry and a covered area for them when there is no sun. A proper place to protect the beans will help to prevent them from rotting or growing mold.
Artificial Drying of Cocoa Beans
Beans can dry artificially is specially designed ovens. They are in regions where there is a lot of rain, such as Ecuador and South East Asia, which makes it difficult to dry the beans effectively. The beans dried with an oven are not always the best quality. It is very easy to over-dry the beans, which changes the flavour or contaminate them with the smell of the fire that dries them.
If you do not want to use a Samoan dryer (a plenum chamber with a flue), you can use a drying platform. You build a drying platform over a fire made with thin cement that places the beans well above the flames. You rotate the beans as you would in a regular oven to help them dry evenly. The fire requires constant attention to keep it at the right level to not overcook or undercook the beans.
The drying platforms have inlets for air to pass through the platform and not smoke. It is a careful balance of fire and air to prevent the beans from absorbing the smell from the fire. Drying should be a slow process to prevent the beans from spoiling. It helps to ensure the beans completely ferment process fully. If the beans dry too quickly, they can end up with a bitter flavour or one that does not complement most recipes and treats.
How to Process Cocoa Beans at Home
You can grow and process beans in your home. They are easy to grow, though processing them can take time and patience. You can purchase a cocoa beans drying machine designed with temperature settings that will speed up the drying of the beans. The oven helps you to dry beans at the ideal temperature for the correct length of time.
Depending on how you want your means to come out, and the type of beans you are using, drying times will vary, and you will need to watch them closely. You will still need to rotate the beans and keep an eye on them for over-drying or under drying.
Drying beans takes time, whether it is an oven or on a mat in the sun. You need patience for both methods, and you will see the reward of beans ready for creating chocolaty treats. If you are looking for the right oven to bake your beans to make treats in, take your time. There are many on the market, and you want one that will help you produce beans dried properly every time.
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Drying Cocoa Beans