Winnowing woes

This weekend we attempted our first “big” batch. By big, I mean more than 100 grams of fermented cocoa beans at a time. This is very exciting, because we’re using our new melanger, the Premier Wonder Grinder for the first time!

I’ll go into more details about the Premier Wonder Grinder in another post. In the meantime, I’d like to bring it to the chocolate-making world’s attention my opinion about winnowing. It’s not my favorite part of making chocolate. In fact, it may even be my least favorite part.

For those who are new to the process, winnowing means to remove by air flow. In the chocolate sphere, we’re referring to removing husks from nibs. Cocoa beans are surrounded by a husk that needs to be removed before grinding, refining, and conching. To do that, you first need to crack the husk. And without some serious equipment, that cracking and removal just ain’t easy!

Dandelion Chocolate has a giant cracker and winnower (see the machine in back, the front machine is a roaster).

Dandelion cracker and winnower in back, roaster in front

Richard and I have attempted many iterations of cracking and winnowing. First, the rolling pin and hair dryer method. The cracking moves relatively quickly, as long as you have a very small batch (about 100 grams). And the hair dryer method works with an OK yield of remaining nibs, but be sure to wear those safety goggles and do this part outside. It’s a mess!

hair dryer winnowing rolling pin cracking

We’ve also tried a combined cracking and winnowing process using a garlic peeler. The Oxo garlic peeler does a decent job, but it takes quite some time and needs to be rinsed and dried frequently.

And today, with our large batch of beans (888 grams before cracking and winnowing), we had a new challenge. A pint-sized ziploc bag doesn’t fit that many beans, so we had to use a gallon. And even then, the cracking process came out all unevenly. So, Richard began to design a separating system, to ensure we had uniformly-sized nibs before winnowing.

cracking separator

This creation did help by separating the beans that somehow escaped the rolling pin from those that had been smashed to smithereens. However, we still had to winnow. And with that quantity of beans, it was NOT easy! In fact, as I write this now, a thin layer of cocoa husk particles coats my entire body!

Others have tried to build a winnower for home use, but they tend to require mad engineering skills (which Richard could supply if need be) and/or a minimum of about $200 cash. Explore with me, these interesting options for winnowing:

This part of the process clearly could use some solid innovation. I’m interested in the ideas and strategies out there from chocolate-makers, engineers, and geniuses. Does anyone have a design that costs less than $100 and requires little to no build time?

Let’s put our heads together and help keep chocolate-making fun! 

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4 thoughts on “Winnowing woes

  1. You can do a DIY version of the Sylph with PVC piping pushed together for about $45 (not including the vacuum) – design on Chocolate Alchemy. But I find a hairdryer is easiest with up to 1kg (quicker and less mess if done outside). The trick is to use a large circumference but shallow bowl. I use a bowl typically found in a pastry kitchen – about 30cm diameter but only approx 8cm high (guessing numbers here). That allows the shell to blow out of the bowl a lot easier from the hairdryer.

  2. Pingback: Premier Wonder Grinder | Root Chocolate

  3. Hi Gareth, thanks for this advice! I’ll take a look at the DIY Sylph. We’ll also try a different sized bowl – I agree that our giant plastic bin was probably not the best option! Please stay in touch!

  4. Pingback: Siriana Cacao | Root Chocolate

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