“This nonsense about raw chocolate should be stopped”.
When Spencer said those words during his presentation, everybody remained astonished. The audience of chocolate lovers could not believe it. Their search for “pure” chocolate was always a farce.
Some exhibitors nearby were just holding big signs with the triumphant benefits of their Raw Chocolate. They must have wanted to disappear.
But this is what the chocolate industry has already known for years: raw chocolate doesn’t exist.
By general consent, raw food is food that has not been heated above 118°F (47°C).
Uncooked and unprocessed, it retains all the enzymes, water, oxygen, vitamins and minerals that enabled the food to sprout and grow in the first place. Raw vegan diets are becoming very popular. They are believed to be the most beneficial to the human body and to help curing diseases to some extent.
Since health-conscious choices are on the trend also for snacks and treats, the enthusiasm of consumers for food labeled “RAW” is understandable. They don’t want to miss out on the health benefits. Neither do chocolate lovers.
A growing number of companies now sell raw chocolate. They started populating the market in the past couple of years. Claiming health benefits better than regular chocolate, raw chocolate bars are seeing their sales growing day after day.
Why are chocolate professionals so against raw chocolate then?
The first reason usually refers to a TEMPERATURE issue.
Harvesting cacao is not like harvesting bananas or mangoes. Farmers don’t just pick up the fruit, put it in a box and ship it overseas. Cacao beans hide in a cacao pod, surrounded by a thick pulp and covered each one by a shell. There is no way they can be eaten that way. Forget making chocolate.
This is why cacao beans in their raw state have to undertake some mandatory processes. Once the beans have been removed from the pods, the first step is fermentation. The heat generated by this process is needed to “kill” the beans and prevent them from germinating. This is also a crucial step for cacao to fully develop its potential flavor.
As chocolate maker Amano Chocolate mentions in his blogpost on fermentation:
“Given the incredible amount of fermentation going on, the temperature rises quickly. In fact, during the cocoa’s fermentation temperatures can climb to 122°F (50°C), so hot that if you were to put your hand into the sticky gooey mass of beans, you would not be able to leave it there for very long.”
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Fermentation: The Magical Step To Amazing Chocolate
The maximum temperature for a food to be considered raw is reached and passed.
For cacao beans not to reach that temperature, chocolate makers should have TOTAL CONTROL of the harvesting and post-harvesting process at the place of origin. This means that they should probably own the plantation. Cocoa farmers might not have the tools to be so accurate with temperature. Or they might not be willing to divide the cacao for raw chocolate makers from the one for regular makers.
The issue is that raw chocolate companies never mention this mandatory process.
When asked what makes their chocolate different from others on the market, all raw chocolate companies play the same card: roasting.
“We roast our beans under 118°F (47°C) so they retain all the nutritional properties”.
Fermentation, the mandatory process that precedes roasting, is accurately hidden from consumers.
Another issue with raw chocolate is potential consumer SAFETY.
As Pam Williams founder of Ecole Chocolat, award winning school for making and studying chocolate, says:
“Cacao beans are grown on family farms, so there are literally infinite possibilities between harvest and bagging where they can be exposed to pathogens from living creatures or humans.
Even during normal fermentation where the beans can achieve a temperature as high as 125°F (51.7°C) that temperature is still not high enough to kill all the bacteria. We’re not being critical of the farmers – it’s just a fact of life on a farm that they can’t control all the variables that may introduce pathogens into their crops.
So a chocolate manufacturer or artisan chocolate maker must assume that the bagged beans arriving at their loading dock are contaminated with some, if not all, of the following: Salmonella, Listeria, E. Coli and Staphylococcus.
Chocolate manufacturers use steam cleaning and/or the roasting process to ensure they have 99 to 100% kill of all pathogens.”
When raw chocolate makers decide to lower the usual temperature for roasting, this might turn into a safety problem. Some other process has to be put into place to properly sanitize the beans. Unfortunately, chocolate manufacturers aren’t required by law to follow any specific chocolate safety standards. The validation process to ensure that no bacteria survives is totally up to the maker.
If this is a problem for every chocolate maker, it is even bigger for raw chocolate ones.
The word “raw” is also inappropriate for any kind of cacao PROCESSED into chocolate.
By definition, raw food should be minimally processed. To retain the nutritional properties, not only temperatures are controlled. Also handling must be kept to a minimum.
Cacao beans have to pass through many different machines to end in solid bars. They are roasted, ground, refined, conched, and tempered. Makers can try to make these steps as “artisanal” as possible, but they are still essential. It’s a complex journey to turn cacao into chocolate. Probably not one that goes well with raw cooking standards.
So how could any chocolate be ever called RAW and be believed to have the same properties of raw cacao?
Some chocolate makers do believe that cacao roasted and processed at lower temperatures maintains a higher nutritional value. They are also honest enough not to address their chocolate as raw. They market it as “unroasted” or “virgin”, to depict the supposedly higher content of nutritional properties. The taste of their chocolate might also be better than chocolate made with the traditional method.
The success of Brooklyn-based chocolate maker Raaka is a prime example.
In the end, what is called “raw chocolate” becomes merely another way to process the beans. Roasting at lower temperatures is one of the many different techniques to make chocolate. Cacao beans stop being raw after the mandatory step that is fermentation. They become even less raw when they go through the army of machines that have to turn them into chocolate.
No chocolate bar on the market should be addressed as RAW then, and deceive consumers into believing that they are getting something better than regular chocolate.
What do YOU think of Raw Chocolate?
I did NOT get paid and did NOT receive any kind of favor for writing this article. These are my honest opinions at your service.