It is estimated that people across the globe consume nearly 7.2 million metric tons of chocolate each year. That’s over two pounds (almost a kilogram) of chocolate for every single person on Earth. It’s easy to understand why. With its unique combination of rich flavor compounds, fats, and (sometimes) sugar, and its ability to be made into numerous forms and styles, chocolate is a one-of-a-kind treat that is beloved the world over.

For many people, there is a deep, nostalgic attachment to their favorite chocolate brands. One bite can instantly take them back to their childhoods when they had their first life-altering taste of this incredible confection. While nearly everyone knows they love chocolate, what’s less known is how this wonderful substance makes it to our taste buds. 

The process of taking a cacao pod and turning it into a delicious chocolate bar is a complete mystery to most people. It’s a process that has deep roots in history going back thousands of years and yet is only possible with modern industrial technology made in the last century and a half. And the process continues to be refined as digital technology advances, with industrial PCs and tablets playing vital roles in the modern chocolate-making process.

This World Chocolate Day, we at Cybernet want to celebrate the ways in which technology helps bring this decadent treat to the world.

A Brief History of Chocolate

Though the majority of cacao is now grown in West Africa, cacao trees are native to Central and South America. Scientists and archeologists disagree on exactly how long humans have been consuming cacao beans, but it is generally accepted that we have done so for at least 2000 years. The practice originated in what is now Mexico, with the Mayans and possibly the Olmecs before them. These cultures, along with the Aztecs, consumed cacao as a hot beverage. 

So it went on for thousands of years until the 1500s, when Spanish colonists conquered the Aztec empire. The Spanish picked up the practice of drinking cacao from the Aztecs, who called the drink “xocoatl,” which is how we got the word “Chocolate.” The Spanish exported the practice back to Europe, where it caught on among the European elite. In Europe, people began adding milk and sugar to this drink to balance out its intense and bitter flavors. 

It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that the modern chocolate bar as we know it took shape. In the 1800s, Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes van Houten and his father Casparus invented two of the foundational processes of modern chocolate making. First, Casparus invented the chocolate press, which extracts the fats from liquid chocolate and separates them from the cocoa solids. Then Coenraad developed a way to take the solids, chemically remove their most bitter flavors, and turn them into usable cocoa powder. Known as Dutch Process Cocoa, the product he invented is still considered the gold standard for chocolate production. 

Shortly thereafter, Swiss chocolate maker Rudolphe Lindt invented the conche, which refines the particles in chocolate to microscopic size, removing the gritty texture present in chocolate confections at the time. Then, at the turn of the 20th century, an American candymaker named Milton Hershey developed a shelf-stable process for integrating milk into chocolate bars. The modern chocolate bar as we know it was born.

Digital Technology Helps Makes Chocolate Better

Fast-forward to the 21st century. Chocolate is a massive international business with companies in dozens of countries shipping out millions of chocolate bars and other products to eager customers worldwide. From bean sorting to shipping, this level of mass production and distribution level just would not be possible without modern digital technologies.

Automated Bean Sorting

Regardless of the type of chocolate in question, be it milk, dark, semi-sweet, handcrafted, mass-produced, bar, truffle, chip, etc., all chocolate ultimately starts out as the same thing: cacao beans. In order to ensure both consistency and quality in their products, chocolate makers need to be able to sort through the beans they purchase and pick out only those beans that meet their standards. Given the sheer quantity of beans required for the chocolate-making process, most companies can’t do this sorting by hand.

The only way to accomplish this herculean task is through automation. Sorting machines run cacao beans across a series of screens to sort out beans with the wrong size and other impurities like dirt, stems, bits of bean shell, etc. In fact, this sorting process must occur twice, once with the whole beans and again once the outer shell has been removed from the nib to discard the useless shells.

Such machines would be very difficult to run and maintain without digital technology like Industrial Panel PCs, which allow chocolate factory workers to quickly and easily run machines from a touch screen user interface, provide a screen from which to view a video feed of the sorting process to make sure it is running smoothly and give feedback to workers should something go wrong.

Refinement with Digital Precision

After the bean shell is separated from the nib, the nibs can be processed into the chocolate products we know and love. Digital technology enhances each step of this process. For instance, industrial computers allow chocolate presses to run with a level of accuracy previously impossible, allowing chocolate makers to extract the minimum amount of cacao butter with very little guesswork. 

Once separated, the ingredients are mixed back together in different portions depending on the desired final product. Industrial PCs are also crucial in the remixing process, allowing chocolate makers to mix the cacao butter, cacao powder, and other necessary ingredients back together with digital precision. This ensures a level of consistency and quality in the end product that will keep customers coming back for more and more chocolaty goodness.

Conching, the all-important final step of the chocolate-making process, is also enhanced by digital technology. In addition to refining the particles in chocolate down to microscopic sizes to ensure a smooth mouthfeel, the process also releases many of the more bitter flavor compounds found in chocolate in the form of gas. 

Before the advent of digital technology, this process relied on a bit of guesswork. You let the machine run for a certain amount of time, check the product, and if it wasn’t up to snuff, you kept the process going. Unfortunately, this method doesn’t provide you with the consistency you need in large-scale mass production operations.

Now, digital sensors can measure the particle size in real-time and measure the volume of flavor compounds being off-gassed. Workers can check these measurements on an industrial panel PC screen to monitor the chocolate’s process. That way, you can ensure you get the same exact product every single time.

Industrial Tablets, Warehouse Management, and Logistics

Of course, making the chocolate itself is only half the battle. Once it’s made, it has to be packaged and shipped out to retailers so it can ultimately arrive at its final destination, your mouth. We’ve written about how rugged industrial tablets and PCs enhance warehouse management and logistics on this blog before, and nowhere is that more true than with chocolate. In particular, certain big-name chocolate manufacturers utilize Industrial Tablets in their batch labeling process, allowing them to label, scan, and track their products with the push of a button.

Without this technology, the chocolate industry as we know it would be very different, and we would be living in a less sweet world as a result. Who would want that?

Final Thoughts

If you’re a chocolate maker, or just a chocolate enthusiast, and are interested in learning about how Industrial PCs and tablets can improve your business, whatever it may be, contact the experts at Cybernet today! Happy snacking!