Chocolate Quality Testing

http://www.ift.org/food-technology/past-issues/2012/february/columns/food-safety-and-quality.aspx?page=viewall

My first thought upon finishing this article was, “And we think tempering chocolate in school is a pain…” Not really, but we’ve all had our days in baking class where tempering the chocolate got on our nerves. And then we got points off because of the tell-tale dullness and/or graininess of our finished product which indicated too much heat and not enough time.

This article outlines the process that takes cacao pods to chocolate chips; from harvesting the pods, to removing the pulp, fermenting, winnowing, conching, tempering, and so on. This is a very well-written article, in my opinion, because although the focus of the article is the quality testing that takes place during the entire production process, the writer first takes the time to lay a foundation that details that production process, so that anyone with no previous knowledge of the aforementioned process can then read about the quality testing in the appropriate light.

After each step, the product is evaluated for quality, and the article notes some of the things which the evaluators look for. For example, properly fermented cacao beans turn brown, whereas improperly fermented beans show a slate or purple color. The seeds, nibs, and chocolate liquor are tested for fat and moisture content. Tempered chocolate undergoes testing to determine if it has “achieved the proper cocoa butter crystals”; gloss is measured using a “gloss meter.”

The article goes on to state the need for better testing procedures, whether that be equipment- or time-wise, both of which may be inhibited by budget. One such example is the need for microbiological and chemical testing, and one option would be to have equipment to do such testing in-house, but outsourcing becomes necessary because of the expense. Unfortunately, a preferred turnaround time for chemical testing is two days, and outsourcing turns that into ten.

It is fascinating to read about this entire process, and equally fascinating for me is reading it from the perspective of having recently, in the past couple of months, heard my grandparents’ stories at the dinner table about harvesting cacao pods and eating the fresh pulp, and just how much the pulp lacks in resemblance to what we know and enjoy as chocolate.

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