How is chocolate made?
come fare il cioccolato

Are you curious to discover all the secrets behind the world of chocolate? Come with me to discover every aspect of chocolate processing!


Chocolate, loved by young and old, is one of the most desired and consumed food in the world. In Italy, 3.8 to 4 kg per person per year is consumed.

Does that sound like a lot? In Switzerland, it has been calculated that as much as 8.8 kg per head is consumed annually! In 2020, chocolate consumption in Italy is estimated to have increased by 35% compared to 2019. We are talking about a not inconsiderable increase and one that is destined to grow!





Have you ever wondered what makes chocolate so desired and loved? Scientific studies show that it contains more than 500 chemical substances. Among them, phenylethylaminthe is the one that causes the feeling of well-being and enjoyment that makes us love chocolate so much.

This is a molecule that, similar to adrenaline and dopamine, acts on the pleasure centres of our brain. As a result, a long series of hormones, including serotonin and dopamine, are released within our bodies. It is from these two hormones that we derive the feeling of well-being and satisfaction after tasting a nice piece of chocolate! Could you imagine?


🧳 Travel to Italy & Taste Chocolate!


History of Chocolate
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Chocolate originates from the plants of the cacao tree. The scientific name is “Theobroma cacao”. From the Greek, “food of the gods”. The cacao plant takes a good five long years before it becomes productive. After this time, it starts to produce fruit, called “cocoa bean”. It is from the cocoa beans, after various processes that I will tell you about shortly, that the much-loved and precious chocolate is obtained.

The Maya were the first to cultivate the cacao plant. Its origin comes from the territories of Central and North America. In particular, it was widespread on the Yucatan peninsula, along the coast of Guatemala and on the territory of Chiapas. The earliest cocoa processing is estimated to date back to 1800-1400 B.C. following the discovery of some archaeological finds.

In comparatively more recent times, before contact by Europeans with the indigenous people of the area in 1502, cocoa was a beverage intended for the exclusive use of adult men, priests, sacrificial victims, important social figures and warriors. The age and gender differentiation was not due to discrimination. The reason for this distinction was that cacao, besides being very valuable, was considered an intoxicating food. In 1519, cocoa landed in Europe with Hernán Cortez.

Initially, chocolate was used as a drink and, following its arrival in Europe, the addition of vanilla and sugar to improve its flavour became popular. Originally used and intended only for the aristocratic classes, chocolate would only become the product we all know in the 1800s. During the Industrial Revolution, a time of great ferment and important inventions, Dutch scientist Coenraad Johannes van Houten developed the first hydraulic press in 1828, which enabled the separation of cocoa butter and cocoa paste. This technology was the key that opened the door to the era of modern chocolate making.

The development of the hydraulic press was followed by the birth of the first chocolate bar, produced by the Fry family in 1847. In 1867, Nestlé discovered that through the evaporation of milk, a powder was obtained that turned back into milk when mixed with water. Hence, the idea of mixing milk powder and cocoa powder. Thus the first milk chocolate bar was created!

In Switzerland, on the other hand, the conching machine was invented. Thanks to Rudolph Lindt who invented it: after repeatedly beating the raw material, a fluid, creamy and velvety product is obtained.


How is chocolate consumed today?
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how chocolate is made
Flickr, Sid


Chocolate nowadays is used in many forms. It is used as an ingredient in countless recipes and preparations and very often, it is consumed as it is. How can we not mention the delicious hot chocolate, the colourful Easter eggs, the immense variety of chocolates, the delicious chocolate bars or the much-loved Christmas sweets? Over the years, more types of chocolate have emerged.

The most famous are: milk chocolate, dark and extra dark chocolate, white chocolate, gianduia chocolate and Ruby chocolate, better known as pink chocolate. The most popular recipes using chocolate as the main or secondary ingredient are Sacher, Pain au chocolat, chocolate truffles, Setteveli, Bonet, Caprese, brownies, black forest and many more!

Let us now discover together, to the delight of young and old, what are the all the secrets behind the production of chocolate and in particular chocolate from Italy 👇


How is chocolate made today?
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First of all, it is good to know that in order to obtain high-quality end chocolate, each production step, from the cultivation of the cacao plant to the packaging, must be carried out under the best possible conditions. There are many factors that can negatively influence the quality of chocolate! There are many steps to take… Discover them with me!


1. Harvesting the cocoa beans

chocolate being made
pixabay, falco


Harvesting takes place after a ripening period of about 150-165 days. The Theobroma Cacao plant has an average life of 25 years, becoming productive after its fifth year. As there is no precise ripening period, harvesting can take place throughout the year. The harvesting of the cocoa beans is done by hand by experienced personnel, who can recognise the correct ripeness of the fruit just by looking at it! Each tree produces about 1 kg of cocoa per year.


2. Fermentation of the cocoa beans

With an average duration of about 4-7 days, fermentation is a very delicate phase because it is here that the aromas that will be found in the chocolate will emerge and develop. It is therefore essential that fermentation is carried out in the best possible way so as not to impart undesirable or unpleasant aromas. For the beans to ferment, they must be stripped of the white jelly surrounding them and placed in containers in dark, ventilated rooms, with stirring at regular intervals. Fermentation of the broad beans also serves to inactivate the seed that would otherwise germinate.


3. Drying the cocoa beans

Lasting 3-4 days, drying is necessary to reduce the amount of acetic acid and moisture in the beans and stop fermentation. Generally carried out naturally, this step can be performed by machines that reduce the moisture content of the bean by up to 8%. Such a low moisture content is optimal for transport.


4. Cleaning the cocoa beans

Cleaning is useful for removing all the impurities and dust that have accumulated during the previous steps. At the end of the procedure, the weight of the beans is reduced by about 50 per cent. To clean the cocoa beans, they have to be inserted into rotating cylinders that, when the process is finished, make it possible to obtain beans ready to be placed in transport bags and sent to companies to… finally become chocolate!


5. Post-shipment cleaning and roasting of cocoa beans

After shipping, the beans are cleaned of any residual dust accumulated during the journey. They are gently brushed and sieved. Only after surface cleaning are the beans subjected to two different roasting processes. The first involves using a maximum temperature of 100°C to dry them. The second involves the use of temperatures ranging from 100°C to 160°C depending on the type of cocoa bean being processed. It is at this stage that the aromatic characterisation initiated and interrupted during fermentation is completed.

It is very important that there is a correct balance between temperature and roasting time in order not to obtain beans that are too bitter. At the same time, it is important that the roasting is not too mild. This would result in poorly flavoured beans and a chocolate lacking its characteristic aroma.


6. Decorticating the cocoa beans

chocolate processing
pixabay, BabaMu


Once roasting is complete, the cocoa beans are placed inside a machine called “cocoa breaker”. As the name suggests, it reduces the beans into smaller pieces by breaking them. These will tend to separate from their outer husk, which will be removed by sieves. The bean at this stage is reduced to cocoa beans.


7. Grinding the cocoa beans

At this stage, the cocoa bean is fed into a machine called a “mill” that reduces it to cocoa butter. The granite stones from which the mill is made transform the cocoa bean into liquid form.


8. Blending cocoa butter

The cocoa butter paste obtained by grinding is combined with all the necessary ingredients to obtain the desired end product. Milk or milk powder, sugar, vanilla, hazelnut paste and, only in some countries, vegetable fats are used. Based on the use of different percentages of these ingredients, all the types of chocolate that we discussed together a few paragraphs ago are created and distinguished from each other.


9. Refining chocolate

Refining, immediately following grinding, is used to reduce the size of the cocoa bean to a size of around 20 microns using rotating cylinders. This step is essential to ensure that the chocolate is palatable and free of particularly large lumps.


10. Conching the chocolate

Conching is necessary to make the mixture fluid, homogenous and ready for cooling in the moulds. The term “conching” is derived from the original shape of the machinery used in the past, which had the appearance of large shells. The procedure takes place at 80°C. The roundness, low sourness, velvety taste and consistency of the dough all depend on this step! In general, it is important to know that the quality of the chocolate is directly proportional to the duration of this operation. More hours of conching indicate higher quality and vice versa.


11. Tempering chocolate

producing chocolate
Flickr, gidesigner


This step is essential to gradually and, above all, correctly lower the temperature of the chocolate, which is very high following conching. During tempering, the chocolate becomes homogenous and shiny.

Tempering, however, is not just about giving chocolate a good appearance. Cocoa butter is a product that tends to crystallise polymorphously, i.e. taking on irregular crystalline shapes. Achieving a product that crystallises in the most appropriate way is crucial to obtaining chocolate that “cracks” when broken and melts optimally when eaten. The procedure is that when the chocolate has reached 45°C, it must be cooled down to a temperature of 27°C and then heated again to 31°C if dark and 29°C if milk. Only now is the chocolate ready to be poured and cooled in the moulds.


12. Moulding and packaging the chocolate

Now the chocolate is ready to be placed in the moulds to obtain the desired shapes! The moulds are placed on a vibrating machine that allows all the small air bubbles inside to be removed. The chocolate is now left to cool, and is then packed in aluminium foil and wrapped in paper packaging that insulates it from the outside. Finally, all you have to do is unwrap it and enjoy!


How to make chocolate at home?
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Making chocolate at home is easier than you might imagine! The long steps we have just seen together let’s leave them to the great chocolatiers, let’s rather focus on domestic procedures that, in their simplicity, can at the same time give great results! The techniques vary according to what ingredients are available to you. Come and discover them with me!


1. Chocolate made from cocoa powder

The ingredients you will need are:

  • 220g cocoa powder
  • 170g of butter at room temperature
  • 100g white sugar
  • 150 ml of milk at room temperature
  • a pinch of salt (optional)
  • 30g icing sugar
  • 235 ml room temperature water

Start by blending the butter and cocoa well, if possible with a food processor or electric whisk. Then pour the mixture into a large bowl large enough to be used for cooking the chocolate in a bain-marie. After bringing the water to the boil with the bowl placed over the saucepan, start cooking the chocolate in a bain-marie with the flame of the water very low.

Take care to stir well during this step, paying attention to the chocolate settling on the sides of the bowl. You will have to reinsert it into the mixture to ensure that it does not burn. When the mixture is hot, place it in the food processor or start mixing it with the whisk until it becomes as smooth and homogeneous as possible. Only then add the milk and sugar a little at a time, continuing to mix very well. If necessary, add more sugar (or salt if you prefer).

Watch out! It’s only a little while before you can finally enjoy your delicious chocolate! All you have to do is pour it into moulds or into the icebox of your fridge and chill it in the freezer. Enjoy!


2. How chocolate is made from cocoa beans

The ingredients you will need are:

  • 200g raw cocoa beans
  • 40g icing sugar for 80% chocolate
  • 10/20g cocoa butter (optional)

After selecting only the lightest beans and placing them on a baking tray, you can place them in the oven after preheating to 110° C. Roasting should take between 15 and 30 minutes depending on the oven you use. Remember to stir them occasionally. You can also roast the broad beans in a frying pan but it will be much more complicated. I therefore recommend using the oven.

Never leave the oven while roasting and be careful with the beans. When they start to peel easily and you start to smell a strong cocoa smell, you should quickly remove them from the oven. Let the beans cool and peel them by hand or, after breaking them and placing them in a tall container, use a hair dryer. However, I do not recommend using this technique if you are inside your house or in an enclosed space!

Now with the help of a mixer, start grinding the cocoa beans at a moderate speed. From time to time, with the mixer switched off and with the help of a ladle, push all the mixture down. After the first five minutes of grinding, the fat will start to come out. Only now can you possibly add the cocoa butter. You will have to continue grinding until you get a liquid, homogeneous mass, but be careful with the temperature. Do not go above 65°C. In order not to exceed this temperature, I recommend turning off the mixer for a few seconds every now and then. Now pour the chocolate into the moulds and place them in the fridge. Keep it no longer than two weeks. Once again, enjoy!


Extra DIY recipes
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You can also make delicious white chocolate and hot chocolate at home. Let’s find out how! 😉


1. White chocolate

made chocolate
pixabay, caja


The ingredients you will need are:

  • 400g cocoa butter
  • 340g icing sugar
  • 340g milk powder
  • 10g soya lecithin

Melt the cocoa butter and pour it into a mixer, set it to medium speed and add icing sugar, powdered milk and soy lecithin. Set a timer for three hours and let the mixer run until this time has elapsed. When the time is up or the desired consistency has been reached, pour the chocolate into the moulds and place in the fridge. The white chocolate is ready!


2. Hot chocolate with potato starch

The ingredients you will need are:

  • 400 ml milk
  • 40g sugar
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 25g of potato starch
  • 30g dark chocolate

Mix all the ingredients except the milk and dark chocolate in a small saucepan. In another saucepan, bring the milk almost to the boil and pour it into the bowl with the other ingredients gradually, taking care not to form lumps. Place the mixture on a low heat and start adding the dark chocolate chips. Continue cooking and stirring until you get the desired consistency. Easy, isn’t it?


Interesting facts about chocolate
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Where is the cocoa plant most cultivated today? Where is chocolate produced in Italy? How is it stored? Is it good for you? Is it bad for you? Stay with me and let’s discover this and much more about chocolate together!


_ Where cacao is grown today:

The largest plantations of “Theobroma Cacao” are located in Central and South America. These include Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador. There are other plantations in Africa, more specifically in the Cameroon area, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Congo and Ghana. Recently, new cocoa plantations have also sprung up in Asia, more precisely in Malaysia and New Guinea. Others have sprung up in Indonesia.


_ Where Italian chocolate is produced:

In Italy, the chocolate produced each year is worth around 5 billion 150 million euros. Italian chocolate producing companies are many and spread evenly across the boot. Get ready because I am now going to list all the most famous Italian chocolate brands. And which is your favourite?

Caffarel was founded in Turin in 1826 and its flagship product is undoubtedly the much-loved gianduiotto. Ferrero from Cuneo, on the other hand, was founded in 1946, giving birth in 1964 to the very famous and inimitable Nutella! In Bologna we find Majani, which has been producing chocolate since 1796. It is from this Italian chocolate company that the delicious cremino FIAT arrives in our homes. This multi-layered chocolate was invented in 1911 and became famous for winning a competition organised on the initiative of FIAT itself during the celebration of the launch of their new car model ‘Tipo 4’.

In Perugia, we find the world-famous Perugina factory. Founded in 1907, it enchants everyone every day with its “Baci Perugina” Italian chocolates, created in 1922 by Luisa Spagnoli. In 1903, Novi was founded in Piedmont, a leader in the tablet sector thanks to its hazelnuts. In 1992, Milan saw the opening of Ernst Knam’s pastry shop, perhaps the best-loved master pastry chef of them all. In Tuscany we find Venchi, founded in 1878 from the passion of the then 20-year-old Silvano Venchi.

In Modica (Sicily), on the other hand, a technique has been developed that excludes the conching stage and allows a “cold-processed” chocolate to be obtained. Modica chocolate received the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) certification from the European Union in 2018. Modica chocolate is characterised by a pronounced crystallisation of the sugar inside and the resurfacing of the cocoa butter, which is clearly visible on the surface. The taste is initially sweet, with some bitter notes and a unique crunchiness, with a perception of graininess and sandiness due to the crystallised sugar. This chocolate is a story in itself! It is totally unique and therefore loved the world over. And have you ever tasted it?


Storage and Benefits of Chocolate
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As far as the storage of chocolate is concerned, it will help to know that it will never go bad! There is a date on the packaging after which the chocolate starts to lose flavour, but it will never pose a danger to your health. This date is closer to the purchase, if the amount of milk is high. In general, therefore, dark chocolate retains its flavour longer than milk chocolate.

As a general rule, you should store your chocolate in the absence of light, strong odours, heat and humidity. When chocolate is “old”, it will start to show what is known as “fat bloom”. This is the whitish patina that is created on its surface. It indicates that the chocolate has started to lose its taste and flavour, but it is by no means dangerous! Enjoy your chocolate and don’t worry if you think it might have gone bad – it will practically never happen!

The beneficial effects of dark chocolate have been found in many cases, as a result of responsible and not excessive intake. The heart is strengthened because dark chocolate allows a lower formation of bad cholesterol. Anticoagulant effects similar to those of aspirin have also been discovered. The retina of the eye also benefits because of the improved circulation, due to the anticoagulant effect dark chocolate has on the circulatory system.

Very important is the amount of polyphenols that are good for our organism. Polyphenols, specifically, act on the limbs by improving bone mobility. Dark chocolate may also improve alertness and have antioxidant characteristics due to the flavonoids (certain polyphenols) contained in it that protect against free radicals. These polyphenols also improve skin elasticity and partly protect against cerebrovascular damage. It also appears that a moderate intake of dark chocolate helps control weight by preventing obesity and the onset of metabolic symptoms such as diabetes.

It is important to know that chocolate, besides containing the chemicals that bring us happiness, contains “Theobromine”, a substance that is very bad for our four-legged friends. Remember this when your faithful companion rolls his eyes at you and lets you know he/she wants a piece! Don’t give in: it’s for his own good!


Important chocolate events in Italy
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chocolate is made from
pixabay, Tiluria


Here’s a quick list of all the annual chocolate events… Are you ready for a calendar full of events to enjoy and not to miss? Come along and discover them together! 👇

  • Chocotitano“, in San Marino
  • La notte fondente“, in Merate
  • Cioccolatò“, in Turin
  • Cioccoshow“, in Bologna
  • Eurochocolate“, in Perugia
  • Cioccoland“, in Naples
  • The Chocolate Meadow“, in Prato

On the other hand, on an international scale, we find the “International Chocolate Awards”, a competition that recognises the world’s best chocolate excellences! Developed in 2012, this event supports small companies, farmers, excellences in the sector and helps this market to grow in order to obtain better and better cocoa and chocolate day after day!

Now that you know how chocolate is made, all that remains for me to do is to wish you bon appetite and enjoy your trip to Italy to discover Italian chocolate! 🍫


About Author

Daniele Centra
Ciao, sono Daniele! Laureando presso la facoltà di Scienze e Culture Enogastronomiche di Roma Tre, mi sto specializzando in tutto ciò che riguarda il food, il wine e la comunicazione scientifica al pubblico di questi splendidi mondi. Vieni con me alla scoperta di tutto ciò che l'Italia ha da offrire!


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