#BehindTheBar - Breaking it Down
- How Max (our founder) first started breaking and winnowing, compared to now.
- What we have done with our cocoa husks in the past.
- An exciting project we are currently working on!
The roasted beans consist of two parts, the nib, as shown on the left, and the husk which is on the right. The part we want is the nib which is chocolate at its purest.
At Bullion, we want to convey the great and unique flavours that the nib carries and that is why we don’t add extra flavourings. The ingredients used in our bars are cocoa beans, cocoa butter and unrefined cane sugar (and milk powder is added to our Fine Milk bar). But we achieve our unique flavour notes by experimenting and improving our approach to making craft chocolate.
The other part of the cocoa bean is the husk (sometimes called the shell). This light coating easily comes apart from the nib once the beans have been roasted. The shell is a by-product of the process. However, we’re committed to reducing waste therefore we have used the husk in many exciting ways which we’ll discuss later on in this blog post.
When Max first began making chocolate, he had a creative approach to breaking and winnowing. Firstly, he would put the beans in a food bag and use his Mum's rolling pin to break and smash the beans. This would separate the delicious nib from the husk. Once the beans were sufficiently broken, he would head out into the garden with the nib and husk mixture in a bowl and begin hair drying the mixture. This process is called winnowing, with the objective being to remove the husk from the nib. As the cocoa husks weigh far less than the nib, they can be blown away. Once Max had finished separating the nib from husk, he was left with a bowl full of cocoa nibs, ready to be refined (which is the next instalment of our #BehindtheBar series!)
Since then, we have modified our approach to breaking and winnowing. However, the aim still remains the same. When breaking and winnowing, we want to remove the bitter shell and to keep the nib, which we use to make our chocolate. When Max was looking for a space to become Bullion’s Chocolate Factory, it was imperative that the space had a separate room for breaking and winnowing, as the process can be particularly messy (with cocoa husk being blown everywhere!) Fortunately, Cutlery Works provided this.
Once our beans have been roasted, they’re laid out on our cooling table, when they cool down to room temperature, the beans are ready to be loaded into the breaking machine.
Breaking is the process of separating the two parts of the cocoa bean. We use the nib to make our chocolate. Meanwhile, the husk has been used for an exciting range of products which will be discussed soon.
Inside our breaking and winnowing room, we have our cocoa breaker. We sourced the machine from a manufacturer in London. Originally it was a table top cocoa breaker. However, with help from Richards of Hull, a plastic fabrication company. They created some bespoke drawers to catch the nib and shell mixture.
Our cocoa breaker has two panels and a circular wheel. When feeding beans into the machine, the wheel pushes the beans against the panel, which results in a bucket full of shell and nib.
When using the cocoa breaker, we slowly trickle the beans into the machine, to not overwhelm it. As the beans have just been roasted, they are fairly easy to break. When we conduct ‘roast tests’ our chocolate makers apply pressure with their thumb and it easily breaks apart. After an initial, loose break, we tighten the panel for a finer grind, this ensures the bean is broken into finer shards and makes winnowing much easier.
Once we have completed the breaking step, we’re ready to winnow. When winnowing, we are removing the husk from the nibs, as we need the nib to make our indulgent chocolate.
Winnowing machines were originally used by the farming industry; they would use the machine to separate grain from straw. In our chocolate factory, we feed the broken bean mixture into the winnower, to separate the shell from the nib.
In remote locations, winnowing is done by tossing the broken cocoa bean mixture into the air and relying on the wind to blow away the husk and catching the falling nib. Luckily, we can recreate this much easier due to our winnowing machine. Our winnowing machine has a funnel at the top, where the broken cocoa bean mixture is poured into. We then control the speed which air blows in the machine, and as the nib is heavier than the husk, the nib falls through the machine whilst the husk is blown away from it. Once separated, the nibs drop out the bottom of the machine into a box and the shell goes out the side into a bag. We have found that smaller, harder beans do not winnow as well as larger beans - which is partially why we pay such close attention when sorting.
As we’re keen to ensure only the best nibs are used in our craft chocolate, we put the nibs through a second time to ensure all husk is removed. In our experience, winnowing takes half a day. This is because we gradually feed the beans into our machines and we redo each step twice to ensure there is no husk used in our chocolate.
Once we have finished breaking and winnowing, we’re left with one bag of cocoa nibs. Cocoa nib is full of vitamins, minerals and polyphenols. Additionally, the nib contains magnesium, potassium, fibre and more calcium than cow’s milk! Providing some positive health benefits. Not only does the nib hold these nutrients, but when we use it, we are able to exacerbate the flavours and showcase them in our bars. To experience the unique and different flavours present in each bar - try our three bar bundle here.
Innovation Meets Craft Chocolate
We want to showcase the greatness of craft chocolate. As part of this, we keep experimenting and trying to find new, creative ways of demonstrating how special bean to bar chocolate making is. Once we have winnowed our cocoa beans we’re left with a by-product, the husk. Which doesn’t serve a purpose in the rest of our process. However, instead of throwing the husk away, we’re committed to reducing the amount of waste that we produce. Therefore, we have collaborated with many exciting brands to make use of our cocoa husks and nibs.
We collaborated with Spirit of Yorkshire to create a chocolate moonshine. Spirit of Yorkshire distills their whiskey from grain to glass, a very interesting and impressive process! The chocolate moonshine utilised our husks to make an (extremely!) strong, chocolatey spirit! Be sure to check out Spirit of Yorkshire here.
Also, we have teamed up with various breweries, the first of which being Yeasty Boys. They brew their beer in New Zealand, Australia and right here in the UK. Yeasty Boys impressed us with their use of husks by producing ‘Dream Sequence’! A dark brown ale with a cocoa twist. If you’re wanting to try the surprisingly clean and refreshing ale, it can be purchased here.
Have a look around Yeasty Boys’ other ales whilst you’re there as there is something for everyone!
We were also lucky enough to be part of a three-way collaboration with local legends, Abbeydale Brewery and Frazer’s Coffee. This strong, chocolatey stout has a rich malt base. With Ecuadorian cocoa nibs and Peruvian coffee beans, the sweetness is balanced and rounded, and a creamy mocha stout was created. The ‘Indulgence Mocha Stout’ can be enjoyed at Cutlery Works from Boozehound Craft Bar!
Most recently, we have been approached by Guy Richie, the film director, producer and writer is now embarking onto a new project, Gritchie Brewing Co. We recently dispatched some of our husk a few weeks ago and we cannot wait to see what they come up with!
We have also experimented with this by-product. Avid gardeners will be intrigued to know that we’ve found that it is great for compost! The cocoa husk positively improves the soil quality.
However, we wanted to do something a little bit different…after a lot of consideration and exploring what would be possible, we are delighted to announce that we are currently developing our own candle!
Made with the husk that was once part of the bean to bar chocolate making process, you will soon be able to immerse yourself in the delicious aroma of chocolate in your own home. With a scent so recognisable, close your eyes and you would think you’re in the Bullion chocolate factory on roasting day. The perfect gift for chocolate lovers, coming Christmas 2020. Be the first to find out about the release of our candle by signing up to our mailing list via our website footer here.
Wanting to appreciate cocoa nibs in their purity? Next time you’re in our cafe, make sure to try the Bullionaires Caramel Shortbread, which is decorated with our Ecuadorian origin cocoa nibs, making the shortbread deliciously indulgent.
If you can’t make it down to Cutlery Works, we have an online shop which dispatches orders every Wednesday! So, you're able to indulge in your favourite bars, bakes and beverages in the comfort of your own home.
After breaking and winnowing comes grinding and conching. To read next week’s #BehindTheBar before anyone else, sign up to our mailing list.
Let us know:
- Have you ever had a go at winnowing by hand?
- Have you tried any of our collaborative products?
- Are you looking forward to the Bullion candle?
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