How Cocoa Powder Is Made

The beverage we call cocoa, or hot chocolate, in the United States is not the same as the hot cacao liquid consumed throughout most of history. The original "hot cacao" was made by combining water with ground cacao beans, which still contained all their natural cocoa butter. Since oil and water don't mix, the cocoa butter in the ground beans prevented the cacao from dispersing evenly in the water. The result was a thick, gritty beverage with a layer of oily fat floating on its surface -- a far cry from the smooth and creamy cocoa we enjoy today.

Modern hot chocolate was born in 1828 in Holland. That's when chemist Coenraad Johannes Van Houten patented a process for removing much of the cocoa butter from ground cacao beans and then treating the resulting powder with an alkali substance such as baking soda to make it mix better with water. The alkali treatment is referred to as "Dutching," in recognition of its origins, and the darker-colored, lighter-flavored cocoa that results is called Dutch cocoa.

To make Dutched cocoa powder, chocolate liquor is pumped into giant hydraulic presses, where about half of the cocoa butter is squeezed out. Baking soda is added to the remaining material, which is called "press cake." The treated press cake is then cooled, pulverized, and sifted to form cocoa powder. The cocoa powder is then packaged for sale in grocery stores as hot-chocolate mix or sold in bulk for use as a flavoring by dairies, bakeries, and candy manufacturers (the Dutching process makes the cocoa powder far more useful as a flavoring for other foods, as well).

The yellowish, liquid cocoa butter pressed out of the chocolate liquor does not go to waste. It is actually a very valuable commodity that is vital for manufacturing chocolate. Cocoa butter can also be sold -- at high prices -- to other manufacturers for use in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

Although their origins are the same, the process of making chocolate is different than the process of making cocoa. Move on to the next section to learn how chocolate is made.

To learn more about chocolate, see: