The Nonsense of Raw Chocolate
As Dorset’s only bean-to-bar, craft chocolatemaker we sell our chocolate online and at fairs. Bean-to-bar means that we make chocolate from the actual, unroasted cacao bean as opposed to buying industrial couverture for re-melting or reconstituting ingredients like cacao powder, cacao butter, etc to create a chocolate. People often ask us if we sell raw chocolate. I often enquire what they mean exactly with ‘raw chocolate’, this is usually followed by a slightly uncomfortable silence from the person asking. The reason I ask this, I explain to them, is because usually people asking for raw chocolate are looking for a healthier and less processed chocolate and… raw chocolate as they might understand it does not exist.
RAW food is all the trend nowadays, it is supposedly healthier, less processed and fuller of nutrients than other foods. So, what is considered raw? The term ‘raw’ here refers to processing foods and ingredients at under 46 degrees Celsius at all time, the thought here being that by doing so the nutrients and enzymes stay intact and are not destroyed by higher temperatures.
So, what is raw chocolate supposed to be? As I stated: ‘raw chocolate’ does not exist. You cannot pick cacao beans straight from a tree and eat them, like you can do with an apple. There has been a lot of handling in between the picking of the cacao pod and ending up with a chocolate bar.
Why “Raw Chocolate” Is Not Raw?
To explain why ‘raw’ chocolate is not raw I shall explain part of the process on how chocolate is made. Cacao trees grow in a tropical climate, in a band of around 20 degrees North and South of the equator. The cacao pods on these trees contain cacao beans surrounded by a fleshy pulp. When the pod is ripe, they are taken off the trees, the wet cacao beans are taken out off the pods and within hours the cacao beans must be fermented. A cacao bean straight from the pod is anything but delicious, in fact they’re inedible. The next step is fermenting the cacao beans for up to 7 days. During fermentation temperatures naturally go up to around 60 degrees Celsius, exceeding the raw temperature threshold. This is the first time that the temperature of the cacao beans has surpassed the raw threshold. It is impossible to ferment cacao beans at lower temperatures.
After fermentation the cacao beans are sundried. In very humid climates the cacao beans are dried above a fire. Both methods force temperatures up well above 46C. Rapid drying is important, because when slowly drying cacao over an extended period you can get all sorts of problems like mould growth. Also, the flavours of cacao beans will deteriorate if drying is not done quickly, so low drying of cacao is not an option. This is the second time that the raw temperature threshold has been surpassed.
At this point we’re still far away from a chocolate bar, we’ve now come to the point where we have fermented and dried cacao beans. Fermenting and drying are two absolutely necessary steps that you NEED to go through before anyone can even begin to think about making chocolate and this shows that ‘raw chocolate’ is nonsense, it does not exist. Using the word ‘raw’ on chocolate is nothing more than marketing, it’s jumping on current trends for people that are looking for healthier ways to eat and using the misinformation that is out there in an attempt to make people believe that somehow raw chocolate is better for them than other chocolate.
Does A Healthy Chocolate Exist?
Not all chocolate has been made in the same way. Most chocolate on the market has undergone a lot of processing and it doesn’t contain much cacao at all, palm oil is added instead of cacao butter, vanilla is added to cover up the flavours of bad cacao beans, it’s actually more of a confectionary. Then there is craft chocolate, which has been much less processed, no added fats or cheap substitutions, full of layers of delicious chocolaty flavours, plus the nutrients and trace minerals are still in there, in other words: Real Chocolate! It also doesn’t have that addictive quality, it’s more satisfying and a little bit goes a long way. If you’re looking for a healthier chocolate, skip the confectionary and the raw chocolate nonsense and try some delicious craft chocolate instead.