Successfully incorporating cannabis into edibles that are delicious, safe and consistently dosed is not an easily achieved feat. Add in the complexities of chocolate, and it becomes a real challenge, particularly for new and small edibles manufacturers.

While they have an understanding of the cannabinoid extract they intend to use, some fledgling chocolate edibles manufacturers don’t know the differences and key pieces of chocolate equipment, and they may not realize how a particular chocolate’s composition influences the production process.

That’s where chocolate equipment suppliers step in, offering expertise developed in years working with traditional chocolate manufacturers.

Jacques de Waele, southwest sales, Savage Bros. Co., Elk Grove Village, IL, has worked with a variety of edibles manufacturers since the company began receiving inquiries from them about six years ago. “A lot of the smaller companies know very little about the product,” he says. “It seems to be they know about the oil that they’re mixing into the chocolate but they have little knowledge of what chocolate is. They need education.”

These manufacturers need education not only on how to make chocolate products, but also on choosing the correct sizes and types of equipment.

“It’s a question of giving them as much information as possible,” de Waele says. These decisions are rarely straightforward. “It’s sometimes a longer process, because you want to find out exactly what the customer is going to do.”


Understanding Processes

With varying levels of cocoa solids, cocoa butter and sugar, each industrial chocolate is unique in flavor, texture and behavior during production.

Dark chocolate, which contains at least 60 percent cocoa, is generally more bitter and less smooth in texture. Meanwhile, milk chocolate, which contains between 30 and 60 percent cocoa, usually contains more sugar and dairy, and has a smoother texture. White chocolate has no cocoa solids. It contains at least 20 percent cocoa butter, sugar and dairy, making it sweet and easy to melt.

Melting the chocolate is required for dipping and coating products, as well as for depositing it into moulds for tablet bars and individual pieces. But before forming it into the desired shape, chocolate must be tempered—one of the most-difficult aspects of handling chocolate.

Tempered chocolate has been precisely heated and cooled so small, consistent cocoa butter crystals form. It’ll delay fat bloom—perfectly safe but unattractive white patches appearing on the surface of chocolate—and give the finished product shine and a snappy texture.

“Tempering one type of chocolate is a little bit different from tempering another type chocolate,” de Waele says. “There are differences, obviously, between a milk chocolate, a white chocolate and a dark chocolate. Temperature settings would be different for those chocolates. It also depends on the type of chocolate within the range of milk, dark and white.”

Then there’s incorporating cannabis. Jim Bourne, president, Hilliard’s Chocolate System, Bridgewater, MA, says his company wasn’t sure how cannabis oil would interact with the cocoa butter in chocolate when it began working with chocolate edibles manufacturers about six years ago.

Though THC and CBD are lipophilic, the process to achieve a homogenous mixture has involved trial and error, Bourne says. “We didn’t know if the oil would mix with the cocoa butter or whether it would separate. It came down to people in the cannabis industry just trying it and seeing what the results were.”


Equipment Decisions

Chocolate equipment suppliers ask potential customers several questions before recommending machinery. The kinds and the amount of product the customer intends to make are at the top of the list.

Bourne notes that dosing and quality-control testing requirements for each batch prompt edibles manufacturers to take a different approach than traditional chocolate product manufacturers.

Traditional chocolate manufacturers like to do continuous-process production, says Bourne. “They’ll melt a certain amount of chocolate and temper it, and just keep adding solid chocolate as they go to keep in production. You can’t do that when you’re doing it as a batch.”

Small batch sizes are ideal to avoid ingredient loss, de Waele says. If an error occurs during the production process, or if quality-control testing reveals the batch doesn’t meet dosage requirements, there’s no way to reuse the chocolate or the cannabis extract.

“We still try to emphasize that making a smaller batch is a better idea than a larger batch, because a smaller batch is easier to mix,” says de Waele.

Savage Bros. offers stainless steel, water-jacketed melting and tempering units in a range of capacities, from 50 pounds—ideal for artisan makers and R&D teams—up to 2,000 pounds. Also available are pumps for depositing into moulds and transferring chocolate to the next stage of production.

Hilliard’s Chocolate System also offers small-batch temperers, with the smallest being able to melt 24 ounces of chocolate for R&D operations. The company’s Peppy Pump Jr. can be used to deposit chocolate into all types of moulds. Hilliard’s also offers small-batch coating lines—one has a belt as small as 6 inches—for covering confections and other desserts with chocolate.

Understanding each piece of equipment’s purpose and deciding what they’ll need can be daunting for edibles manufacturers at first, Bourne says.

“They’re looking for a very simple way to do things in every step of their process,” Bourne says. “When we tell them that they have to temper the chocolate, they need a moulding machine, a place to cool it — whether it’s a cooling tunnel or a walk-in cooler — and then you have to keep the temperatures so it doesn’t bloom. That kind of overwhelms them.”

There’s also the option of used equipment. Jim Greenberg, co-president of Union Confectionery Machinery, said pre-owned machinery can serve edibles manufacturers seeking less expensive alternatives. The equipment can also arrive at production sites in one to two weeks, as opposed to six to eight weeks — or longer.

No matter what kind of equipment is used, the need for high quality, easy-to-use machinery and chocolate-making expertise will only continue to grow as more manufacturers enter the cannabis-infused confections space, de Waele says. “There’s no question cannabis is going to expand, because the public is demanding it. The more you help the customer, the better you develop that relationship—and that confidence in our equipment and services.”

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