Raw Chocolate?

The next few blog posts will be articles about "Raw Chocolate" and if it is really raw?

Raw Chocolate??

 There are some pretty mixed opinions out there on chocolate which is being marketed as “raw”.

Most raw chocolate enthusiasts are looking for a chocolate that has higher levels of antioxidants / flavanols / polyphenols. Essentially the stuff that is really good for you, and is reported to have very high levels in dark chocolate. There have been many research articles on the benefits of dark chocolate for our health, and it is now known that if we have chocolate with a high cocoa content as part of a balanced diet, our physical and mental health can gain from it. It has been found that cacao which is processed under around 46C has even higher levels of these health giving properties. The enzymes which contain the antioxidants present in the cacao are preserved when it is processed at low temperatures, explaining the increased health benefits.

 “Raw chocolate” is very often made by blending cocoa butter and cocoa powder with binding ingredients and sweeteners, such as coconut oil and agave syrup. Although this technique can often produce some very tasty results, it is not really making chocolate, (and it definitely isn’t making chocolate from bean to bar!) The producer is working with recipes in a way that any enthusiast could replicate at home with a basic kitchen and the right ingredients. Why not give it a go using these recipes for instance.

The intentions of producers making chocolate commercially this way are usually well meant, but there are some key points that dispute the definition of raw. We should consider the fermentation of the cacao. Fermentation takes place at the origin, either on the farm itself or at a nearby processing station. This natural process is essential when developing the tannins and unpleasant acid flavours found in truly raw cacao (straight off the tree) into nice fruity, chocolate flavours. Fermentation usually takes place over several days, with the cacao being turned to ensure an even ferment and the introduction of some oxygen. Fermentation will typically reach temperatures of between 45C and 50C. Most raw “chocolate makers” may have no idea at what temperatures their cacao has been fermented. There are however some cacao processors who will purposefully under-ferment their cacao so that it can reach the raw chocolate market.

If fermentation takes place at a low temperature the cacao will not develop to it’s full flavour. If it doesn’t fully ferment, it will likely be left with an unpleasant astringency depending on the particular cacao being used.

The ability to produce “raw” cocoa powder, and cocoa butter under a temperature of 46C has been challenged by those working in the industry. A typical cocoa press used to create cocoa butter usually keeps the butter melted at around 70C. It has been suggested that many of the cacao powder and cacao butter products available to raw chocolatiers are coming out of high temperature processes, and are in fact frauds. However, there are two excellent companies out there who are pioneering new techniques to genuinely create raw cacao powder and cacao butter. Big Tree Farms, in Indonesia, and Pacari in Ecuador. In any case, it is worth asking a raw chocolate producer to provide evidence that their products have been treated at low temperatures to validate the claims of higher antioxidant levels.

There is another more worrying aspect to consider about raw chocolate. Roasting is not only done to develop flavours, but also to kill bacteria. If consumers with a high regard for their health were to be shown how cacao is usually fermented and dried at source they may wish to re-consider. Cacao is typically fermented poorly under shade crop leaves (such as bananas), and laid out on a tarp to dry out in the sun (see my other topic, why chocolate should be expensive). Exposed to the elements throughout, there are many hygiene risks cacao is exposed to if it is not treated with care in a dedicated processing facility. It may shock to know that most of the worlds chocolate is originally processed on farm. Both Hershey’s and Cadbury’s have in the past had to recall products because of Salmonella. “Raw” chocolate is not roasted, therefore any bacteria picked up on route to processing will still be present in the finished chocolate. A producer making “raw” chocolate should be able to prove that their products have been processed hygienically to avoid such risks.

The word raw has been redefined within the chocolate industry to market “raw” chocolate products. The producers of “raw” appear to be holding on to the term to separate it from conventionally processed chocolate, using it to give a competitive edge. The word raw is used to define their chocolates health benefits, often without an in depth knowledge of the processes involved. To me the word raw means unprocessed. A carrot I pull from the ground or a cacao pod which I cut from a tree and open to eat will give me a raw food. In my opinion, cacao which has been fermented, dried, crushed, and mixed with other ingredients is not really raw.

We don’t dispute the figures showing that cacao processed at lower temperatures retains more of it’s antioxidants, and the flavours which can be obtained by low temperature processing can occasionally be delightful. But these products shouldn’t be labelled raw. If a chocolate maker chooses to continue using this term once they have the facts about the processing of their “raw” ingredients, they could be misleading consumers. As there is no regulatory body for this kind of terminology, it’s something that we may just have to accept.

So with this in mind all of the products which are made using unroasted cacao will be labelled as “Unroasted” rather than “Raw”, as this reflects more honestly the processes involved.


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