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There has been a lot of discussion about winnowers here on The Chocolate Life recently. As anyone who has tried to make chocolate at home and then wanted to move up to larger-scale production (e.g., more than about 5 pounds per batch) one of the most difficult machines to try to locate is a winnower to separate the nibs from the shells. Like many aspects of chocolate making, it's not too difficult to find equipment for 5lb batches or 250kg batches or 1000kg/hour, but finding something in between 5 lbs and 250kg is tough.

Elsewhere, someone referenced a $70,000 winnower. Here is a link to the company that makes it, Bottom Line Technologies. As you can see from the photo it doesn't look all that complicated and it's not really. The real technical challenges come from understanding the mechanics of vibration and airflow necessary to make it work. From what I have heard, Bob and Pam Cooper of The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory have purchased one of these to replace their own home-built winnower.

But most of us don't have $70,000 to spend on the all of the equipment needed let alone for a single part of the process.

I spent a lot of time online looking for small winnowers and I ran across a design for a small fan-based winnower that served as the inspiration for one I built. I spent about $100 in parts (the most expensive components were the fan and the variable speed control) and it was tricky to regulate the airflow to get it to work. In order to work it was necessary to run the cracked beans through a couple of times - the first to get the smaller bits out (low fan setting), then again to get mid-sized bits outs (medium fan setting), and then once more with a high fan setting to get the largest bits out. To make the whole process faster and more efficient I ended up making a set of nested sieves using progressively smaller screens of wire mesh. The big bits stayed in the top compartment and the small bits (the fines) fell all the way through to the bottom. The stuff in the middle was pretty evenly sized and I could get a very clean product in a single pass. A setup like this one can easily handle 10kg per hour or more, especially if you add a shop vac to collect the output (you'll need a way to vary the suction power) and find a way to automatically feed the unshelled nibs into the input.

If you are at all handy and don't mind spending the $100 or so then the one above works a whole lot better than a blow-dryer (which also has the side-effect of leaving enough shell that when you run it through a grinder such as a Champion Juicer you run the risk of contaminating the liquor with salmonella, e-coli, and worse).

A simple way to sterilize small quantities of beans (roasting temperatures are not high enough or long enough to be completely effective) without harming the beans is to use UVC light. Home units look like small wands and there are larger commercial units specifically designed for sterilizing food products (such as cocoa beans) without harming them in any way.

Sam Madell of TAVA (Australia) posted a photo of one they made that looks like it is easy to make and adjust as well as being inexpensive to build. I don't know what the throughput of this is, but if you could find a way to funnel, at a controlled volume, the unshelled nibs entering the winnower my guess is that you could get 50kg or more an hour throughput this way. (Any notes on this, Sam?)

Another option is to look for equipment that is designed to clean/sort other types of agricultural products such as seeds and beans. One such is the Clipper Prelude 324. I have not tested this unit on cacao but it's fundamentally the same design as the $70,000 machine without the dust-collector fan. It would be necessary to play with the sizes of the screens, but at about US$6000, the 324 can process many hundreds of kg per hour. (There is a larger version at about twice the price with more than double the throughput.)

If your throughput needs are much more modest, you might want to take a look at products from CPS Limited in the UK (click on the cocoa breaker link). One of their winnowers is specifically designed to handle cacao in smallish-quantities - about 25kg/hour - and is priced at about US$800 when I checked a couple of months ago.

What other approaches have people seen or used?

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Replies to This Discussion

Well I made one, the fan I sourced was a Heller exhaust fan which has a centrifugal fan, the same as the blowers except 7 times cheaper (picked it up on sale for $45) and it has a built in light so you can winnow at night. The flow rate was 150 m3/hr and was perfect for the dimensions from the plan Clay has a link to - not the farm one. One other modification was I did not use a speed controller for the fan (I am told a dimmer switch would surfice - $30) I just used different lengths of tubing to accommodate the different grades of nib/chaff from grading with sieves. Works very well and is so much quicker than using a hair dryer and baking tin. Because of the shape and weight of the exhaust fan I didn't need to build a mounting for it. I just sit it on a table and have a tube from the bottom going through a hole in a storage box to catch the nibs. I also put a screen over the intake of the exhaust fan to stop stray chaff from being sucked in. This won't hurt the fan it just sends the chaff straight in with the nibs (no point in that is there). I truely got everything I needed from one hardware store - the Heller fan was a top find. I'll post some pics when I get the chance.
Here is the pic I promised, once I had all the parts it was childs play to put together, just push bits together and if they don't fit so good tape them. The pic also includes the child (daughter) that helped me put it together and winnow the beans. She also partakes in the final product with great gusto.
I should also mention that the fan is almost silent, when I turn it on at the power point about 3 meters away I can't tell if it is on. Also now that you can see the contraption the light is that circular glass bit at the top so truely you can winnow quite easily at night - just watch out for the mossies.
The Heller exhaust fans model number is HEFL10RW. I have attached a much smaller annotated picture.
So you actually are using a residential model in-ceiling ventilation fan? Very cool.

It looks as if Heller is a European brand that is available in Australia but it does not look like it's available in the US. However I don't think it should be too difficult to find a replacement.

One thing you may like to do is to find a short piece of flexible ducting. You can put that over the top of the pipe to direct the chaff into a trash can rather than having it fly all over the place exactly the same as you've done for collecting the nib.
Hi Clay, the winnower that we use (Tava) can process about 50kgs per hour as you guessed.
Bottom Line Process Technologies, the makers of the $70,000 (150kg/hr) breaker/winnower referenced above just introduced a 15kg/hr version (the Winn15) for just under $10,000. The breaker is adjustable and custom screens are available. Only downside looks to be the need to feed the beans in manually but that can pretty easily be taken care of. There's a link to a video on the page.
Hi Clay,
The cracker and winnower combo from CPS Ltd in the UK gets a real slating from one poster on the Chocolate Alchemy forum - enough to make me have second thoughts when the time comes, anyway.
I have heard few good things about the CPS winnower. One group I know of in the Dominican Republic has three, but they underwent extensive modification to get them to work efficiently and reliably. I don't know anything about the cracker.

The Crankandstein does work, especially if you mount it sturdily and use a hand drill to power it, though it does have a tendency to create a relatively large amount of fines.
The CPS model is very overpriced. If the combo was $800, I would understand it, but the quote I received months ago was for $3900 not including shipping. For that price the machine should be perfect. I've spoken to that poster several times about the various problems with it. He actually uses the breaker and built his own winnower. The design utilizing pvc that Clay originally posted is more or less the exact same concept. The fanner still requires multiple passes. The poster actually wrote a description of the winnower box he constructed that had 3 passes in a box with 3 variable speed fans.
As for the cracker, I like crankenstein for the price, but it did not work so well for me regarding large fractions of shells, and unbroken beans. The CPS cracker crushes the beans to a more uniform small size, while crankenstein was originally designed to used for hair dryer winnowing. Because of this, I ordered a custom cracker from don with an adjustable gap to crush the larger bean fractions and small beans. As for fines, I haven't found that the crankenstein produces a lot of fines. I have been very happy with the shell/nib loss ratio. I have had many runs where my weight loss has been as low as 15% after winnowing. I use a modified pvc design with 2 passes (ie 2 pvc slides).
I like the pvc, bc it is easy to add to it as you learn the basic concepts of winnowing. Adding another pass is a simple as doubling what you have already bought.

The overall principal of winnowing with a blower and slide is too have as evenly broken pieces of nib and shell as possible. If the nibs and shell are uniform in size, a variable speed fan can be dialed in to blow away maximum shell. The difference in sizes can be dealt with screen boxes as clay mentioned-but this adds more passes to drop through the winnower. It's all a question of how much time do you want to spend dumping beans into it. The original crankenstein was designed to give the largest nib fractions and largest shells possible-and it is good at that, but bc it is intended for home use, far too many smalls pass through the rollers.

Reviving this old thread with new info.  My friend Lorenzo Datei at Packint SRL in Milan, Italy, just sent me these pictures of their new cracker/winnower.  It has a capacity of 80 kg/hour and as you can see, is compact and made fully in stainless steel.  Pricing for this winnower is 15,400 Euros (~$20,000) which is still high, but definitely less than the $34k Brooklyn Cacao wants for their fancy-schmanzy unit, with similar throughput.



Thanks for posting Cheebs, there is not much info on their site on the equipment - I guess I'd need to ring and enquire. However, do you know if that unit has a cracker under the hopper - I expect it does by the look.


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