From Cacao to Chocolate

SUBHEAD: Instructions on harvesting, drying, husking, roasting, grinding and adding ingredients for chocolate.

By Linda Pascatore on 6 June 2017 for Island Breath -

Image above: Picked cacao fruit split and kernels removed for fermenting. Photo by Juan Wilson.

[IB Publisher's note: We are ever grateful for Jo Amsterdam, from Kalaheo, for giving us our first batch of cacao starts long enough ago that we can make chocolate today.]

We now have mature cacao trees, here in Hanapepe Valley on Kauai.  We have been making our own chocolate!  It is a multi-step process, which I will explain below step by step.  For the complete recipe in one place, look towards the end of the article where it is summarized.

Image above: Cacao treeling in ground after a few months. Photo by Juan Wilson.

About seven years ago, a friend gave us some tiny sprouted cacao beans.  It took almost a year before they were big enough to plant out in the ground.

Image above: Young cacao tree a year later. Photo by Juan Wilson.

The plants grew slowly, but with regular watering, they finally reached ground water. 

Image above: Six years later a ten foot tall cacao tree with its second year of fruit. Photo by Juan Wilson.

Then they took off and grew much quicker.  About seven years from the sprouts, we got our first cacao bean pods. 

Image above: Mature cacao fruit ready to pick determined by scratching a small spot with a finger nail. If the flesh under the skin is green wait and test later. If yellow-orange the fruit is ready. Photo by Juan Wilson.

There are a variety of different types and colors of cacao.  All of ours start red and turn slightly orange when ripe.  You can tell ours are ripe when you stick a fingernail through the skin, and the inside is a mustard yellow.

Image above: Split cacao husk cacao husk (left) and split and kernels removed for fermenting (right). Photo by Juan Wilson.

Then we cut through the skin to split the bean and expose the seeds.  We then pull out the seeds.

Image above: Fermenting cacao beans require changing hot water in yogurt maker for a week. Photo by Juan Wilson.

We have a non-electric yogurt maker, which operates by adding boiling water to the outer bowl. We use this yogurt maker to ferment the seeds for three or four days. You could also use 2 nesting covered bowls with hot water in the larger, or an electric yogurt maker, or put it in a warm place (don't know if pilot lights exist anymore, but I remember using the one on my old stove for a variety of purposes).

Image above: Fermented cacao beans drying in sun for a week. Photo by Juan Wilson.

After fermenting for 3 or 4 days, spread the beans on a pan and place out to dry in the sun. After 5 or 6 days in the sun (or at least a dry, airy place) the beans will be dried out. 

Image above: Sun dried cacao ready to be roasted in oven. Photo by Juan Wilson.

Then it is time to roast them.  Bake the beans in the oven, for 5 minutes at 350 degrees, then for 10 minutes at 250 degrees.  Don't leave them in the oven while it comes down to 250--take them out after 5 minutes at 350, then wait for your oven to come down to 250, the bake 10 minutes more.  You can go a longer time at one lower temperature, but we found that starting at the higher temp separated the beans more from the skin and made them easier to peel.

Image above: Peeling roasted cacao of their thin shell with knife and finger nails is a lot of manual work . Photo by Juan Wilson.

After the beans cool, peel off the thin outer skin or husk.  We use a paring knife to break the skin, then peel off to leave the beans shown below.  Some beans will break up, that is no problem as we are going to grind them anyway.  These roasted beans are called nibs.  Some folks like to eat either the raw beans, or the roasted beans, with no other ingredients.  They are flavorful, but rather bitter.

Image above: One half pound of roasted and peeled cacao nibs ready for grinding. Photo by Juan Wilson.

There are different ways to grind the cacao.  You can use a coffee grinder, a food processor, or a mortar and pestle.  We do a little of all three, although that is probably not necessary.  Unless you have commercial equipment, your chocolate will be more grainy and have more texture than chocolate you buy, but we consider the texture part of the charm of making authentic chocolate ourselves.

Image above: Ground cacao nibs after being chopped in coffee bean grinder. Photo by Juan Wilson.
We use a small coffee grinder first, to grind the beans until they look like a moist, grainy powder (if your grinder can get them smaller, that is better).

Image above: Coconut oil and baking sugar to be mixed with ground cacao nibs. Photo by Juan Wilson.

We add confectionery sugar, which we also grind first in the coffee grinder.  We have also used can sugar, but it is more difficult to get it to a fine texture.

Image above: Ingredients of nibs, oil and sugar blending in food processor.  Photo by Juan Wilson.

Then we put the ground cacao and sugar in the food processor and mix some more.  The last ingredient is coconut oil, which we also add to the food processor and mix.  Some recipes call for cocoa butter, but we did not like the texture or taste--it seemed to result in lighter chocolate instead of the dark 80% cacao we like.

Image above: Smoothing blended ingredients with a mortar and pestle. Photo by Juan Wilson.

Our last step is to warm our pestle in a 200 degree oven, then add the cacao mixture (beans, sugar and coconut oil) to grind it some more. 

Image above: Resulting chocolate mix placed into ice-cube tray to be refrigerated.  Photo by Juan Wilson.

We press the chocolate into an ice cube tray, which makes a good sized piece of chocolate.  When inverted, it is flat on the bottom and rounded on the top.

Image above: Half a batch of finished chocolate pieces after removal from ice-tray. Photo by Juan Wilson.

We keep a few pieces out for consumption in the next day or two, and refrigerate the rest.  In a sealed container or plastic bag the chocolate keeps for months in the fridge.

Recipe for making chocolate from cacao beans:

(this recipe is for 8 cacao pods but you can just keep the proportions and size it up or down)
Makes about 12 ounces of chocolate

8 cacao pods (approximately 8 ounces of roasted beans)
2 ounces of confectionery sugar (for 80% cacao -- can be adjusted to sweeter blend)
2 tablespoons of unrefined coconut oil

Cut open cacao pods and pull out cacao beans.

Place in a yogurt maker and ferment cacao beans for 3 or 4 days.  We use a non-electric yogurt maker and boiling water changed three times per day.  You could use two covered bowls that nest, with boiling water in the larger bowl.

Place fermented cacao beans on a baking plan, and put in the sun for 5 or 6 days.

Bake dried cacao beans for 5 minutes at 350 degrees.  Remove beans and reset oven to 250 degrees, when oven reaches temp, bake for 10 minutes at 250 degrees.

Cool roasted cacao beans and peel.  Use a paring knife to break skin, then peel off thin outer skin or husk.  It is okay if the beans break up, just separate from husk.

Grind cacao beans in a coffee grinder until as smooth as it will get (like moist coarse powder). You may do all the grinding in either a coffee grinder, a food processor, or a mortar and pestle--we use all three).

Separately, grind confectionery sugar until smooth and fine.

Put cacao beans and sugar in food processor, mix some more.

Add coconut oil to beans and sugar, mix some more.

Remove mixture from food processor and put in mortar (warmed in 200 degree oven to mix better)

Mix as long as you like, to make it smoother.

Push cacao mixture into ice cube tray, refrigerate until cool.  You can take out some to serve soon at room temperature, but keep rest refrigerated.   It will keep for months in a sealed container or plastic bag.

Enjoy your chocolate!

We plan to experiment soon making chocolate using just our own honey, and no sugar--we will report the results in an update.

For more info on cacao, go to:


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