Chocolatiering DIY Chocolate Making

How Cocoa Butter is Made from Cacao Beans: Step-by-Step Guide

how cocoa butter is made

As well as making chocolate, cocoa beans can be used to extract your own homemade cocoa butter. Chef Prish explains how cocoa butter is made from cacao beans, with a step-by-step guide for how to make cocoa butter at home.

Now that we have learned bean-to-bar chocolate making, let’s look at how to extract cocoa fats from the bean to make glorious, rich, and silky cocoa butter. Remember, 50% of the bean is made of cocoa butter so extracting it will deliver a rich reward.

Why Make Cocoa Butter?

What uses does cocoa butter have outside of chocolate-making?

You may want to extract the cocoa butter to make your own artisanal beauty products. Cocoa butter is a consistent ingredient in lip balms, shampoos, conditioners, soap, body butter, and healing balms. It is rich in Vitamin K which is known for its anti-aging, collagen-protecting, and wound-healing properties. Cocoa butter is also a source of Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that protects the skin.

In terms of culinary use, cocoa butter can be used to make other desserts like cakes, ice-cream, and frosting. You could melt some into a pot of your favorite soup for an extra creamy, rich texture in lieu of ghee, or add a teaspoon or two to black coffee instead of milk (it froths up). You could use it as a base ingredient in vegan butter. It is a superfood rich in iron, copper, potassium, zinc, and magnesium, so it really is worth making and consuming cocoa butter for its health benefits alone.

Please note, that the difference between edible and inedible cocoa butter is very important. Inedible butter doesn’t go through the essential fermentation process that edible cocoa goes through.

Overview of How Cocoa Butter is Made

  1. Source fresh cocoa pods
  2. Extract and ferment the cocoa beans/seeds
  3. Roast the cocoa beans, then winnow
  4. Grind the cocoa beans into cocoa liquor
  5. Apply pressure to the cocoa liquor, to squeeze out the cocoa butter (explanation further down)

Since we already learned how to ferment, dry, roast, winnow and grind cocoa in our article on how to make cocoa powder, this article will focus on extraction from the cocoa liquor stage, or from the cocoa nib stage depending on your available equipment and ingredients. If you have difficulty sourcing fresh cocoa pods, you can start the process from raw, dried cacao beans, which may be easier to find depending on where you live.

If you need to learn the foundational steps, from bean to liquor, please go back and read that article here. Let’s begin making cocoa butter.

Cocoa Butter: How to Make (Instructions)

Now, you will learn how to make cocoa butter at home using four methods:

  1. Bowl Method (aka “MacGyver Method”)
  2. Filter-Press Method
  3. Manual Press
  4. Aqueous Extraction

A] How to Make Cocoa Butter using the Bowl Method

I like to call this method, “The MacGyver Method,” since it uses only what is available around you. Here’s the process:

  1. Prepare a sturdy container with perforations on the bottom, like:
    • a cake sieve
    • a punched cheese mold
    • the inner bowl of a salad spinner
  2. Line the inside of the container with three or four layers of cotton or cheesecloth. These will help to hold the cocoa mass in and filter clarified cocoa butter out.
  3. Position a bowl under the container to catch the butter as it drips out. Make sure that the container only fits one-third of the way inside the bowl, leaving plenty of space for the oil to collect without any contact between the two.
  4. Scoop the cocoa liquor into the container. Fold the cloth over the top, so none of the liquor is exposed.
  5. If you want extra tension, twist the top into a tight knot and secure it with an elastic band.
  6. Place a weight on top of the container. It could be a large stone, a pot filled with other solid objects, or some jars filled with water. It has to be heavy enough to put pressure on the liquor forcing the butter to drip out. Bear in mind, that it shouldn’t be so heavy as to break the container. 
  7. Leave it to drip out for a few hours.
  8. Once it has stopped dripping, pour the butter into an airtight container and seal it.

It will keep indefinitely. In the summer months, refrigerate it and in the Winter months, it can be left out.

B] How to Make Cocoa Butter using the Filter-Press Method

A filter-press is a stainless steel, cylindrical container that easily fits in your hand, so it’s easy to use. The lid has a handle attached to it. Each time the handle turns, the screw on the inside pushes a plate onto the liquor, adding greater pressure so that it becomes more and more compact and refined allowing it to expel its butter. It is a painstaking method, and only produces a tiny amount of butter each time, but renders butter nonetheless.

Here’s how:

  1. Carefully place two or three cotton filters on top of the original steel filter inside the cylinder.
  2. Place a bowl under the press.
  3. Scoop 3 – 4 spoons full of liquor into the press.
  4. Screw the lid on and turn the handle, pushing the inner plate onto the liquor.
  5. As it presses, you’ll notice the butter starts to drip out. Make sure the bowl is in place to catch it.
  6. Once you are done, pour the butter into an airtight container and seal it.

C] Cocoa Butter How to Make using a Manual Press

A manual press presses olive oil, juices, and cheeses. It has an outer container, and an inner punched bowl, like a salad spinner. Fruits or cheeses are placed inside the punched bowl.

A handle and screw mechanism pushes a plate down onto the contents, much like the filter-press, and squeezes the liquid out through a tiny spout at the bottom of the outer container. The benefit of this method is that it has the capacity to produce much more butter than the filter-press or bowl method.

To use this method:

  1. Place a few layers of cotton or cheesecloth inside the punched container.
  2. Position a bowl under the spout of the outer container.
  3. Pour the liquor into the punched bowl and secure the filter cloths over the top.
  4. Rotate the press handles until the plate makes contact with the liquor.
  5. Turn a few more times, but don’t force it.
  6. Leave it to drip for an hour or so, then turn the handles again so that it further tightens.
  7. Let it drip for another hour, then turn the handles to tighten even further.
  8. This may take a good few hours. Keep tightening and letting it drip.
  9. Once it is done, pour the butter into an airtight container and seal it.

D] How Cocoa Butter is Made using Aqueous Extraction

This is a method traditionally used by developing countries, with limited access to equipment or electricity. The cocoa liquor is mixed with water and then boiled over medium heat until the water evaporates and the cocoa fat rises to the surface. This process is called, “water-flotation.”

To try this method:

  1. Mix the cocoa liquor with water. The ratio of each is not set in stone, but you can assume liquor to water = 2:2
  2. Set it on medium heat and stir continuously.
  3. Once it is hot, stop stirring and wait for the fats to rise.
  4. Scoop out the fat by skimming the surface, and spooning it into a container.
  5. Mix again then wait for the fats to rise.
  6. Keep scooping, mixing, waiting, then scooping until all the water has evaporated and you are left with a dense cocoa cake.
  7. You may want to leave the cocoa butter in a dehydrator or out in the sun to further dry out.

Other Methods for Extracting Cocoa Butter

Aside from these methods, you can find automated oil-pressing machines online that make the whole process much faster and easier. With at-home, automated machines, you can feed the machines warmed cocoa nibs instead of liquor. The whole process can be scaled down to between one hour to thirty minutes.

For every 500g of cocoa liquor, you can get between 170g – 200g of oil with a simple, automated home oil-press machine. With manual presses, you can expect less than that. This is what commercial oil pressing looks like.

Final Thoughts on How Cocoa Butter is Made

That’s it! It is a simple but rewarding process, that creates a product you can do multiple other things with, and you also have peace of mind that it is clean! With whichever method you choose, if you have any questions, please reach out. We would love to hear from you!

Article Author

  • Chef Prish

    Prashantha Lachanna is a South African contemporary raw, vegan chef. After introducing the raw food concept in Taipei through a series of workshops and events, she co-founded Taiwan’s first contemporary raw, vegan restaurant, NAKEDFOOD, 2015 – 2018. NAKEDFOOD’s services also included designing and executing inventive pop-up events, corporate and wedding catering, culinary workshops, demos, and talks. Thereafter, in 2020, Chef Prish co-founded Vegan Yumz, an online vegan store. It is her intention to showcase vegan chocolate to a wider audience.

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