Cocoa Beans

The cocoa bean is the basic raw ingredient in the manufacture of all cocoa products. The beans are converted to chocolate liquor, the primary ingredient from which all chocolate and cocoa products are made. Figure 1 depicts the conversion of cocoa beans to chocolate liquor, and in turn to the chief chocolate and cocoa products manufactured in the United States, ie, cocoa powder, cocoa butter, and sweet and milk chocolate.

Significant amounts of cocoa beans are produced in about 30 different localities. These areas are confined to latitudes 20° north or south of the equator. Although cocoa trees thrive in this very hot climate, young trees require the shade of larger trees such as banana, coconut, and palm for protection.

Fermentation (Curing)

Prior to shipment from producing countries, most cocoa beans undergo a process known as curing, fermenting, or sweating. These terms are used rather loosely to describe a procedure in which seeds are removed from the pods, fermented, and dried. Unfermented beans, particularly from Haiti and the Dominican Republic, are used in the United States.

Commercial Grades

Most cocoa beans imported into the United States are one of about a dozen commercial varieties that can be generally classified as Criollo or Forastero. Criollo beans have a light color, a mild, nutty flavor, and an odor somewhat like sour wine. Forastero beans have a strong, somewhat bitter flavor and various degrees of astringency. The Forastero varieties are more abundant and provide the basis for most chocolate and cocoa for formulations. The main varieties of cocoa beans imported into the United States, usually named for the country or port of origin, are Ivory Coast, Accra (Ghana), Lagos, Nigeria, Fernando Po, and Sierra Leone (from Africa); Bahia (Brazil), Arriba (Ecuador), and Venezuelan (from South America); Malaysia, New Guinea, Indonesia, and Samoa (in the Pacific); and Sanchez (Dominican Republic), Grenada, and Trinidad (in the West Indies).


Most chocolate and cocoa products consist of blends of beans chosen for flavor and color characteristics.


Worldwide cocoa bean production ranged from 2.3-2.5-million t and cocoa bean production was stagnant between 1988 and 1993. Indonesia was the only country significantly expanding production. Production in Brazil and Malaysia actually dropped.


Worldwide cocoa bean consumption increased by 14% between 1988 and 1993 from approximately 2.1 million t in the 1988-1989 crop year to almost 2.4 million t today. North America and Western Europe increased grind by approximately 26% over this time period, whereas in Russia and Eastern Europe grind dropped by 46%.


Most of the cocoa beans and products imported into the United States are done so by New York and London trade houses. The New York Sugar, Coffee, and Cocoa Exchange provides a mechanism by which both chocolate manufacturers and trade houses can hedge their cocoa bean transactions.

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Making Chocolate 101

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