Cacao Beans

Cacao Beans

Cacao Beans

Cacao, scientifically known as Theobroma cacao, is a small evergreen tree native to the tropical regions of Central and South America that thrives in temperatures between 21-32°C (70-90°F) and with abundant annual rainfall ranging from 1500–2000 mm.

The cocoa tree is widely renowned for its coveted seeds, commonly referred to as cocoa beans, which serve as the fundamental ingredient in the production of chocolate. These beans are also used to make cocoa powder, cocoa butter, and cocoa liquor. They are celebrated for their intricate flavor profile, encompassing bitter and slightly astringent notes, as well as a delightful hint of sweetness and fruity undertones. The distinctive aroma and taste of cocoa has earned it a special place in the hearts of chocolate enthusiasts worldwide.

The composition, flavor, and quality of cacao beans vary depending on the cultivar of the cacao tree (such as Criollo, Forastero, or Trinitario), the specific growing region, and environmental conditions. Raw beans typically contain around 50–60% moisture and 20–25% fat. This composition undergoes significant changes during the processing of the beans.

The processing of cacao beans yields cocoa liquor and cocoa butter, which are further separated using a filter or expelled press.

Cocoa is a rich source of antioxidants, including flavonoids and polyphenols, known for their anti-inflammatory and heart-protective effects. Additionally, cocoa provides notable amounts of fiber, magnesium, and iron.

While cocoa is generally safe for most people to consume, it's essential to be aware that it contains caffeine and theobromine, both of which are stimulants. Pregnant women and individuals sensitive to caffeine should consider limiting their cocoa intake.

Chat icon

Source and processing

Cacao trees are indigenous to tropical regions of Central and South America, and they have been successfully cultivated in various parts of the world. Within the fruits of the cacao tree, known as pods, approximately 20-50 seeds are found.

The primary cacao-producing regions encompass West Africa, including countries like Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon, which collectively contribute to over 70% of the global production. Other significant cacao-producing areas are Southeast Asia, notably Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as South and Central America, with countries such as Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, and Mexico playing key roles.

The steps involved in the extraction and production of cocoa beans are as follows:

Fermentation: The beans are removed from the pods and placed in shallow containers where its mucilaginous pulp will be fermented for several days by yeast and bacteria. Flavor compounds and flavor precursors like free amino acids and reducing sugars are formed during this crucial step. These compounds are responsible for the flavor profile of the finished chocolate.

Drying: After fermentation, the beans are spread out in the sun to dry or with air dryers, reducing their moisture content (6-8%) and ensuring they are suitable for further processing.

Roasting: Dried beans are roasted where flavor precursors are transformed into flavor compounds due to Maillard reactions. Roasting also reduces bitterness and astringency and reduces microbiological count.

Winnowing: The roasted beans are cracked and the outer shells are separated from the nibs, leaving the valuable cocoa nibs behind.

Grinding: Nibs are ground into a liquid called cocoa mass or cocoa liquor, which contains both cocoa solids and cocoa butter.

Alkalization: Raise the pH to 4.7-5.5 by treating the cocoa liquor or solids with ammonium, potassium or sodium bicarbonate, carbonate or hydroxide. This will change flavor, color and dispersibility.

Pressing: The cocoa mass is further processed to separate cocoa solids from cocoa butter.

Main function in Confections

Cocoa is the primary ingredient in chocolate and is also used to make cocoa powder, cocoa butter, and cocoa liquor. Cocoa powder is used to make a variety of confections, including cakes, cookies, brownies, and pudding. Cocoa butter is used to make chocolate bars, truffles, and other chocolate confections. Cocoa liquor is used to make chocolate syrup, hot chocolate, and other chocolate-flavored beverages.

Its main functions in confections are:

  • Flavor: Cocoa imparts the characteristic chocolate flavor and aroma to a wide range of confectionery products.
  • Texture: Cocoa, through its fat content (cocoa butter), influences the texture of chocolate and other confections, providing a smooth and creamy mouthfeel.
  • Color: Cocoa contributes to the rich, dark color of chocolate.
  • Viscosity: Cocoa can affect the thickness and flow of chocolate, impacting its use in various applications.


Cocoa exhibits various physical properties that are critical in confectionery production.

  1. Hygroscopicity: Cocoa can absorb moisture from the environment. Proper storage and handling are essential to prevent moisture absorption, which can negatively affect the texture and shelf life of chocolate products.
  1. Crystalline arrangement: Cocoa butter can form different crystalline structures, influencing the texture and tempering of chocolate. The desired structure is Form V, which provides the ideal snap and sheen.
  1. Solubility: Cocoa solids are generally insoluble in water but can be dissolved in hot liquids. This property is crucial for making cocoa-based beverages. It is soluble in hot oil and fat.
  1. Shelf stability: Properly processed and stored cocoa and chocolate products have good shelf stability. Dark chocolate tends to have a longer shelf life due to its lower moisture content.


In the United States, cocoa and chocolate products are subject to various regulations overseen by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

All of them can be found under the Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 CFR Part 163 for al Cacao products. The most updated version can be consulted in the Electronica CFR system.

Some key regulations include:

Labeling: Chocolate and cocoa products must comply with FDA regulations for ingredient declaration, nutrition labeling, and health claims.

Cocoa content: Regulations specify the minimum and maximum amounts of cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, milk and milk fat among other ingredients.

Food additives: Any additives used in chocolate production must be FDA-approved and within allowable limits.

Allergen labeling: Allergen information, including the presence of milk, nuts, and other common allergens, must be clearly indicated on labels.

Back to Top   ▲