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Chocolate, the ultimate confectionary delight, is a beloved food product that transcends cultures and borders. It is primarily composed of cacao solids, cacao butter and sugar, with the addition of various other ingredients depending on the desired type of chocolate. Chocolate originates from the seeds of the cacao tree, scientifically known as Theobroma cacao

The rich history of chocolate can be traced back over 3,000 years to the ancient civilizations of Mesoamerica. The Mayans and Aztecs revered cacao as a sacred gift from the gods and enjoyed it primarily in the form of a frothy, bitter beverage. Chocolate took its modern form through European sweetening, milk addition, and technological advances. The introduction of solid chocolate bars, mass production and contemporary artisanal creativity shaped the diverse and beloved world of chocolate we enjoy today.

The most common types of chocolates seen are semisweet/bittersweet, sweet dark, milk and white. They can be defined based on each country’s regulations, where each type of chocolate will meet certain values in parameters, such as chocolate liquor, cocoa content, milk solids content, sugar, cocoa butter content and other fats, among others.

The journey from cacao bean to chocolate involves an intimate understanding of the ingredients and chemistry involved. One of the most important chocolate manufacturing steps to understand is chocolate tempering, which involves precise temperature control to encourage the formation of beta and beta prime fat crystals from the cocoa butter while discouraging the formation of alpha crystals. This creates a glossy and shiny look with a satisfying snap when cut. Key elements to creating a quality chocolate are the proper control of flavor, color, particle size, paste viscosity and fat properties (melting profile, tempering). 

Flavor will be controlled by the types of cacao used and its processes (fermentation, drying, roasting, nibs and liquor treatments (alkalinization), milk processing and conching. 

Particle size will affect smoothness and melting (during the process and when eating it). The smaller the particle size, the smoother the chocolate. Viscosity will affect chocolate processing characteristics. Depending on the type of confections, a different viscosity might be needed to avoid quality issues.

Proper tempering ensures that chocolate has a glossy finish, a satisfying snap and remains stable over time, avoiding issues like fat bloom or sugar bloom. It's a precise and critical step in chocolate production, whether you're making chocolates at home or in a professional setting.

Main Ingredients

The heart of chocolate's essence are cacao beans. These beans contain cacao solids and cacao butter, which are now sold separately to help produce consistent products. The beans are harvested, fermented and roasted to bring out their unique flavor profiles. Based on the U.S. Standards of identity for food, these are the ingredients used in chocolates:

  • Cocoa butter: It’s the fat naturally present in cacao beans. It plays a role in the smooth and creamy texture of chocolate. It also contributes to the chocolate's flavor and helps in the tempering process, ensuring the chocolate solidifies properly.
  • Chocolate liquor: Produced by grinding roasted cacao beans into a liquid state. Alkalising, or “dutching,” the cocoa may take place at this step. It contains both cacao solids and cacao butter. The cacao solids provide the chocolate's characteristic flavor.
  • Milk solids: Milk chocolate includes milk powder or condensed milk. These components contribute to the creaminess and sweet, caramel-like flavors of milk chocolate.
  • Milk fat: It imparts a creamy and rich flavor to the chocolate and blends harmoniously with the cacao ingredients. 
  • Sugar: Usually in the form of sucrose. The amount of sugar used varies depending on the type of chocolate being produced, from dark chocolate with minimal sugar to milk chocolate with more.
  • Emulsifiers: Such as lecithin, emulsifiers are used to ensure the smooth texture of chocolate by promoting the even distribution of cacao solids and cacao butter. This is especially crucial for chocolate's mouthfeel.
  • Antioxidants: α- Tocopherol. These compounds help prevent the oxidation of fats in chocolate, which can lead to the development of off-flavors and rancidity over time
  • Whey products: Derived from milk, these add to the creamy and smooth texture of the chocolate. Whey proteins and lactose can enhance the overall sensory experience of milk chocolate, giving it a more rounded and pleasant taste.

Industrial Production

Industrial production of chocolate starts very early in the process since the cacao beans are harvested and are submitted to different processes where most of the characteristic flavors are developed. For the purposes of this article, we’ll start after these processes are complete. If you want more information about cacao processes, see cacao, chocolate liquor and cacao butter in our ingredient section.

Mixing: Chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, milk (if used) and other ingredients are mixed. Different time-temperature combinations in a continuous or batch processes are used depending on the type of chocolate.

Refining: Particle size reduction to get a smooth texture. With a fat content between 8-24%, a <30µm particle size is achieved by passing the chocolate mass through two to five roll refiners. 

Conching: The process of conching, involving continuous mixing and aeration at >50°C for several hours, allows the chocolate to develop its smooth texture and flavor—in addition to moisture and volatile acid removal—while reducing the viscosity of the paste by the interactions of the disperse and continuous phase in the chocolate. Cocoa butter and lecithin can be added at the end to adjust viscosity of the paste.

Tempering: To ensure a glossy appearance and the characteristic snap when you break a piece of chocolate, tempering is performed. Tempering is the process of melting and then carefully cooling chocolate to encourage the formation of specific fat crystal structures. Involves precise temperature control to encourage the formation of beta and beta prime crystals while discouraging the formation of alpha crystals. The goal is to create a stable and uniform arrangement of fat crystals that gives chocolate its desirable characteristics. See Tempering article to learn more about this interesting process.

Depositing: The rheological properties of the chocolate are critical to obtaining uniform weight and size of the finished product. The depositor automatically fills melted chocolate of a known viscosity per specified time into moulds that are at the same temperature as the chocolate. A vibrator shakes each mould to level the liquid chocolate deposited in the moulds.

Cooling: The tempered chocolate in the molds is then cooled to solidify. The cooling process is vital for the proper crystallization of the cacao butter.

Packaging: Once the chocolate has cooled and solidified, it is removed from the molds, packaged, and prepared for distribution.


Different cacao bean varieties offer unique flavor profiles. Experimenting with various cacao origins can result in a wide range of flavor experiences.

Each type of chocolate has Standards of identity for food, which is a bit different depending on the country. For the U.S., it is regulated by the FDA under the Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 CFR Part 163 for all cacao products. The most updated version can be consulted in the electronic CFR system.

Packaging Barrier Properties

Shelf Life

Being a one-of-a-kind confection, chocolate has its own challenges during shelf life. The most common are fat bloom and sugar bloom, which can be caused by ambient conditions or improper process or formulation.

  • Fat bloom: This defect can result from various factors, including inadequate crystallization during tempering, recrystallization without proper tempering, temperature fluctuations, incorrect cooling conditions, fat migration, physical contact, and unsuitable storage conditions, such as high humidity. It may not initially manifest at the beginning of the product's shelf life, but can develop within the first few weeks, often due to under-tempered chocolate. Detecting this issue can be challenging without the implementation of appropriate analytical measures during production.
    Furthermore, a specific type of fat bloom occurs as a result of the characteristics of the cocoa butter used. Different varieties of cocoa butter may exhibit varying tendencies for fat bloom during the product's shelf life, and the combination of different types of cocoa butter can yield similar results.
  • Sugar bloom: This defect looks like a white film in the surface of the chocolate caused by crystallized sugar that caught water from the ambient.
  • Off flavor: Chocolate can absorb odors and flavors from the environment. Proper packages will protect product from odor contamination. Exposure to light can have this effect as well.
  • Rancidity: Also called oxidative deterioration, rancidity is the oxidation of fats. Although it is not a common issue with darker chocolates due to the antioxidant properties of cocoa and the low levels of polyunsaturated fats in cocoa butter, it could be more common in white chocolate with higher cocoa butter levels and high milk fat content. 

Recommended storage conditions for chocolate to avoid this issues are 20°C (68°F) ± 1.5 °C with a relative humidity of 40–50%. These conditions should be consistent during all of the storage and transportation. The average shelf life of well-tempered chocolate can range from 1 to 2 years, depending on the chocolate type.

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