While there are a variety of National Chocolate Days throughout the year, there is no other day people correlate with confectionary delights more than February 14th. When it comes to traditional Valentines Day gifts, the National Confectioners Association revealed via survey that Americans overwhelmingly prefer chocolate to flowers. With a projected $1.057 billion in U.S. confectionary sales this Valentine’s Day, we decided to tip our hats to some very innovative chocolate manufacturers.
Up first is the largest, most recognizable producer of chocolate in North America, Hershey. While the chocolate itself may not compare to its smaller, upscale competitors, its technology is about to head into futuristic territory. On January 16th, 3D Systems announced its plans to enter into agreement with Hershey to use 3D technology to make edible sweets. Tctmagazine.com author Rose Brooke covered the announcement in the article, “3D Systems and Hershey form chocolate 3D printing partnership.” In it she quotes 3D System’s Chief Technology Officer, Chuck Hill, “Mainstreaming 3D printing is fundamental to our success and we are fortunate to partner with Hershey, the largest producer of quality chocolate in North America and a global leader in chocolate and confection to expand the 3D printing experience into delectable edibles.”
Additionally, William Papa, Hershey’s Chief research and Development Officer, stated, “We believe that innovation is key to delivering relevant, compelling consumer experiences with our iconic brands. Whether it’s creating a whole new form of candy or developing a new way to produce it, we embrace new technologies such as 3D printing as a way to keep moving our timeless confectionery treats into the future.”
The thought of 3D printing chocolate seems unimaginable considering the complexity of the chocolate production process. Roasting and fermenting the cacao beans are delicate matters and make a significant impact on the taste of the final product. Fermentation takes 5-7 days. Temperature, humidity, and frequency of bean turning determine the flavor of the bean. Paste made from the beans is melted with cocoa fat and then slowly mixed for 24-36 hours. 3D printing something edible is a pretty amazing concept; 3D printing chocolate will be one of the most exciting innovations to hit the world of confections.
That isn’t to say that other companies aren’t making leaps and bounds in traditional chocolate production.
Netzsch released a press release titled “Innovative Plant Design Maximizes Flexibility in Chocolate Production” that describes one such company. NETZSCH-Feinmahlechnik GmbH has developed a plat design and a chocolate machine that is “fast, user friendly, compact, energy efficient and capable of producing all kinds of sweet treats, even in small quantities.” This is called the ChocoEasy. Agitator bead mills are used to finely grind the chocolate at the same time the crushing process and wet conching occur. This saves time and energy. The process allows for easy and accurate adjustment of the fineness and quality – sparing up to 5% of cocoa butter. The modular plant is offered in six different sizes, accommodating a wide variety of batch sizes. In order to account for the variables that affect the flavor of the end product, like temperature, aeration, and processing time, the company tests all possible recipes and machine configurations in advance. As stated in the press release, “Flexibility is the primary advantage common to every model. Each model can easily produce white, milk and dark chocolate and even allows the production of lecithin-free chocolate. In addition, all kinds of flavorings and additives can be mixed into the recipe in order to reach new target groups or to surprise existing ones.”
That leaves us with a company showcased in MIT Technology Review. Corby Kummer wrote an article titled, “A Chocolate Maker’s Big Innovation,” discussing how a chocolate company has changed not only its own process, but also how cacao farmers create product. Tcho chocolate company already has a product that stands apart from other sweet wrapped squares. Tcho’s flavor characteristics – chocolaty, bright, fruity, floral, earthy, and nutty – are part of its “PureNotes” which are illustrated on the inside of the candy’s wrappers. Consumers are consequently made aware of the range of flavors they should be looking for in a good chocolate.
This isn’t what is making big news in the world of chocolate, however. In most cases, chocolate manufacturers receive a batch of fermented beans, and if the flavor is off, they either have to use it or wait for the next harvest. What Tcho is doing is giving growers tools to taste the chocolate during harvesting and processing. “Tcho combines coffee roasters, spice grinders, and modified hair dryers to equip ‘sample labs’—pilot plants that produce tiny lots of chocolate right where cacao is grown. The company gives cacao farmers customized groupware so that they can share tasting notes and samples with chocolate makers. In this way, the farmers can bring entire harvests up to the standards of Tcho or any other buyer.”
These tools change the entire growing process of cacao beans. “Teaching [farmers] to recognize the flavors in fermented, roasted, and ground cacao beans, and then understand how they can adapt their growing processes, will be Tcho’s lasting contribution to chocolate making—even if hair dryers and spice grinders weren’t quite the tech the company had in mind when it opened a factory and shop on a historic pier in San Francisco’s Embarcadero, in 2007.”
When people think of innovative manufacturing, chocolate isn’t necessarily the industry that comes to mind. However, these three companies are making wondrous, industry-changing contributions that, quite frankly, have gotten us in the mood for some good chocolate.
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