Ask the Alchemist #11

What are the different ways that people winnow their cocoa beans? What are the pros and cons between them?

Well, first and foremost, we should just get it out of the way, and define winnowing.

From Webster’s
Definition of WINNOW – transitive verb
1 a (1) : to remove (as chaff) by a current of air.
The reason I put that in there is I’ve received the tech support questions that the Cocoa mill and/or Champion is not winnowing properly. Can you see where this is going? These two devices don’t winnow. They crack the beans, which granted is first step before winnowing, but they don’t have a ‘current of air’ and are not meant to winnow.

With that out of the way, I would suggest going over to my Alchemy Notebook and reading about Winnowing there. It really says it all there. (BTW, that is a new page that is not linked in the side bar – once the entire Notebook is updated, I’ll get all the links modified)
But to give you just a quick run down, you can winnow really only a few different ways, and you guessed it, they all involve a current of air after having cracked the beans.

  • Blow on them.
  • Use a blow drier
  • Use a fan and drop the nib/husk mixture in front of it.

And of course (now, see the post earlier this week)

  • Use a winnower.

Seriously, that is about it. I used a blow drier for MANY years, and it works pretty well – but it makes a mess – everywhere. Blowing on them – well, technically yes, but a fan or blow drier is easier. The fan method seems great in theory, but I found it very fussy to make work if not built into an ‘official’ winnower where the introduction of the nibs and husk were very were controlled.

That leaves a choice of winnowers. There a few models you may have found on the web of long drop tube pvc models with multiple fans or blowers. Or versions of bird seed or grass seed separators. Again, both seem good in theory, but turn out to require more human intervention and baby sitting than just hand (read blow drier) winnowing.

There is also a vortex winnower I’ve seen tossed around – and I’ve played with one, and spoken to a small handful of people who have used them. And unfortunately, they are too expensive ($35,000 last I checked) or simply don’t live up to the claims of separation efficiency.

What that leads me to is a small amount of slightly abashed self promotion in suggesting either the Aether or Sylph winnowers. They are a modified long drop tube pvc winnowers, except they are missing the long drop tube, fussy, dual fan/blower controllers and are pretty inexpensive (comparing of course against $2-5K lab winnowers) . I won’t try and sell you on them – you have the links. I’ll also say they are not that complicated to build yourself if you are moderately handy with tools.

That’s about it.

What about hand peeling the beans you ask? Is there a current of air I say? No? Then it’s peeling, and it IS removing the husk from the bean, but the question was about winnowing. You can do it, but don’t expect more than about 1 lb/hour and do expect sore fingers by the end.

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