Ever wondered why chocolate had that silky smooth finish? The kind of texture that will melt in your mouth? Its all thanks to a process known as conching. Conching process starts after completion of Cracking & Winnowing process of Cocoa Beans.
Conching is a modern process that begins with mixing and size reductions of the classic ingredients that go into making chocolate, such as milk, sugar, cocoa solids, and cocoa butter. This process is responsible for developing taste, smell, and texture. This is done by a machine known as “Conche”. This process involves heating the mixture (cocoa solids, cocoa butter, sugar, lecithin, milk solids) for several hours to several days.
Chocolate is heated to a temperature of 110 to 180 Fahrenheit. Milk chocolate, however, is heated to a temperature of 160 degrees celsius. This is to allow the lactose molecules that are present in milk to turn into amorphous lactose. This is why milk chocolate tends to be more smooth, silky, and creamier.
Why Must Chocolate Be Conched?
Conching is a vital process for chocolate as it gives chocolate its signature sheen and texture. It is also responsible for the smoothing of cocoa and small particles. The particles of sugar and cocoa are smoothened out in this process. Conching helps curb the sour acidity that might still be present in the cocoa beans, It evaporates the acetic acid present in beans thereby getting rid of the sour, astringent taste. Conching is very important to create the final flavor and it also turns the gritty, coarse chocolate into a smooth velvety bar that we all love.
Conches are the machines responsible for the conching of chocolate to happen. They were originally long stone structures in which chocolate was pounded. The name comes from the shape of the stone in which chocolate was pounded, “conche” which translates to the shell. Once machines were involved the chocolate was kneaded with heavy rollers. These rollers moved over the chocolate with heavy speed. Modern-day Conches however are rotatory. Chocolate, when subjected to conching, is in the form of a powdery mass but the outcome of this process is a thick liquid fluid.
How Long Should the Chocolate be Conched?
Originally chocolate is conched for a period of few days. Good quality chocolate is conched for a duration of ninety-six hours whereas lower quality chocolate is conched for a period of five days. There is no fixed time for conching as most chocolatiers say that chocolate must be conched until it is done. Some chocolate such as the beans from west Africa needs to be conched for very little time whereas other chocolate beans must be conched for a minimum of one week. The bottom line is that conching chocolate is subjective and we must keep checking the mixture from time to time.
How is Conching done?
Conching is done in three phases.
1. Dry Conching
2. Pasty/Plastic phase
This is when the cracked cocoa nibs are poured into the machine, The mass is crumbly and flaky and it resembles a coarse dense powder.
At this phase, the fat had seeped out of the mixture thereby creating a dense, heavy paste. This is the most important phase as there are significant changes occurring in this phase. It is in this phase that the delicious chocolate flavor is developed.
At this phase fat and minor additions such as emulsifiers and flavors are added. This addition causes the chocolate to be liquified.
Though there are phases, there are no clear cut boundaries between the phases.
What Happens to the Chocolate during Conching?
1.Changes in viscosity
2.Changes in flavor
3.Removal of unwanted volatiles
1. Changes in Viscosity of Chocolate during Conching process
When the Conching process starts the initial texture is dry and crumbly, during process fat is released into the mix and the chocolate tends to get more fluid and smooth. Size reduction occurs as sugar crystals and chocolate breaks down. If too much fat or emulsifiers are added the chocolate will be too runny, this kind of chocolate is known as dipping chocolate and it is used to glaze cakes and also used as toppings. If excess fat is added conching does not take place properly, The chocolate molecules will slide over and prevent the chocolate from being broken up.
2. Changes in flavor due to Conching Process
Once Conching starts, the chocolate becomes more refined, The bitter aftertaste disappears and the chocolate acquires floral undertones.
3. Removal of Unwanted Volatiles.
This process also reduces the moisture content. The heat generated during this process is responsible for the water content from the chocolate mix. This allows the chocolate to be richer, smooth, and velvety. On a chemical level, at around 75 degrees celsius, the Mailard reaction will occur. This reaction is responsible for the scrumptious flavor that chocolate has to offer.
Now you know one of the many steps needed for the production of chocolate. Next time you take a big bite out a delectable bar of chocolate, remember the efforts and science that goes into making it. Also here are Chocolate facts that will enlighten you while you enjoy your treat.
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