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Chocolate from Hawaii

How is chocolate made and what makes Hawaiian chocolate so unique?

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cocoa beans
Photo Courtesy of Hawaiian Vintage Chocolate

Did you know that there is only one place where cocoa is grown in the United States? That place is in Hawaii. In fact, the Big Island of Hawaii and the island of Oahu are the only places in the world where the raw ingredients for all three major infusion beverages are grown - coffee, tea and cacao. Hawaii's warm, tropical climate makes it an ideal location to grow these products.

What is Cacao?

The word "cacao" is the name of a tree which produces large pods (up to 10 inches long). Each pod contains up to 40 seeds which are commonly referred to as "cacao beans." The beans are fermented, dried in the sun and then roasted. The roasted beans are then "winnowed." This process removes the meat (also referred to as the "nib") of the cocoa bean from its shell. The meat or "nibs" are then ground. Cocoa beans are almost 50% fat and the grinding process actually creates a liquid referred to as "chocolate liquor." This liquor is a bitter tasting, pure, unsweetened chocolate.

If the liquor is allowed to cool and solidify, the result is the chocolate which is found in stores as "baking chocolate." The liquor can also be pressed and the fat removed. The resulting two products are a dry cake of cocoa which when ground is called "cocoa powder." The fat that has been removed is called "cocoa butter." Cocoa butter is an edible vegetable fat which has only a very mild chocolate flavor and aroma. It is used not only to make chocolate, but also in cosmetics, soap and in tanning.

How is Chocolate Candy Made?

At this point the raw ingredients of chocolate candy have been made, but additional work is needed before you have candy.

Additional ingredients are added to portions of the cocoa powder and cocoa butter. These ingredients include such things as sugar, vanilla and often milk. The types of added ingredients and the proportions used of each are what make one type of chocolate candy taste different from another.

Once the recipe is completed, the mixture is placed in a machine which massages and smooths the chocolate as it blends the ingredients together. This process is called "conching." This process can take anywhere from hours to several days! Once complete, the entire mixture is then slowly heated and then slowly cooled in a process called "tempering." Tempering allows the cocoa butter to be distributes evenly throughout the chocolate.

Types of Chocolate

The numerous processes which we have described can produce the several varieties of chocolate products which we see in our local stores or in the candy we special order from Hawaii.

  • Baking Chocolate - pure cocoa liquor which has been allowed to solidify or packaged in liquid form. Baking chocolate is bitter and not intended to be eaten in itself.
  • Cocoa Powder - produced when cocoa bean meat is pressed to remove the cocoa butter.
  • Milk Chocolate - produced by a combination of cocoa liquor, extra cocoa butter, sugar and milk.
  • Semisweet Chocolate - produced by a combination of cocoa liquor, extra cocoa butter and a small amount of sugar.
  • White Chocolate - produced by a combination of cocoa butter, milk and sugar. No cocoa bean solids are added thus the color is white rather than brown.

Why Is Some Chocolate More Expensive Than Others?

Why can you buy some chocolate candy for a fraction of the price that you pay for another? There are several answers to this question. Chocolate candy which is mass produced from generic cocoa beans is relatively inexpensive and often of good quality. Name plays an important part in price. Some candy is more expensive simply because of the name on the box. It may, or may not, be of higher quality than far less expensive candy. Finally there is candy or chocolate products which are produced from a limited growth of cocoa or from cocoa grown under unique conditions or in a unique location. Often this candy is also hand-made. This type of candy or chocolate product is often superior both in its unique flavor and the quality of the cocoa and other ingredients.

Hawaiian Chocolate

The United States has many small makers of superior chocolate products. The vast majority of these companies use cocoa imported from overseas. Only on the Big Island of Hawaii and, in recent years, the island of Oahu, will you find makers of fine chocolate products who use cocoa grown locally. Many of these companies also use other products grown locally in Hawaii, such as macadamia nuts and vanilla.

The cocoa industry in Hawaii is another example of the increasing diversification of the Hawaiian agricultural industry which for many years depended solely on the production of pineapple and sugar cane. With the decline of the Hawaiian sugar industry around 68,000 acres of former sugarcane lands became available on Hawaii Island (the Big Island) for other agricultural products. The Big Island is home to nearly 1 million of the state's 1.8 million acres in agricultural production.

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