What are cocoa beans?

Cocoa beans are the seeds found in cocoa pods, which grow on trees often found in Africa, and Central and South America. These beans are fermented, dried, crushed, processed and manufactured into chocolate. Chocolate production begins with the harvesting of the pods of the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao). The Latin binomial means "food of the gods." The cacao tree is a small evergreen and its pods, when ripe, may be colored yellow, orange or red and shaped like a football. Each pod contains 20-50 seeds, or "cocoa beans." The pods are cut off the tree by cocoa harvesters with machetes. The seeds are removed, along with the light-colored, sweet, pulp inside the pods and left to ferment for a few days. Traditionally, this was done in big heaps on the ground. In more modern operations, this is done in bins. After a few days, the seeds are separated from the pulp, spread out more thinly and allowed to dry in the sun. Once dry, the cocoa beans are shipped to chocolate manufacturers. Once at the chocolate factory, the beans are roasted at around 250 °F (121 °C) for about an hour. This roasting darkens the beans (via some of the same browning reactions that occur during dark malt production). The shells are then cracked and the kernels (called nibs) are gathered. The nibs are then ground into a dark brown, bitter paste called chocolate liquor (or pure chocolate). Chocolate liquor is, on average, 47% cocoa solids and 53% cocoa butter. Despite the name, it is not alcoholic.