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"You Say Cocoa, I Say Cacao"

"You Say Cocoa, I Say Cacao"

Saturday 4th March 2017

So, you've seen the words hitting the press - cacao, cocoa, raw, roasted, antioxidants, flavanols, selenium and polyphenols? How about nibs, beans, pods, and powders? How are all of these connected and are there actually any benefits to eating this lovely stuff - chocolate?

I've been off to the well known chocolate factory a number of times over the years, but it's only recently I have managed to understand the process and differences involving chocolate. To make it easy for you -

-The pods of chocolate contain about 40 seeds, which become the cocoa beans.
-These beans are scooped out, then fermented and dried to develop their flavour as they are very bitter at this point.
- Once dried, these beans are roasted. Regular chocolate products are made from these roasted beans. Raw chocolate products are the made from the dried beans BEFORE they are roasted; therefore bypass this stage.

Make sense? Roasted means HOT and raw products don't get hot!

- The terms "cocoa" and "cacao" are the same thing really. However, it seems the term "cacao' has recently stuck to describe the unroasted and unprocessed chocolate products, where as "cocoa" is used to describe the regular roasted and processed varieties.
- Nibs, whether raw cacao or cocoa, are produced by the shell being cracked away from the "meat" of the bean. The nibs removed from the shells are used for chocolate products. The hulls left from the shell are used as mulch or fertilizer.
- We can use these nibs, whether raw or not, at this point. You can buy them without any further processing and can be used in a variety of ways - see the recipes!
- The nibs (if not used as they are) can then be crushed and ground to make a thick syrup, known as chocolate liquor.
- This liquor is then further refined, by more pressing, to become smoother and finer.
- The liquor can be made in to cocoa powder at this point by using a "Dutched" method, where the flavor becomes milder and pressed further - you may have seen the term Dutch Cocoa in places.
- It also needs one more process to be ready as cocoa powder, which is "defatting" - great word that! Large amounts of fat are compressed out, leaving a solid called a "press cake". This is ground to make our cocoa powder!- If not using this as powder, a further process called "conching" then takes place when some of the fat (cocoa butter) removed, is added back to the press cake, with lots of lovely things like sugar, cream and vanilla! Yum, this is the usual chocolate we know!

So, we have learnt that in the chocolate production there is a difference between raw and regular chocolate. However, we could open a very large can of chocolatey worms here and question the process, asking if there actually is such a thing as raw chocolate? Yes, these beans do not enter the roasting stage, but what about fermentation? Surely that can quite easily creep above the 40 degrees temperature, which keeps raw food deemed as "raw"?

There are many websites and raw chocolate food companies that claim they ensure their cocoa bean fermentation is carefully monitored and ensured this stage keeps below this temperature. Who am I to argue that? Although I would love to go and see, just to smell, touch and witness all this chocolate fun in such exotic places! You also may put forward questions about the potential bugs and bacteria that could be left lingering without such a harsh heat in the roaster! Your views of such suggestions are welcome, as I do love a good debate!

And the benefits? We are learning over the years, that less processed foods are better for us. They retain more of their nutrients and are healthier choices. This is the same for chocolate. The cocoa nibs, whether raw cacao or cocoa, have not lived through such a long arduous journey, keeping them as close to the bean as possible, so are a great choice to use in a healthy kitchen. Also, the raw chocolate, not going through the roasting stage, holds on to even more of the nutritional goodness too. Fibre, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, zinc and selenium are a few of the minerals found in chocolate, which our bodies need and actually find natural highs from.

Antioxidants, what? Chocolate has high levels of these lovely soldiers, who run round our bodies disarming any free radicals, cleaning up the bad stuff. Also teamed up with flavanols and polyphenols, they produce a higher level of activity than what is found in blueberries!

Other stuff? Well, there have been suggestions that chocolate may help lower blood pressure, the risk of heart disease, sun damage to your skin (it's those flavanols again) and brain function. So, a pretty good report on the chocolate it would seem?

I would add here, that these health benefits are all relating to the dark chocolate variety (and even more so the raw cacao products), not the sugar and cream laced bars that can seem quite paste like in comparison. You know the stuff, it takes a bit of getting used to; a bitter, dry, exotically deep and stimulating experience from a proper bar of chocolate that really can't be compared to the milky cocoa diluted affair we see about.

So to conclude my chocolate chat - dark chocolate, and probably raw, is actually good for us. However, I am not saying tuck in good and proper, but tuck in with moderation. Find a good quality one you really enjoy the taste of. See if you can pick out the dark flavours of coffee, caramel, liquorish, burnt sugar and cocoa, savoring the clean "click" of the bite, rather than the soft, sticky mouthful of the milk variety. Train your palate to appreciate the journey the cocoa pod went on and enjoy your moment.