How is Cocoa Processed? By Ashley Reaver, MS, RD, CSSD

Do you know how that delicious chocolate gets into your cabinet?

Cocoa Pod on Tree

You may be surprised to know that chocolate actually tastes nothing like the plant it originally comes from, the cacao tree.

In this blog, we’ll walk you through how cocoa travels from the tree to your favorite recovery drink. We will explain how cocoa processing can have huge impacts on its nutrient content.

The chocolate process starts with the cacao tree, which is found in tropical regions primarily in Western Africa and southeast Asia. The tree produces a fruit, called a pod, and within those pods are cocoa beans.

Once the fruit is ripe, the pods are picked, mostly by hand, and the beans are removed.

Cocoa Flesh

Fresh cocoa beans do not look very appetizing. They appear white and slimy, similar to tempeh. If you were to eat a cocoa bean at this step, it would not taste like your favorite chocolate bar.

After harvesting the beans, the fermenting process begins.

That’s right, just like kombucha, kimchi, and yogurt, but without the addition of bacteria. During the 5- to 8-day fermentation process, the beans turn brown. They are typically left out in the sun, which creates the perfect temperature for the bacteria and yeast to grow on the beans. After this, they are roasted and dried. Drying the beans typically takes one week in the hot climate of the cocoa-producing areas.  Once dry, shipping of the cocoa beans to world-wide chocolate manufacturers occurs.

Cocoa Beans

The first step in the mechanical processing of the dried beans is a roast to produce the chocolate flavor and aroma.

Next, the beans go through a grinding process to remove the hard outer shell and reveal the center, the cocoa nib. A second grinding of the cocoa nibs produces the cocoa liquor. However, contrary to its name, chocolate liquor does not contain an alcoholic substance.

By pressing this cocoa liquor with great force, the cocoa liquor separates into cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Cocoa solids have a higher mineral content, like iron and magnesium, and a higher antioxidant content, namely flavonols, than cocoa butter or cocoa liquor.

Cocoa liquor

The next step in processing is alkalization. This step is not a requirement for producing high-quality cocoa. It is mainly a step to remove some of the inherent bitter taste found in cocoa. It can also occur at various points during the manufacturing process. The process is simple: alkaline salts are added to the cocoa. Unfortunately, alkalization removes a large portion of the antioxidant content in cocoa. So, it is best to purchase non-alkalized chocolate whenever possible. When choosing chocolate, look for non-alkalized chocolate and avoid alkalized cocoa and Dutch-processed cocoa, which is another name for alkalization.

However, chocolate and cocoa are not interchangeable.

Chocolate is a combination of cocoa solids, butter, or liquor with sugar and milk or milk fat.  A breakdown of the most common types of chocolate is shown below:

Chocolate Bars

  • White chocolate – White chocolate actually contains 0% cocoa solids. It is cocoa butter, milk, and sugar. Without the cocoa solids, there is very little nutritional benefit from white chocolate.

Chocolate Bars

  • Milk chocolate – Unlike white chocolate, milk chocolate contains some cocoa solids, but it typically makes up only about 30% of the chocolate. The majority of the bar is cocoa butter, milk, and sugar. Because it contains some cocoa solids, there may be some health benefits. However, the other ingredients in the bar likely mitigate any health benefits.

Dark chocolate – By weight, dark chocolate must contain at least 55% cocoa solids. Since it contains the most cocoa solids, the nutritional benefits and potential impact on health are the highest in dark chocolate bars. The higher the % of cocoa, the more health benefits. The highest quality, non-alkalized dark chocolate bars made from cocoa solids (not liquor) can have 100-150 mg of flavonols per bar.

Cocoa Elite products utilize non-alkalized cocoa.  This is why they are able to provide 200-400 mg of flavonol content per serving. Compared to eating an entire chocolate bar, Cocoa Elite products are much better for overall health. Why? Because they do not include the additional milk fats and sugars that accompany a whole bar.

Due to their high flavanol content, Cocoa Elite products are uniquely special and beneficial for your body. With these natural cocoa flavanols, you get help supporting your circulatory system and aid in recovery after athletic training and competitions. Utilizing their patented combination of protein, carbohydrates, and high flavanol cocoa, Cocoa Elite is the perfect product to support your athletic pursuits or everyday cocoa needs.


[1] Di Giuseppe, Romina, et al. “Regular consumption of dark chocolate is associated with low serum concentrations of C-reactive protein in a healthy Italian population.”  The Journal of nutrition 138.10 (2008): 1939-1945
[2] Miller, Kenneth B., et al. “Impact of alkalization on the antioxidant and flavanol content of commercial cocoa powders”.  Journal of agricultural and food chemistry 56.18 (2008): 8527-8533.

Ashley Reaver is the founder of Ashley Reaver Nutrition, a private practice that offers nutritional services. She also created  My Weekly Eats, a health/wellness blog-social media brand that focuses on easy, make-ahead recipes, and meal plans.

Ashley’s knowledge areas and counseling specialties include sports nutrition, weight loss, cooking classes, meal planning, and intuitive eating principles. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Nutritional Science from Cornell University. In addition, she completed her dietetic internship at California Polytechnic University. Afterwards, she earned her Master of Science in Nutrition Science and Policy from Tufts University.

Ashley is also a Certified Sports Specialist Dietitian.



All bloggers receive a small compensation for their contributions.

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