Ask the Alchemist #30

Are there some general percentages of loss to calculate for in chocolate formulations, such as moisture loss, husk waste loss, etc?”


OK, I guess you want more than that. Like, you actually want to know what they are? Ok, I can do that. It’s pretty straight forward, and around the site, but the whole point of these Questions is to get much of the information in one place, so here goes.

Roasting. Unlike coffee which can lose 20% of its weight to moisture, cocoa starts out with much less moisture, and you end up with very little lost. So little in fact, that I totally discount it at all. It is usually only 1-2%.

Winnowing. This is by far the largest loss. At the absolute minimum there is 17% of the weight of the bean in the husk. This corresponds to ‘perfect’ winnowing efficiency, with a perfectly thin husked bean, of 83%. Most of the time I find this number is closer to 80%, or a 20% loss. On a particularly poorly prepped or heavy husked cocoa bean (think Papua New Guinea for a heavy husk), or one with lots of flats, a 25% loss is closer to the mark. When doing my estimating, I tend to round down, and be surprised when I have more nibs in my bowl.

Grinding. If you are using the Champion Juicer, you will lose a flat 6 oz to the Champion, regardless if you are doing 1 lb or 10 lbs. For this reason, many people (myself included) have taken to pre-heating the cocoa nibs, and adding them slowly to the Melanger (which has also been pre-heated). This way you don’t lose anything.

Refining. At this point, it would seem that your losses are at an end, but I’ve found that at this stage a little more moisture is lost. Sometimes up to 5%. And you have whatever you simply cannot get out of the bowl and off the rollers – usually an ounce or two at least.

There you go.

1% Roasting

17-25% Winnowing

0-6 oz Grinding

1-5% Refining

And instead of trying to wrap your head around that EXACTLY and making how much you need to the ounce, I highly recommend just estimating your losses high (25% does just great) and make a little more than you want (4 oz) and you should have plenty.

4 Responses to “Ask the Alchemist #30”

  1. Hey John,

    You mentioned that you lose a flat 6 oz through the Champion. I’ve never lost more than 3.7 oz to the Champion and typically the average is around 3 oz. I was curious, do you run the waste product through the Champion a few times to extract more liquor? Does running the waste product through multiple times lead to greater astringency in the chocolate because I could increasing the likelihood of more husk in the processed liquor? Seems like that wouldn’t be an issue because the Champion filter really helps reduce the amount of husk entering into the processed liquor. What are your thoughts on this?

  2. I have seen some cacao with moisture levels in the 1-2% range like you mentioned (Madagascar ’09 and Peru ’11) but have had others that were in the 4-6% range (Papua New Guinea ’11, DR Conacado ’12, and Nicaragua ’12). On average I do a 15-20 minute roast starting around 300°F for a few minutes and finish around 250°F. Unless you know the moisture content up front it’s best to anticipate a higher loss as you suggested.

  3. The odd part that I’ve found, is that even when you have a bean at 5% moisture, you don’t loose 5% moisture – you loose 1-2% or so. I’m not quite sure what to make of it, but I’ve routinely roasted 5 lbs of raw beans, to end up with 4 lbs 15 oz. On the other hand, I know I’ve put exactly 5 lbs into a melanger, scrapped it VERY well, and ended with 4 lbs 12 oz. YMMV

  4. Lilypa,
    All I can say is more power to you. 6 oz is what I’ve always lost. I absolutely re-run the husk, but only to the point that it really heats up.

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