Cocoa beans are considered as a high-value product. In fact, the global chocolate industry was priced at around $128.79 billion in 2017. Higher growth is projected for those in this industry due to increasing demand for specialty, high-end, and luxury chocolate.
Before and during harvest
This tremendous potential drives growers and traders to do everything they can to produce and preserve great quality cocoa beans. One step to do this is by keeping cocoa trees healthy. This can be done by pruning the trees, providing fertilizer, and eliminating insects that can harm them.
Another way is carefully harvesting cocoa pods, which house the cocoa beans. Proper tools must be used so as not to damage the tree. The timing should also be taken into consideration during harvest season. According to the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO), the best time to harvest cocoa pods are at 3-4 weeks, which is right at the time that the beans begin germination, and should be done at regular intervals.
Once harvested, the cocoa beans should be carefully prepared to be fermented. Removing beans that are affected by fungal diseases is an important step during this stage. Doing this can save a batch from being totally ruined. The fermentation process itself should be executed at the right temperatures for the right amount of time and taking in account the anaerobic and aerobic conditions.
Drying, storage, and transport
Preserving the quality of the cocoa beans during the drying process can be achieved by drying at the right pace. If the beans are dried too fast, they become too acidic and the flavor would be too bitter. If too slow, mold and fungal growth will damage the cocoa beans. At the right pace of drying, however, the cocoa beans will have the rich flavor that consumers crave for without the risk of being contaminated by fungal substances. Making sure that the moisture content of the cocoa beans is at around 6% to 7% will ensure that mold growth won’t occur.
Quality preservation while in storage is also of paramount importance. Storing the cocoa beans in gas-tight and moisture-tight container locks in the aromatic, pleasantly bitter notes that make chocolate a highly sought after commodity. Fine quality is preserved by keeping the cocoa beans from being exposed to air and allowing oxidation to occur.
Insects also pose a danger when it comes to preserving quality in cocoa beans. Placing the beans in a clean, cool, and dry area kept away from insects can help. At the same time, keeping the beans in gas-tight containers or bags that can kill insects in all life stages (egg, larva, pupa, and adult) will control infestations.
Great care should also be taken to preserve quality while transporting cocoa beans. The optimal Free Fatty Acid (FFA) levels achieved through slow drying can be affected by moisture damage during transport. This can be completely avoided by using transport solutions that keep condensation away from the cocoa beans and prevent insect infestation in the containers.