Saturday February 2 2013

I made my own chocolate

The writer’s custom-made chocolate. PHOTO BY

The writer’s custom-made chocolate. PHOTO BY ANN M. SANYU 

By ANN M. Sanyu

As I walked in to the chocolate museum for the first time, I was hit by the strong smell of chocolate everywhere, not to mention its display, in all sorts of forms like chocolate jewellery. Perhaps, for the first time, I felt like “Charlie in the chocolate factory” and a thought occurred to me; this must be what children’s dreams are made of.

The chocolate museum in Hamburg, Germany is one of the many popular museums that attract both chocolate lovers as myself and those with a curiosity about knowing how this popular delicacy is made. I was fortunate to have had a cocoa tree in my grandmother’s garden and so I have tasted the cocoa fruit but had no idea as to how the fruit is later made into a chocolate bar.

How cocoa is grown
At the chocolate museum, the tour guide explained how the cocoa plant grown in the various parts of the world tastes differently, producing a distinct taste from each of these places, like South America and West Africa. The large number of visitors who were mostly European, were very curious about the cocoa plant. As most of them had never seen it before, I could not help but notice how the sight of the cocoa fruit fascinated most of them.

Since I had already known what this plant looked like, I was anxious to know the process of how this cocoa bean is finally transformed in to the chocolate bar. The first process as the tour guide explained, begins with the quality control, where 100 beans are selected randomly, and then cut and tested for their quality, if they are mouldy or of a low quality.

And as she explained this, there were machines and samples so that it created an atmosphere of being a chocolate factory. The museum visitors could touch the roasted cocoa and even taste some that was on display. Countries like Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, and Papua New Guinea, are the main exporters of cocoa beans with the highest quality and the most intense flavour.

How it’s made
Beans, together with the pod, are first fermented under banana leaves and later dried in the sun before export. The leaves prevent heatloss and keep moisture, which makes the pulp ferment into ethanol and acid. This is the beginning of the chocolate flavour.

At the chocolate museum, there was a machine, which the guide used to illustrate how the beans are dried to remove the moisture. As the beans dried, we could smell the strong cocoa aroma, which is part of the chocolate. After this, the cocoa bean is crushed and winnowed, and the shells are separated from the bean. This is done to remove the negative effect on the flavour and texture of the chocolate.

The remaining cocoa nib is then ground in the mill, which generates friction and heat. This then melts the chocolate butter, resulting in a chocolate coloured mass, which has a strong aroma of chocolate and looks like chocolate, only that the taste is bitter. So to get this to taste like the edible chocolate, sugar and milk powder are added.
There are different flavours of chocolate and all these depend on the cocoa percentage, for example dark chocolate has a stronger and bitter taste as it has around 77 per cent cocoa, while white chocolate is made from the fat of the cocoa, known as cocoa butter, and sugar, milk powder and vanilla are added to make a taste out of it.

Making chocolate myself
We were told that we would be given the opportunity to make our own chocolates which had already passed through the various stages described previously.

So, the task at hand was to fill a plate of plastic with tiny squares with the melted chocolate in order to shape it into a bar. The fun part was putting an assortment of chocolate fillings like raisins and, nuts onto the chocolate and then shaking both the chocolate and the filing into the square.

The chocolate was later frozen and we all had the chance to wrap and take home our custom made chocolates. Looking around at how delighted both children and adults were about making their own chocolate, I realised the reason why chocolate is loved as a delicacy by many around the world.