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Making Exceptional Chocolate: Winnowing Cocoa Beans

Making Exceptional Chocolate: Winnowing Cocoa Beans

There are several steps to making a quality bean to bar, single origin chocolate bar like Wild Mountain Chocolate.

One of the integral steps is the art of 'winnowing'. It's also one of the more challenging. Hence, the 'art'!

Cocoa beans are covered by a thin shell that MUST be removed before they can be ground into chocolate.

Winnowing is the process of removing the outer shell of the cocoa bean in a way that ensures the meat of the cocoa bean is left mostly intact. 

Winnowing is an ancient agricultural process used to remove chaff from grain.

In addition to making chocolate, winnowing is also an essential step in the processing of wheat and rice.

Hand winnowing uses a winnowing basket that is rounded at one end and open at the other to efficiently toss the cocoa beans into the air and catch them as they fall back to the basket. As the beans are repeatedly tossed, the brittle shells break apart and separate from the beans. To be effective, winnowing must be done outside in windy conditions. The wind blows away the lighter shells as they are tossed into the air, separating them from the heavier beans that fall back into the basket.

No surprise, this isn't quite how winnowing is done today.

The big chocolate manufacturers have huge machines to winnow the beans. Ours is significantly smaller, but works like a gem.

Similar to the old, traditional means of winnowing, gravity and air speed are essential components in our winnowing process.  The nib is heavier than the bits of cracked shell and the air stream carries away the husk as the nib falls through to the container below. Approximately 20%–25% of the original weight of the whole roasted cocoa bean is lost through the winnowing process.

Winnowing is essential as if there's any of the husk remaining, it can add undesirable flavours to the finished product.

The result is delicious and versatile cocoa nibs.  

Some of these resulting nibs are sold as a product in and of themselves, but mainly they are transferred to the next part of the process: the melangeur!