Chocolate, Amazon-Style

Lately I’ve been really interested in finding out where my food comes from. It’s really sinking in how much I don’t know about what I eat, and it kind of freaks me out.

During our stay in the Amazon, Jared and I had the opportunity to make chocolate from scratch – to see exactly how it’s done, from start to finish. American readers, do you remember the TV show ‘Mister Rogers?’

Of course you do.

Well, this was like Mister Rogers in real life, the bit where he goes into the picture and shows you how crayons were made. Only in this case, it was chocolate.

Step 1: Sifting

Raw cacao beans
The good stuff.

Technically, we skipped a few steps as we didn’t harvest the beans ourselves. Romero, our guide, gave them to us. He poured a pile of cacao beans onto the table and told us to pick out the bad ones – any beans that were shriveled or discolored.

Step 2: Roasting

Roasting cacao beans
Slaving away over a hot stove.

For 20 minutes, I stood at the gas-powered stove, stirring a pan of hot cacao beans. Occasionally one would pop from the heat, leaping into the air and frightening the bejeezus out of me.

Step 3: Shelling

Jared and Evelyn shell the cacao beans
Evelyn, Romero’s daughter, supervises.

Take the hot beans, roll them between your rigid palms, and gasp as the shell crackles right off. And probably some of your skin, too, because those suckers are really hot.

Step 4: Grinding

Jared grinds the beans
First round of grinding.

Romero had an old hand grinder, which he affixed to the side of the picnic table. We filled the top cone with shelled cacao beans, then Jared cranked the handle. After a few stiff turns, powdery chocolate came out of the wheel.

First grinding of chocolate beans
I was ready to eat it at this stage.

Step 5: Grinding

Twice ground chocolate
Seriously. Get me a spoon. Or just turn your head.

“We grind three, maybe four times,” Romero explained. Jared packed the cone with the fluffy chocolate and churned it through again. This time, the chocolate was thick and liquid, like Jell-O pudding.

Step 6: Grinding

Third grinding of chocolate beans
Thank goodness he didn’t ask for a fourth round.

By the end of the third round, the chocolate was a goopy extract. We scraped it from the grinder with butter knives and Romero whisked it away to the kitchen.

Step 7: Sweetening

100 percent dark chocolate
The WORST $4 I ever spent. Ugh. That’s so much money in Ecuador, too.

Have you ever had 100% dark chocolate? I have, and it was a mistake. Like, an enormous mistake. I bought a bar in Quito, thinking I was being really healthy (I know. Totally misguided.) but what I was really being was stupid. Because 100% dark chocolate tastes like ashes. You need a little something to take the edge off.

Romero added sugar to the chocolate until it had achieved a sweetness he was happy with.

Step 8: Eating (or Drinking)

Fresh hot chocolate
Real hot chocolate. Swiss Miss, you should be ashamed.

We had our chocolate in liquid form, mixed with a mug of heated milk. The most organic hot chocolate I’ve ever had. (OK, the chocolate was organic, the milk was unrefrigerated and came from a plastic bag.)

The verdict? I’m a hot chocolate lover, so I was happy. It wasn’t to-die-for delicious, but knowing that we’d made it ourselves gave it a little extra kick.

Step 9: Hardening

Romero smoothed the remaining chocolate into two small plates, covered them, and left them out overnight to harden. The next morning, we had a creamy chocolate spread to go with our breakfast.

For once, I was involved in the process of making a food that I enjoy on a regular basis. And no, I won’t be busting out the grinder every time I have a chocolate craving.

Shelled cacao beans
By the way, the stripes on that shirt used to be blue. Then I picked it up from the laundromat and they were red.

But I will think about what it takes to make chocolate the natural way, about how many ingredients it should actually contain, and that will influence the food choices I make in the future. I probably won’t have regular access to cacao beans, but I hope I’ll think twice before reaching for a Hershey’s.

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    1. I know! When we were looking at jungle packages and they mentioned chocolate-making, I was sold. I’m hoping to try this again one day when I have a grown-up house, but I fear the results won’t be the same!

  1. I did the same thing in Cusco at the Chocolate Museum. Tons of fun especially for chocolate lovers!

    My parents are huge into chocolate and won’t eat anything less then 60% anymore. I know how bad that stuff tastes, I couldn’t even imagine 100%. EW!

  2. What a unique experience! You read a lot about people doing cooking classes while on the road, but this is something I’ve never heard of before!

    And it’s amazing how pure undiluted chocolate is actually the stuff of nightmares! I guess it’s just too much for us to handle…

    1. It was such a bonus to make chocolate, and even better because we were the only two there. I never thought about how it’s really done, but if I can get my hands on a grinder and some beans, I’ll certainly try again!

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