Cacao Bean

The cocoa bean, also called cacao bean, is the dried and fully fermented seed of Theobroma cacao. The beans are the basis of chocolate,  have a shelf life of six to nine months when fully fermented, dried, and stored in plastic-lined bags made of jute.

Cocoa trees grow in hot, rainy tropical areas within 20° of latitude from the Equator. Cocoa harvest is not restricted to one period per year and a harvest typically occurs over several months, cocoa can be harvested at any time of the year. The pods on a tree do not ripen together; harvesting needs to be done periodically through the year. Harvesting occurs between three and four times weekly during the harvest season. 

The product should be shipped shortly after harvest, as extended storage (> 6 months) may result in losses due to the high relative humidities in the tropics. The beans should be dry for shipment (usually by sea). Traditionally exported in jute bags.

The three main varieties of cocoa plant are :

A. Forastero. Is the most widely used, comprising 80-90% of the world production of cocoa. Forastero or common grade cocoa, the beans are smaller than criollo cocoa beans, flattened on the side, have a dark reddish-brown to violet color and a sharper flavor.

B. Criollo. Variety are rarer and considered a delicacy. Criollo plantations have lower yields than those of Forastero, and also tend to be less resistant to several diseases that attack the cocoa plant, the most expensive and sought-after types of cacao, hence very few countries still produce it. Criollo cocoa is primarily shipped from Venezuela, Ecuador, Sri Lanka,  and Indonesia.

C. Trinitario. Is a hybrid between Criollo and Forastero varieties. It is considered to be of much higher quality than Forastero, has higher yields, and is more resistant to disease than Criollo.

Good qualities :

  1. Fully ripe, correctly fermented.
  2. Firm beans of uniform size with a dry weight of no less than 1 g.
  3. Loose and undamaged shell.
  4. Light to dark reddish-brown color.
  5. Readily crumbled, highly fragile kernel.

Health Benefits of Cacao :

  1. Rich source of antioxidants such as procyanidins and flavanoids, which may impart antiaging properties. 
  2. Cocoa also contain a high level of flavonoids, specifically epicatechin, which may have beneficial effects on cardiovascular health. 
  3. Cocoa is a stimulant and contains the compounds theobromine and caffeine. The beans of cacao contain between 0.1 – 0.7% caffeine.
  4. It is believed that the improved blood flow after consumption of flavanol-rich cocoa may help to achieve health benefits in hearts and other organs.
  5. In particular, the benefits may extend to the brain and have important implications for learning and memory.
  6. Foods rich in cocoa appear to reduce blood pressure.
  7. Due to its high content of fat (cocoa butter), protein and carbohydrates, cocoa has a high nutritional value, consuming it has no harmful side-effects.

Short-term benefits in LDL cholesterol levels from dark chocolate consumption have been found.

Processing :

Cocoa pods weigh an average of 400 g (14 oz) and each one yields 35 to 40 g (1.2 to 1.4 oz) dried beans; this yield is 40–44% of the total weight in the pod. 

Drying in the sun is preferable to drying by artificial means, as no extraneous flavors such as smoke or oil are introduced which might otherwise taint the flavor.

To make 1 kg (2.2 lb) of chocolate, about 300 to 600 beans are processed, depending on the desired cocoa content.

The beans are roasted.

Next, they are cracked, the resulting pieces of beans are called nibs. Most nibs are ground, they are sometimes sold in small packages at specialty stores and markets to be used in cooking, snacking, and chocolate dishes. Since nibs are directly from the cocoa tree, they contain high amounts of theobromine.

Cocoa can be separated into cocoa powder and cocoa butter using a hydraulic press, this process produces around 50% cocoa butter and 50% cocoa powder.

Cocoa butter is used in chocolate bar manufacture, other confectionerysoaps, and used to cosmetic as antiaging properties.

Raw chocolate contains many important vitamins and minerals including Magnesium, and other essential minerals including Calcium, Sulfur, Zinc, Iron, Copper, Potassium, Manganese, Polyphenols called Flavonoids, with Antioxidant Properties, Vitamins: B1, B2, B3, B5, B9, E. Protein, Fiber.

Storage :

  1. Raw cacao beans will last for up to nine months in polythene-lined burlap bags or lined jute bags, when stored in a cool, dry location with an ambient humidity level of less than 70 percent.
  2. The plastic lining helps to protect the beans from odors, mold and pests.
  3. Packed in three different types of plastic materials and layered in jute bags.  Types of plastic materials used were linear low density polyethylene vinyl alcohol / linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE/EVOH/LLDPE), oriented nylon / polyethylene (ONY/PE), oriented polypropylene / polypropylene (OPP/PP).
  4. Cocoa packed in jute bags layered with either type of the three plastic materials can be safely stored for at least two years without quality deterioration.
  5. A hermetic seal is the quality of a container, being airtight (excluding passage of air, oxygen, or other gases).
  6. Cooler will always be better than warmer.
  7. When storing your beans, keep them at a pleasant ambient temperature because of their high fat content, which can turn rancid in warm weather.
  8. Roasting and shelling cacao beans can help to extend their shelf life.

Once roasted, shelled and broken into smaller pieces called nibs, the beans can last for up to two years when stored in polyethylene plastic-lined jute bags.

Cacao beans are susceptible to pest attacks. Fumigation with methyl bromide had be phased out globally by 2015. Additional cocoa protection techniques for shipping and storage include the application of pyrenoids, carbon-concentrating mechanism (CCM), as well as hermetic storage in sealed bags or containers with lowered oxygen concentrations. 

Factors to consider in the storage area in order to minimize risk :

  1. The warehouse should have cement or non-flammable floors without cracks and crevices for insects to hide in.
  2. Ideally the floor level should be higher than the surrounding land to prevent flooding and to allow water to flow away.
  3. They should be off the floor on wood pallets and never touching the walls, cover the floor and walls in heavy gauge plastic to avoid contact and/or contamination.
  4. Walls should be of non-flammable material without cracks and crevices.
  5. Adequate ventilation is necessary to prevent an increase in mould. Keeping the air circulating is also important; a dehumidifier can help with this.
  6. The roof should be insulated but should not be made of wood.
  7. Bags may be bulk-stowed but ideally the bottom layer should be on pallets allowing an air space of 5-10 cm and the top layer should be at least 1 m away from the roof. The stacks should also be positioned away from outside walls.
  8. Screen the beans with a mosquito net anyway, that might keep any intruders out or to prevent fruit flies trying to enter the house.
  9. The cocoa should be regularly inspected.
Storage Conditions Long Time or Export Short Time
Temperature 32 to 40°F (0 to 4.4°C) 65-70°F (18-21°C)
Relative Humidity 65% or below 65% or below
Storage Period 12 months or longer Up to 12 months