Ready-to-Eat Chocolates does not fall from the cacao trees! Well…technically it’s the lovely cacao fruit which is the core ingredient in every chocolates. Several processes go into creating a top quality chocolate product.
Types of Cacao Pods
There are three broad types of cacao - Forastero and Criollo, as well as Trinitario, a hybrid of the two.
Forastero is hardy and vigorous. Forastero produces beans with the strongest flavour and is most widely grown in West Africa and Brazil. It has a smooth yellow pod and pale purple beans.
Distinctly different from Forastero, Criollo produces beans of a milder or weaker chocolate flavour, Criollo is grown in Indonesia, Central and South America. Criollo trees are not as hardy and produce softer red pods, containing 20-30 white, ivory or very pale purple beans.
Trinitario plants are not found in the wild as they are cultivated as hybrids of the other two types.
Trinitario cacao trees are grown mainly in the Caribbean, but also in Cameroon and Papua New Guinea. The mostly hard pods contain 30 or more beans of variable colour.
Step 1: Harvesting
The cacao tree is a very delicate tree and only thrives in tropical regions. It only starts to bear fruit in its second or third year.
• First the blossoms appear on the trunk
• After insects pollinate the blossoms they become a cacao pod.
• A tree bears about 25 to 50 pods up to 25 to 30 years.
The pods are harvested from the tree every 2 to 4 weeks. The cacao beans (seeds) and pulp are removed to begin the fermentation process.
Some chocolate uses “single origin” cacao plantations for their chocolates, but most involve combining beans from many sources.
Everything from geography, to soil type to the climatic conditions of the harvest have a huge impact on the beans and the chocolate’s flavour profile.
Step 2: Fermentation
Cacao Fermentation is a crucial step in the transformation of the cacao bean to “chocolate.” Fermentation allows beans to develop cacao flavour precursors and enhances cacao flavour during roasting process. Fermentation also helps to remove the tannins present in the cacao bean. Proper fermentation would also be able to remove other compounds within the cacao bean that would affect the taste of the final chocolate. This process takes about 4 to 7 days to complete.
Step 3: Drying and Sorting of beans
The beans need to be dried by exposing them to sun and air to stop fermentation. Cacao beans turn brown during this process. After fermentation, sorting of dried cacao beans is essential. By sorting individual bean by hands, we are able to remove the following:
• Non-Cacao materials(sticks, rocks, leaves etc)
• Flat Beans
• Germinated Beans
• Mouldy Beans
• Broken Beans
• Bean Clusters (several beans that became stuck together during the drying process)
The goal is to end up with only the best cacao beans that are well harvested, well fermented and well dried.
The beans are then packed into woven polypropylene sacks for shipping. Woven polypropylene sacks are cheap, have high tensile strength, low extensive, on-toxic and most importantly highly breathability feature allowing air to pass through the bags and keeping the cacao beans fresh.
These sacks will be shipped to Singapore after quality inspection.
I will be discussing with you the remaining journey of cacao beans on the next post. Till then!