What is winnowing? How does a cocoa bean winnowing machine work?

by | Oct 30, 2023 | Chocolate Facts

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Hello chocolate lovers! In this blog, we’re taking a closer look at the art of winnowing – but what is winnowing, exactly? Join us on a journey that uncovers the secrets behind this important step in the chocolate-making process, which involves separating cocoa nibs from their protective shells.

What is chocolate winnowing?

Winnowing is a critical step in the process of making chocolate, which involves transforming cocoa beans into cocoa nibs. The process involves cracking the beans to remove the shell from the nibs, and then separating the nibs from the shell so that only the edible part of the bean remains. This step ensures that only the chocolatey nibs are used to make chocolate.

When were winnowing machines invented?

Chocolate winnowing machines have been around for a long time. In the early days of chocolate making, winnowing was often performed manually using tools like baskets (and wind) and was labor-intensive. Over time, mechanization and the development of specialized machinery, including winnowing machines, helped streamline cocoa bean processing. The invention and development of chocolate winnowing machines are not attributed to a single inventor or a specific date; instead, these machines evolved over time as part of the broader process of chocolate production. While the exact origin of chocolate winnowing machines is not documented, it is known that they became an integral part of chocolate production as the industry evolved.

How does a cocoa winnowing machine work?

There are several different types of winnowing machines, but they all perform the same function: separating cocoa nibs from the outer shells of the cacao beans. Some machines will include an integrated cracker, used to break apart the bean, while others will require a separate cracking machine.  Home chocolate makers often use a Crankandstein machine or a simple rolling pin for basic cracking.  

The design of each winnowing machine may vary depending on the manufacturer and scale of production, but most systems rely on vibration or air flow as the mechanism of separation. Modern winnowing machines are efficient and can handle large quantities of cacao beans. This step is crucial in chocolate production as it ensures that only the valuable cocoa nibs, with their intense cocoa flavor, are transformed into chocolate, while the shells and other unwanted materials are removed.

Home chocolate makers will typically use a bowl and hair dryer to winnow small quantities of beans.  Craft chocolate makers or homemakers who are willing to pay for convenience, can buy winnowers from CocoaTown or DCM. There are a number of open source plans for building your own winnowing machine from scratch for those who are handy.

The process of winnowing


After the beans are roasted, they become more brittle and the shell puffs up. The beans are passed through rollers which cracks them into small bits to expose their inner nibs. 


The cracked cocoa beans, along with their shells, are fed into a winnowing machine.  Some winnowers have manual feeders while others are integrated with the crackers. A hopper can be attached to some winnowers to manage how quickly the cracked cocoa beans are fed into the winnower.


Many winnowing machines use air to separate the lighter cocoa bean shell fragments from the heavier cocoa nibs. This is usually done by blowing air through the mixture or dropping the mixture through a tube with a constant upward airflow which allows the nibs to drop while the thin shells blow up and away. Alternatively, vibratory winnowers pass the nib and shell mixture over a vibrating platform which separates the heavier nibs from the lighter shells.  Winnowing machines may also employ a combination of airflow and vibration to help ensure efficient separation.


The nibs are collected for chocolate processing while the shells are usually discarded or in some cases, they are upcycled for various purposes, such as mulch or fertilizer.

Winnowing is an important step in the chocolate-making process. It ensures that only pure cocoa beans are used to make chocolate, which results in a rich and intense flavor. Cocoa bean winnowing machines have made this task of separating the lighter shells from the heavier nibs a much simpler and efficient process.

We hope you enjoyed this article. For more great articles, check out the rest of our CocoTerra blog

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact us through our social media channels.  We are @cocoterra_co on Instagram and Pinterest and @cocoterraco on X (aka Twitter) and Facebook.

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