Cacao powder is a versatile ingredient used in baking, smoothies, hot chocolate and more. It has a rich, chocolatey flavor and contains beneficial nutrients like magnesium, antioxidants and fiber. While cacao powder can be purchased, many people enjoy the experience of making their own cacao powder at home from cacao beans.
The process of transforming cacao beans into homemade cacao powder allows you to control the quality and freshness. And it's surprisingly easy to do with basic kitchen equipment!
The Making Of Homemade Cacao Powder
Here are the steps required in making cacao powder at home:
- Source raw cacao beans - Purchase whole, unroasted organic cacao beans. Find a reputable supplier for high-quality beans.
- Clean the beans - Sort through the beans, removing any debris or damaged beans. Rinse briefly in water.
- Roast the beans - Roast beans in the oven at low heat to enhance flavor.
- Crack beans and remove shells - Crack open the roasted beans and remove the outer shell to extract the cacao nibs.
- Grind the nibs - Use a coffee grinder, high-powered blender or food processor to grind cacao nibs into a fine powder.
- Sift - Use a fine mesh strainer or sifter to further refine powder consistency.
- Store - Keep cacao powder in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.
The entire process takes about one hour from start to finish, depending on your equipment. And you'll end up with the freshest, most aromatic homemade cacao powder imaginable!
Sourcing High Quality Cacao Beans
The first step is procuring raw cacao beans. These are the whole, unprocessed beans straight from the cacao pod.
When buying cacao beans, you want to find organic, fair trade beans for the highest quality and ethical production. Seek out specialty retailers that deal directly with cacao farmers and co-ops.
Some good places to source raw cacao beans include:
- Local health food stores
- Specialty chocolate shops
- Online retailers like Amazon or international sellers
- Directly from cacao farms or grower co-ops
You can also find raw cacao nibs, which are cracked cacao beans. But starting with the whole bean gives you more control over the finished cacao powder.
Aim for beans that are uniform in size and color, without any defects, mold or discoloration. The beans should smell rich and chocolatey. And fresher is always better when it comes to cacao!
Key Takeaway: Source high quality, raw organic cacao beans from specialty retailers for the best homemade cacao powder.
Cleaning and Sorting the Cacao Beans
Once you've sourced your cacao beans, they need to be cleaned and sorted before processing.
Pick out any beans that are broken, shriveled or otherwise damaged. Remove any debris like leaves, sticks or stones too.
Next, give the beans a quick rinse under cool running water. Don't soak them, just wash briefly to remove any dirt or residue from the surface.
Lay the washed beans on a towel and pat dry thoroughly. Then spread them on a baking sheet or tray and let the beans air dry completely before roasting.
Proper sorting and cleaning of the raw beans ensures you end up with pure, uncontaminated cacao powder.
Roasting the Cacao Beans
Roasting is an essential step for developing flavor and changing the cellular structure of cacao beans, making them easier to crack open and grind.
There are a couple different roasting methods:
This is the easiest approach for home prep:
- Preheat oven to 250°F (120°C)
- Spread washed, dried beans in an even layer on a baking sheet
- Roast for 25-30 minutes, stirring halfway through
The low gentle heat helps bring out the rich, chocolatey notes while drying the beans further.
You can also roast in a saucepan on the stovetop:
- Heat a skillet over medium-low heat
- Add dried beans and stir continuously
- Roast for 15-20 minutes until fragrant and color darkens
This gives you more control over the process but requires vigilance to prevent burning.
Regardless of the roasting method, the beans should be fragrant, dry and brittle when done.
Cracking and Winnowing the Beans
After roasting comes the cracking and winnowing steps to remove the outer shell of the beans.
Cracking the bean is done by lightly crushing it to break it open and expose the cacao nib inside. This can be done a few ways:
- Placing between towels and cracking with a hammer
- Quick blitz in a blender to break shells
- Rolling pin to break shells of small batches
Avoid pulverizing the nibs inside - just crack the shell. Winnowing is separating the nib from the shell.
- Gently blow or fan the cracked beans to blow away lightweight shells
- Sift through a mesh strainer/colander to filter shells
Pick out any remaining shells to ensure just the nibs remain. The nibs can then be ground into powder.
Grinding the Cacao Nibs into Powder
Now comes the final step of grinding the cacao nibs into a fine powder.
You'll need a powerful grinding device to properly pulverize the nibs. Here are some options:
Food Processor or Blender
For small batches, a food processor or high-speed blender like Vitamix works well:
- Process in short pulses to avoid overheating
- May take several minutes of pulsing to achieve fine texture
The powder may have some texture since home appliances can't grind incredibly fine. But the flavor will be excellent.
A burr coffee grinder is specially designed for grinding:
- Use short grind cycles and shake between pulses
- Finer grind than home blender/processor
- Powder stays cool since not continuously ground
Clean thoroughly between coffee and cacao to prevent cross-contamination.
For large batches or super fine powder, invest in a commercial nut/grain grinder. Look for stone or stainless steel grinding plates for efficient grinding without overheating.
Expect to spend $200+ for a quality dedicated cacao grinder. But it allows high volume powder production.
Key Takeaway: Grind cacao nibs in a food processor, coffee grinder or commercial unit to produce fresh cacao powder.
Sifting for a Fine Powder
The final step is sifting the ground cacao powder to achieve an ultra-fine, silky texture.
Pass the powder through a fine mesh metal strainer or sifter to remove any remaining coarse bits. Use a sweeping motion across the mesh screen.
You can grind and sift multiple times until the desired fineness is reached. This helps improve the mouthfeel and functionality of the powder.
Storing Your Homemade Cacao Powder
Like coffee, freshly made cacao powder has a short shelf life for peak flavor and aroma.
To extend freshness as long as possible:
- Place powder in an airtight container
- Store in a cool, dark place
- Keep no longer than 1 month
- Refrigerate for longer storage
- Freeze for several months of storage
Vacuum sealing also helps prolong freshness. But consume your homemade powder quickly for ultimate taste and nutrition.
Using Your Fresh Cacao Powder
The wonderful thing about homemade cacao powder is using it in your favorite recipes. Here are some delicious ways to enjoy it:
- Baked goods - Brownies, cookies, cakes, muffins
- Smoothie bowls - Add to smoothies for antioxidant boost
- Hot chocolate - For richer homemade hot cocoa
- Coffee drinks - Add to lattes, mochas
- Yogurt or oatmeal - Sprinkle on to enhance nutrition
- Pancakes or waffles - Chocolate breakfast!
- Milkshakes - For thick chocolatey shakes
- Energy balls - Mix into no-bake energy bites
Get creative and use your fresh cacao powder anywhere you want a chocolatey flavor and health perks.
Is it better to use whole beans or nibs?
Starting with whole raw beans gives you more control, but cacao nibs will also work. Just skip the cracking/winnowing steps.
Can any grinder work to grind the nibs?
You need an appliance capable of finely pulverizing the nibs into powder. A cheap coffee grinder may not get the consistency fine enough. Invest in a quality burr grinder, commercial unit or high speed blender like Vitamix.
How long does homemade powder last?
No more than 1-2 months stored properly in an airtight container in cool, dark place. Fridge extends life slightly longer. Freeze for several months.
What kind of recipes work best?
Homemade powder is great for baked goods, smoothies, hot chocolate and more. May not achieve same fineness as store bought for delicate pastries.
Is raw or roasted better?
Light roasting enhances flavor through Maillard reaction. Raw cacao retains more nutrients but has more bitter taste. Roasting improves flavor without much nutrient loss.
Can you make white chocolate powder?
Yes! Use cacao butter from pressed beans rather than powder. Gentle heat melts the butter into white chocolate. Add sugar, milk, etc to taste.
Making your own cacao powder from scratch is deeply satisfying and rewards you with an incredibly fresh, pure product.
With raw beans, a little time and the right equipment, you can easily create small batches of personalized cacao powder.