What is the meaning of life? All evidence to date suggests it’s chocolate.
In Raw Chocolate? part 2 this article The truth about "Raw" Chocolate (Thanks to Stephanie Zonis) is going to be posted in two parts.
Here is part 1
There isn’t any. Let the angry e-mails commence! I don’t mean that there isn’t any chocolate that’s truly raw (although that may be the case, too); I mean that hard and fast truths about such a product are very difficult to come by. There’s almost as much misinformation about this subject as there has been about JFK’s assassination, and considering the brief length of time that “raw” chocolate has been around by comparison, that’s really saying something.
First things first: at this writing, there are no legal standards for “raw” products, period. There is no independent, third party certification for “raw” products, period. There is no agreement, even within the raw food community, about the maximum permissible temperature for a food. 118 degrees F is a popular number, but I’ve also seen 116 degrees F, 104 degrees F, and at least three other candidates between 104 and 118 degrees F. With the lack of a legal definition or even consensus among raw fooders themselves on exactly what constitutes a “raw” food, anyone can tell you that their chocolate is “raw”, but that may or may not be true. In 2009, for instance, Essential Living Foods (www.essentiallivingfoods.com) issued a statement announcing that they (and, by extension, their customers) had been duped. The supposedly “raw” cocoa and cocoa butter they’d been obtaining from Ecuador was nothing of the kind; it had been processed at temperatures exceeding 200 degrees F. (The company now sources their raw cocoa products from Indonesia and proclaims that they are the world’s first “verified” raw products of this type (meaning that company representatives traveled to Indonesia, videotaped the manufacturing process, and satisfied themselves regarding temperature limitations). But “verified” is not the same as independent, third party certification; that still doesn’t exist.)The temperatures are important, because cacao seeds/beans on the way to becoming chocolate are typically put through several processes that involve heat. There’s fermentation, which rids the beans of some of their bitter and astringent flavors, and subsequent drying of the beans to remove excess moisture prior to storing, sorting, and shipping. Fermentation is carried out when the beans are still surrounded by the fruit pulp of the cocoa pod, and the process lasts for at least 48 hours (sometimes much longer, depending upon many factors). While the temperature of the fermenting mass can rise above 118 degrees F, this is not a given. Much depends on how the fermentation is done; the temperature of the drying beans, too, will vary considerably. Clay Gordon, of www.thechocolatelife.com, notes this, “…It is actually easy to fully and completely ferment cacao (italics and bold type are Mr. Gordon’s) and keep the pile under 118F… The “trick” is to control the size of the pile.
There are a number of fermentation boxes I have personally seen that make it possible to do this…It is somewhat harder to dry the beans and keep the temp under 118F —if the beans are dried in direct sun, and especially if they are dried on a concrete pad. Temperatures can easily reach 140F —at least at the surface of the pad. It is possible to dry beans at low temp, it just takes a lot more care, takes longer - and therefore costs more.”Anyone familiar with the chocolate-making process knows that a critical part of the manufacture of conventional chocolate is roasting. The maker of Amano Chocolate, Art Pollard, states that roasting “is one of the most important steps in the process of developing chocolate flavor”. He adds that roasting temperatures begin at 210 degrees F. Tom Pedersen, of www.cocoapuro.com, tells me that roasting temperatures should be above 212 degrees F, in order to steam off moisture content; higher temperatures also enable caramelization and a process called the Maillard reaction that add flavor to the beans. So a “cold roast” process, that is to say, one under 118 degrees F, can’t exist. Not only that, but the lack of roasting doesn’t allow crucial flavor changes within the cocoa bean, so any “raw” chocolate won’t have the flavor profile associated with conventional chocolate.
Since any genuinely raw chocolate must be made from beans that are not roasted (though they might be dried further at low temperatures), some people are concerned about pathogens in the unroasted beans, including Salmonella. Www.gardenislandchocolate.com quotes Dr. Keith Warriner, a food microbiologist at Canada’s University of Guelph: “Because chocolate is high in fat it protects Salmonella from environmental stress and stomach acid…if chocolate does become contaminated, Salmonella survives longer and only needs to be present in low numbers to survive passage through the stomach.”
Colin Gasko (www.roguechocolatier.com) tells me that people wouldn’t want to eat raw chocolate if they saw the way cacao beans were treated in countries where they’re grown. He has seen beans stored outdoors, by the side of the road, or under other decidedly non-hygienic conditions, such as sharing an area with chickens, who walk over and/or defecate on them.
Kristen Hard (www.cacaoatlanta.com) agrees. She’s visited Venezuela to source beans, and there are no sanitary regulations on farms where beans are initially processed and dried. Animals, she explains, are “out and about among the beans”. Ms. Hard points out that there are some lower-heat, or non-heat-dependent, methods that might help this situation, such as ultraviolet lights. Farmers that grow cacao are generally poor, though, so any technology of this type would likely have to be supplied by an outside source. I have not heard of any cacao farmers being supplied with non-heat-dependent means to reduce pathogens. That doesn’t mean it’s not happening, but if I were a supplier or client doing this, I’d use it as a selling point. Surely germ-phobe Americans (and we are germ-phobes) would want to know that their raw cacao beans had less risk of possible pathogen contamination than untreated beans?If cacao beans do become contaminated, even a thorough cleaning and winnowing of beans might not be sufficient to remove pathogens from them, something else that higher-heat roasting can accomplish. Not everyone shares these apprehensions; Samantha Madell (www.tava.com.au) is a chocolate maker in Australia who has done considerable research into this issue, and she has found no occurrences of raw chocolate causing salmonella poisoning. Her belief is that “chocolate products typically become dangerous when non-cocoa ingredients, such as egg and dairy products, are added to them”. And in fairness, it should be noted that cases of Salmonella poisoning have occurred in conventional chocolate. Post-processing testing for pathogens is important for all chocolate products, raw or conventional.
There’s another process after roasting that can heat cacao beans to higher temperatures. Once the beans are freed of their outer shells, the bean pieces, or nibs, are crushed in mills that operate at high speed. The resulting paste-like mixture is cacao liquor or chocolate liquor (unsweetened chocolate, in layman’s terms, and, despite the name, it contains no alcohol). The friction in any high speed process will usually generate a good amount of heat; Tom Pedersen informs me that the grinding process generally raises cacao liquor temperatures upwards of 130 degrees F, and even higher temperatures have been mentioned by others who work with conventional chocolate. Samantha Madell believes that grinding nibs under 118 degrees F is entirely possible, but she says, “It’s easy to coarsely grind nibs at a low temperature…it’s also easy to grind small quantities of nibs, or to grind nibs for a short time, or to stone grind nibs slowly, or with expensive water-cooled equipment, at low temps.” (The italics are hers.)
Jordan Schuster, of The Fearless Chocolate Company (www.fearlesschocolate.com), writes that Fearless uses “water jacketed ball mills” for nib grinding. Daniel Sklaar (www.fineandraw.com) employs a small (65 pound) stone grinder for his admittedly small-scale business, but adds that there are several different machines capable of grinding at low temperature. John Nanci (www.chocolatealchemy.com) agrees, saying that standard (read: industrially-produced) chocolate is ground in a high speed mill. Nanci has been making his own non-raw chocolate on a small scale for years. For grinding, he employs a peanut grinder, and the end product emerges “at around 110 F”.
After the chocolate liquor is produced, most manufacturers will conche it. While there’s some debate about whether conching improves the flavor of the chocolate, the process unquestionably provides a smoother chocolate. Originally, chocolate was conched in long stone receptacles; the process was accomplished with stone balls and often took days. Modern manufacturing uses heavy rollers or rotary mixing blades, and chocolate may be conched for only a few hours or for up to several days. Bear in mind that the chocolate undergoing conching needs to be in liquid form. The question now becomes, is it possible to conch at temperatures under 118 degrees F? John Nanci sells devices called “melangers”, for conching small quantities of chocolate. His take on the situation? “I’ve heard of people using the melangers I sell to make raw chocolate by somehow keeping the temperature under 118 F, but personally I’ve never been able to do it.” His e-mail added that his current batch of chocolate, in the melanger as he typed, was 127 F, “and many batches I run are above 135 F.” By contrast, Daren Hayes (www.stirsthesoul.com) declares that keeping chocolate under 118F while conching is “all about climate control”. He has an airflow going over the motors of his conching machines, as well as an exhaust fan that can either heat or cool the room in which the machines are located.
Again, after the chocolate liquor is produced, it’s sometimes separated into its components (cacao butter and cacao powder) via hydraulic press. These presses are serious business; according to Maricel E. Presilla’s The New Taste of Chocolate, they can exert a force of over six thousand pounds per square inch. As a rule, that amount of pressure results in a build-up of heat. How much heat? Samantha Madell comments that she and her partner have pressed cocoa liquor in hydraulic presses at temperatures under 118 degrees F, but that “the same limitations apply as with grinding: if it’s inefficient, or slow, or small scale, or on water-cooled equipment, it’s not too difficult.” Others I’ve talked to, all of whom work with conventional chocolate, don’t think that even slightly larger-scale hydraulic liquor pressing is possible under raw temperature restrictions. There are other ways to separate the components, including a screw expeller (Ms. Madell has had “quite a bit of experience” with screw expellers; she’s never checked the temperature on any she was working with, “but the output was definitely hot—I would guess considerably hotter than 118 F”). There’s also something called the Broma process. In this, ground cacao beans are bagged and hung in a warm room. In theory, the heat in the room causes the cocoa butter to melt and separate from the mass of ground beans. Cocoa butter melts at around normal human body temperature, so the Broma process wouldn’t violate any raw food restrictions. However, the Broma process is notoriously slow and inefficient, and some chocolatiers to whom I’ve spoken don’t think it works at all. While I haven’t checked in with everyone making bean-to-bar raw chocolate, I know of no one using this method.
Even supposing that you can find cacao beans fermented and dried at a low temperature, kept constantly below the 118 degree F threshold, can you manufacture a truly raw chocolate product? That depends. You’ll want to sweeten whatever you’re creating, as unsweetened cocoa powder isn’t especially palatable. Now, as you might expect, chocolates labeled “raw” should not use refined sugar as a sweetener. Agave nectar is a popular choice these days, but is it raw? Well, maybe. Again, because there is no independent raw certification, because there are no legal standards, it’s difficult to be sure. I’ve seen claims that all agave nectar is processed at temperatures under 118 degrees F, and I’ve seen statements insisting that 140 degrees F is a much more common temperature for making nectar. Another chocolatier, who did not want to be mentioned here, raised another potential problem with agave nectar; it’s water-based. Chocolate, even raw chocolate, is fat-based. This means that chocolate sweetened with agave nectar would be extremely difficult to temper, although at least two bean-to-bar companies offer such a chocolate. If you don’t know about tempering, it’s a complex process, but one vital to most chocolate. Skillful tempering is what gives chocolate its shine, a good smooth texture, and that satisfying “snap” you get when you break a piece from a chocolate bar.
Part 2 to follow in February 2016