The main ingredient in chocolate is cocoa or cacao beans. The beans grow mostly near the equator, in tropical climates with heavy rainfalls. The largest producer of cocoa beans in the world is a country in western Africa called Cote d’Ivoire.
Other regions that produce significant cocoa bean crops include South and Central America, certain countries in Southeast Asia and Hawaii.
Cocoa trees are very fragile, which is the reason why people must harvest cocoa beans by hand. Skilled farmers cut the pods with knives making sure to choose only the ripe ones for best flavour. Each pod contains somewhere between twenty and fifty cocoa beans. The beans are surrounded by a thin layer of pulp.
The next step is the removal of beans from their pods, pulp intact. After removal comes fermentation, which is the first step in the conversion of beans into chocolate. Depending on the type of cocoa, fermentation takes between two and seven days. Fermentation in cocoa beans is similar to fermentation in grapes and other foods. It is a very complex natural chemical process that involves microorganisms, sugars and the beans themselves. Fermentation of cocoa beans darkens their colour and changes the flavour. It also increases the acidity and decreases bitterness. All of this is very important for the subsequent roasting of the beans. The pulp gradually warms up, turns into a liquid and drains from the beans.
During the next step of the process, beans are dried, often under the direct sun rays but sometimes also over a fire or in hot air. At this step of the process, the beans lose about 50% of their weight because of evaporation. After that, the beans are packaged and sent to processing plants all over the world. The plants then clean the beans, roast them and turn them into the final product.