Winnowing Cocoa Beans

belizenibs 2593x2158

Belize Origin

One of the more challenging steps in making chocolate is removing the outer shell of the cocoa bean leaving only the meat of the cocoa bean that is better known as cocoa nibs.  This step is called winnowing.  Large chocolate manufacturers have large and expensive winnowers.  Since we are a small chocolate maker, we need a way to winnow beans at a low cost.

The nibs in the picture above are from a cocoa bean produced in Belize by Maya Mountain Cacao.  These are beautifully fermented cocoa beans that have a medium break on the husk.  The chocolate tastes like you might imagine from the picture.  There is bright acidity in the bean that translates for us into rich chocolate with subtle fruit notes like black cherry and dried apricot.

We didn’t invent the design of our winnower that you can see in this video.  It is inspired by others before us.  By coincidence, the juicer cracks beans and automatically feeds the media into the winnower at a perfect rate of speed.  If the winnower is over flooded with cracked beans, it can’t handle the media and too much shell finds it way down with the nibs.  The hopper is a reclaimed water bottle.  In this video it’s loaded with 10 lbs of beans.  It could hold about 25 lbs if the hopper’s weight was supported by something other than the juicer which we will get to soon enough.

In this video you can see how to make good use of: A juicer, duct tape, bungee cords, PVC pipe, dust separator, speed switch, clamps, and a water jug.  I keep thinking that one day I’ll clean this whole contraption up to look more professional, but there is a certain shade tree mechanic appearance to our winnower that has grown on me.

Gravity and air speed are our friends with this concept.  The nib has a higher density than the shell.  When the air speed is tuned in just right, the nib falls through the air stream while the husk is carried off by the air stream.  It takes a little fine tuning to get all the elements just right.  The results are darn near perfectly cleaned nibs.  We loose anywhere from 20% – 25% of the original weight of the whole roasted cocoa bean.  This depends on which cocoa bean we are winnowing. All in all this style winnower is a good solution for us in our situation today.  In about 20 minutes we have enough nibs for a typical 35 lb batch of dark chocolate.

Here are places we found concepts and inspiration.

The Chocolate Alchemy deserves much credit for fostering the craft chocolate trade.  Founder John Nanci has tons of information for aspiring chocolate makers and makes his ideas available to those wishing to travel the chocolate making path.  He offers his own winnower design and supplies many chocolate makers with ingredients.  We learned a lot from his information and forums linked to his web site.

The Chocolate Life is a community of chocolate professionals hosted by guru Clay Gordon.  Clay too deserves much credit for helping to foster the growth of craft chocolate.  There is a wealth of information in the forums on Clay’s web site including discussions about winnowing cocoa beans.  Here is another winnower concept that helped lead us down this path.

When we can get around to it, we will build this out of stainless steel and acrylic so some visuals of shell nib separation are there to see.  We can produce around 35 lbs of cocoa nibs an hour with our winnower which is ample for our present day production.  Some beans winnow easier than others, but we’ve learned what adjustments to make for each origin of cacao.

This complete set up can be built for under $500 including juicer, shop vac, dust collector, and pipe leaving us with more money to buy cocoa beans!

We still get a very small amount of this.


A small nib didn’t completely release from the shell.  This causes the shell to ride down the air stream with the nib.  We screen and hand pick the few that do this.  To keep this from happening and to decrease the amount of cocoa nibs lost in the process we are working on a different idea for cracking cocoa beans.   I’ll try to keep you posted on our progress.


5 Responses to Winnowing Cocoa Beans

  1. Spices June 4, 2013 at 11:57 am #

    It’s really a great and useful piece of info. I am satisfied that you simply shared this helpful information with us. Please stay us up to date like this. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Dele February 26, 2014 at 12:27 pm #

    Hello. I find this craft chocolate thing fascinating!
    How do I make a winnow and begin?

    • Scott Moore Jr February 26, 2014 at 9:43 pm #

      The links in this blog will guide you to designs that you can follow. Good luck, and yes craft chocolate is worth the effort! Cheers! Scott

  3. Kathy Allen September 14, 2014 at 12:55 am #

    Just curious- what happens to the shells after the nibs are removed? Are they recycled in some way, or is there is any way to somehow extract any more cacao from them after winnowing?

    • Scott Moore Jr September 15, 2014 at 5:22 pm #

      Kathy- We have multiple uses for the shells. Compost, Mulch for our garden, and for smoking food. We are experimenting with brewed cacao, flavoring for beer and wine. There is a lot of cacao aroma in the by product we are trying to put to the best use. Cheers! Scott

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