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Cacao—Specialty Crop Profile
Popular worldwide, chocolate and many other products are produced from the fruit of the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao). Two of the main commercial products obtained from the specially processed beans of cacao fruit are cocoa liquor and cocoa butter, which are mixed with other ingredients such as sugar and milk to produce chocolate. When cocoa liquor is pressed to remove most of the butter, the resulting press cake when dried is called cocoa powder (10–25% fat), which is used in beverages, cakes, and cookies. Cocoa butter also has applications in cosmetics and soaps. In certain countries traditional beverages are also consumed locally made from processing cocoa beans at home. The white, sweet and sour cocoa pulp surrounding the beans in their pod is extracted to prepare beverages.
Cocoa production in Pacific islands is relatively small, with Solomon Islands being the largest producer (5,000 MT or 5,500 t), followed by Vanuatu (800 MT or 880 t) and Samoa (500 MT or 550 t). Production in Hawai‘i in 2009 was estimated to be 18 MT (20 t) on 20 ha (50 ac).
Cacao farms are established often in thinned (Brazil, West Africa) or cleared forests (South America, Asia) or intercropped with other tree crops such as coconut (Cocos nucifera), rubber (Hevea brasiliensis), or fruit trees. When being established in fallow land, cacao seedlings (ca 1,000 trees/ha or 400 trees/ac) are planted under temporary shade of banana or plantain or leguminous tree crops such as Gliricidia sepium (called “madre de cacao” in Spanish, meaning “mother of cacao), Inga spp., and Albizia spp. Shade intensity is a critical factor for successful establishment and fruit production. Cacao trees are prone to wind damage and their cultivation often suffers in tropical trade winds as well as in cyclone-prone areas. Shallow-rooted shade trees that are not firmly anchored can also cause damage by falling on cacao trees.
Small-scale chocolate processing
Bittenbender and Kling (2009) present an annotated pictorial of harvesting, pod cracking, fermenting, drying, roasting, cracking, winnowing, and chocolate making for small-scale producers. Briefly, the process is as follows. After drying to 6–8% moisture (seed coat and seed can be crumbed by hand) the seed is stored for at least one month at ambient temperature in a insect proof container such as a plastic bucket with fine mesh screen over the top to exclude insects. The seed is then roasted in a convection oven at 135–150°C (275–300°F) for 30–40 minutes for darker, more chocolatey flavors, and 15–25 minutes for fruitier flavors. Alternatively, it can be gently stir fried in stove-top pan. An aroma of baking brownies should be noticed. Stir seeds while roasting to ensure uniform roasting. After seeds have been roasted and cooled, they can be crushed with a rolling pin on a counter top, in specialized hopper crusher, or even in a coffee huller. The goal is to crack the roasted seeds into pieces of shell (testa) and nib (cotyledon). If the pieces are not too small, the shell and nib can be separated using a simple winnowing process. Winnowing can be done by gently pouring from a bucket to a drop cloth or pan using natural breeze or wind from a fan, hair dryer, or vacuum cleaner. Separating out the shell is essential as the shell pieces do not have a good chocolate flavor or texture.
Next, the nibs are ground into a thick paste, called cocoa liquor, which is mixed with cocoa butter, sugar, and other ingredients such as milk powder, depending on the type of chocolate desired. To achieve a smooth mouth-feel, this mixture is finely ground in a special machine called a melanger over a period of 6–72 hours. The heat of friction keeps the molten chocolate warm during the conching process. The final process is tempering, which is a controlled-temperature cooling while stirring to cause the chocolate to crystallize into in a form that has optimal texture and appearance (see photos next page).
Other value-added products
The Indonesian Cocoa Research Institute (ICCRI) and Cocoa research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) have developed various products such as jelly, soaps, cosmetics, cattle feed, and manure-based fertilizers from cocoa. Technology transfer from Indonesia of low cost methods to process cocoa should be explored.
Cocoa pulp is extracted using low cost machines in Indonesia, Brazil, and Ecuador and used to make drinks. Cocoa jelly is made from the first day’s sweating (drippings from fermentation heaps) during the fermentation process. Alcoholic drinks can also be made from cocoa sweating.
Cocoa husks are rich in potash, which should be returned to the cocoa fields after composting. Soaps are also made from ash of pod husks. Animal (cattle, pigs, poultry) feeds can be mixed with ground up cocoa husks.
Original source of this article
This article is excerpted by permission of the publisher from
Hebbar, P., H.C. Bittenbender, and D. O’Doherty. 2011. Cacao (Theobroma cacao). In: Elevitch, C.R. (ed.). Specialty Crops for Pacific Island Agroforestry. Permanent Agriculture Resources (PAR), Holualoa, Hawai‘i. © Permanent Agriculture Resources