This has been a fun experiment – roasted cacao beans are delicious and versatile: I’ve eaten them raw, grounded them up and rimmed glasses with them, and made simple syrups, teas, and hot chocolate out of them. I think these will stick around.

Chocolate starts out, of course, on a tree. Cacao trees grow in tropical, humid climates with short dry seasons. Countries close to the equator are the best at this – most of the worlds cacao is grown in Brazil, Ecuador, but also many countries in Africa and some countries in Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia). Once the Cacao pods are taken from the tree, the cacao beans are extracted from the pods – there are over 20 beans in each pod, covered in mucilage (a sweet,sticky, thick fluid).

The mucilage is removed, and the remaining cacao is fermented and then dried. The beans are then roasted, de-shelled, and the cacao nibs are passed on. The roasted nibs are ground up and pressed to extract the cocoa butter (fat from the nibs) from the cocoa mass ( the nibs including the cocoa butter and solid cocoa). The remaining solid cocoa is ground into a powder and shipped out as cocoa powder. Cocoa mass and cocoa butter are the two main ingredients in chocolate.

Chocolate is made from cocoa mass, cocoa butter, and sugar. Often, soy lecithin is added as an emulsifier (to aid in homogeneity and blending). A 70% dark chocolate bar will have 30% sugar, and some proportion of the cocoa mass, cocoa butter to make up the rest, not counting additives and other things (milk, for milk chocolate).

When I found out about the incredibly high sugar content in a chocolate bar, I was appalled. In general, I shy away from what I perceive as sugary products. I knew chocolate wasn’t the most health conscious thing out there, but a 30% sugar by mass seemed really high. So I bought roasted cacao beans, to see if I enjoyed them more than their more processed counterparts.

And I did! They are definitely more bitter and less bright and fruity than most chocolate, though, so proceed with caution. Part of the appeal for me is definitely shifting my diet closer to raw ingredients. I also like the flavor profile more – and its healthier.

I experimented with hot brewing and cold brewing both the shells and the nibs in milk and water. The cold brews in both milk and water turned out way too sour and light, even after updosing my ratio. Extracting the chocolate flavor was a little more difficult in cold liquid than I imagined. The hot brews turned out delicious, though – the water hot brew of only the cacao shells was probably my favorite – imagine a nuttier, more translucent, less sugary hot chocolate. The hot brew of the nibs was still a bit too acidic and did not extract as much chocolate flavor as I would have liked. Suprisingly (to me), a bit of milk and sugar really helped the hot brew – the milk tempered the acidity and made the concoction a bit thicker, and the sugar made it much more friendly. Maybe I’m just familiar with sugar being added to chocolate, so the flavor resembled what I was familiar with to a greater extent.

I will attempt to extract the cacao nibs in alcohol – the cacao extracts much better in ethanol than water or milk, or so I’ve been told – I will explore this in the future and write another post on extraction ^.^

So, cocoa mass (what constitutes the ground up cacao nibs) consists of cocoa butter and cocoa solids (turned into cocoa powder usually). Cocoa mass, cocoa butter, and sugar are the main ingredients in chocolate. (white chocolate is only made from cocoa butter, sugar, and sometimes milk – no cocoa mass or solids!)

Of course, commercial chocolate might not follow these rules – I’m not sure how great the regulations are on what companies can call their chocolate products. Oh, and Maillard reactions once again are heavily involved in roasting and contribute greatly to the synthesis of a desirable flavor profile – I’ll write a post on that as well. Soon.

These are delicious. I’m munching on a handful of cacao nibs as I write this. It’s definitely a munch, in comparison to a crunch or a chew or a nibble.
I’m sort of banking on every food I enjoy being considered healthy in the future.

March 29, 2017