From Tree to Bar: How to Process Raw Cacao
by PJ Barton, Apprentice 2019
Living in the tropics I found myself surrounded by cacao trees, which was something you’d dream about as a kid. “Chocolate trees” But like so many things we’re used to consuming we don’t have the knowledge of how to process a raw material into something we can use, within the society we live convenience has removed us from the source. A simple act of making something gives us a connection to our environment. Walking through a supermarket we are surrounded by products readily available with a seemingly endless supply leading to a mass consumerism in our present society. This unsustainable consumption stems from our lack of involvement in the food we consume. So let us connect through raw cacao.
Throughout history so many cultures have cultivated cacao. From Mesoamerrica through to Europe. Its a world wide sweet enjoyed by millions, like most things the origin was much different to the present. Dating back 1400 BC chocolate was fermented into alcohol. It was a common commodity throughout Mesoamerica and the seeds were thought of as a gift from Quelzaledol, the goddess of wisdom. It was actually used as a currency.
Processing raw cacao pods into beans is easy, tasty and fun!!
After harvesting the seeds which should be a yellow or bronzed color you crack open the pods to reveal a white flesh seed with a brown centre. The fruit itself is commonly eaten in Indonesia and reminds me of a mangosteen.
Scrap the seeds out leaving them to ferment. Place in a bowl and leave with a lid to keep off flies. We used banana leaves. To help the fermentation, yeast can be added we put kombucha to inoculate the ferment. During this process maintain temperatures of around 40 degrees and gradually increasing to 50 degrees. It’s not dependent on this I’ve made cacao before by just leaving it alone but by monitoring the temperature you’re going to create an optimal environment from the enzymatic reaction breaking the acidity of the bean.
After the beans have fermented for 4 – 5 days spread the beans out in the sun to dry the beans. This can also be done using a low heat in the oven but let’s harvest the energy of the sun which will enrich the bean. This can take a few days. The outer shell will be easy to break and the raw cacao is ready to use as desired.
Alternatively you can then roast the nut in a wok or in the oven paying close attention not to burn the seeds. It will start to crackle and a fill the air with an intoxicating aroma of chocolate. Leave to cool and break off outer shell. These roasted chocolate beans can be used how ever you desire.
Chocolate doesn’t grow on trees but if we understand the process it suddenly feels like it. Using ingredients from there raw form makes us more conscience intertwining us with the food we are consuming leading to a sustainable outlook towards life.
In Mastatal we are fortunate to not only grow our own cacao but also live next to a family run buisness, The Iguana Chocolate. Why not come and stay with us as a guest and do a tour at the local chocolate farm!