What is raw chocolate?
Is it the latest ‘superfood’, what does it really contain and why are its supporters ‘roaring’ about it?
As we’ve already seen from previous blogs, making chocolate is complicated enough process as it is. The cacao beans have to picked usually by hand before they are fermented and then roasted, ground down, pressed. After that they’re mixed with sugar and fats and eventually turned into the bars and sweets that we know and love.
Given all this, it’s little wonder perhaps, that some chocolate manufactures have decided to shorten the process by not roasting the cacao beans. Instead the beans are left out to dry, naturally; hence ‘raw’ chocolate. Eating raw vegetables comes to mind.
To roast or not to roast? The heat is on!
So most raw chocolate is formed from cold pressed or stone pressed cacao beans which is then made into cacao paste, butter or cacao powder. It’s often sold in blocks like dark chocolate.
Supporters of raw chocolate say that by not roasting the beans it allows the minerals naturally present in the cacao to be preserved. So there’s a higher quantity and quality of iron, zinc, magnesium, enzymes and vitamin C in each serving. This would make it better to eat from a nutritional standpoint. Supporters also claim that unroasted cacao contains higher levels of antioxidants – almost double - than that of roasted cacao.
Strictly speaking, raw chocolate shouldn’t contain any sugar at all. This might help with controlling your weight, dealing with cravings or improving your metabolism. Milk is another no-no; although some raw chocolate may include raw cacao oil or butter to give creamy but dairy free taste to the raw bitter flavour of the chocolate.
Whether or not this actually improves the taste is probably a matter of taste.
The ‘Raw’ Truth or a Raw Deal?
This is where it gets technical. In order, to derive these health benefits, raw chocolate – the cacao bean – should be processed at a temperature of under 42C.
It’s all about the fermentation of the cacao. This is the process whereby any tannins or acid flavours from the raw cacao bean, direct from the cacao tree, are turned into fruity, chocolate aromas. Fermentation can last for a number of days as the cacao is turned to allow for an even ferment and oxygen is introduced. This takes place either at the farm on the plantation or at a nearby processing plant.
During fermentation, temperatures usually reach up to 50C. Cocoa presses used to create cocoa butter involve the butter melting at around 70C.
What is raw chocolate? There appears to be certain amount of scepticism in the industry that raw coaco powder really can be produced at temperature under 42C. So, there appears to be a quality control issue here for manufactures of raw chocolate to demonstrate that any supposed health benefits are really in line with the actual processes involved.
Taste vs Hygiene ?
There’s a practical reason for roasting chocolate as well as helping to develop and enhancing the flavour. That’s to kill any bacteria. If you think of cacao being left out to ferment and then to dry out in the sun under banana leaves then most of us would probably want to be re-assured that any ‘raw;’ chocolate that wasn’t roasted at high temperature was properly treated to prevent any possible hygiene risks.
In reply, supporters of raw chocolate claim that dark chocolate may use cacao beans that have been left longer than raw chocolate in the sun to ferment allowing mycotoxins to develop. Mycotoxins are a form of fungus which is presented in fermented substances such as mushrooms and coffee. Because the cacao beans are harvested almost immediately to make into raw chocolate, without heating to preserve the ‘natural;’ flavours, they say, that this prevents sugar cravings ad food allergies which may raise from the presence of mycotoxins in chocolate.
If raw means unprocessed, than any cacao which has been fermented and mixed with other ingredients may not really be raw?. So, it’s back to defining the health benefit of what constitutes raw chocolate. This also means being able to properly certify and provide accreditation for the actual process involved. It’s a tough task but is it worth either the health or the taste benefits – however raw the finished chocolate actually is?
So, are we any closer to finding out what is raw chocolate ?
In part 2 we intend to find out as we travel to Malta to taste raw chocolate at a newly opened raw chocolate shop in the island’s capital, Valetta. More soon…
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