Cocoa powder is made after roasting cocoa beans. They come from the cocoa (cacao) tree, native to Mexico. In order to collect the beans, a machete is used to cut the fruits, known as cocoa pods, from the tree. These pods encase between 30 and 40 beans, which are processed to remove their bitterness. They are first fermented, before selecting and roasting. After roasting, they are cooled, broken up and ground. This produces cocoa mass, which contains cocoa butter, a pale yellow fat. The cocoa butter must be removed from the cocoa mass in order to obtain cocoa powder. This step leaves a cocoa press cake, which is ground and sifted.
Cocoa is eaten throughout the year. The cocoa tree has two main flowering seasons each year, but always remains in flower. Cocoa powder for culinary use should be raw and unsweetened. It can be purchased in supermarkets or from chocolatiers. There are as many varieties of cocoa powders as there are varieties of cocoa beans. They differ in flavor, aroma, and nutritional qualities. Be careful not to confuse cocoa powder with powdered chocolate products.
The starch present in cocoa powder makes it difficult to dissolve. If the preparation requires it to be mixed with a liquid, start with a cold liquid to prevent lump formation. It can also be mixed with sugar, depending on the recipe, to separate the starch particles.
Cocoa powder can be made into a hot or cold drink, and is used in pastry making. Two tablespoons of cocoa powder are equivalent to 50 grams of chocolate. Cocoa powder can also be used as to decorate or glaze, for example, on tiramisu.
Cocoa powder can keep for several months provided it is stored in a dry place away from heat and light.
Cocoa powder has nutritional value because it contains relatively high levels of antioxidants (comparable to those of green tea and goji berries). Unlike chocolate, cocoa powder is low in carbohydrates and fat.
There are some twenty varieties of cocoa tree that produce different cocoa beans. Each bean produces a different powder. The most widespread cocoa tree variety is Forastero, which is native to the Amazon region. Its beans have a bitter taste with acidic notes. The finest beans come from Criollo trees, native to Venezuela.