What does a cocoa bean taste like?
Interestingly, in its raw state, the cocoa bean has no flavour! In my experience eating raw cocoa beans, they taste like a bland lychee fruit. All the delicious flavour we associate with chocolate, requires very careful - and talented - processing to exploit the inherent flavour profile of the bean. This starts with the most important step - fermentation and continues through to roasting, coaching and finally - eating!
Why does chocolate taste like chocolate?
The inevitable question then is how does chocolate taste like chocolate, if cocoa bean has very little flavour? Good quality cocoa beans are known as 'flavour beans' ad these have an inherent flavour profile, and chocolate makers obsessively search out the beans with the best flavour - just like good coffee beans. However, it is the many steps of processing involved, from bean to bar, that give us the amazing tasting product we know as chocolate - but two of these steps are more important than all the others; fermentation and roasting.
Fermentation is the first step to chocolate
The first - and arguably the most important - step in imparting flavour into the cocoa bean comes from the fermentation process. The cocoa beans are scooped from the cocoa pod, with the sweet white pulp that surrounds them, into a pile where they are left for several days in the sun until the pulp turns to mucilage and the desired level of fermentation is reached. (I know, it doesn't exactly sound charming, but without this messy step, we don't have chocolate!)
Why roasting cocoa beans matters
The other significant stage of imparting flavour comes from roasting and just like coffee, each cocoa bean has a very particular temperature and length of time that will develop its full flavour potential. This is one of the reasons mass market chocolate cannot produce an exceptional chocolate. It is unlikely they start with a quality/flavour bean, and mass production does not allow for the nuance in roasting that artisan producers use to develop flavour.
The other stages of chocolate processing
There are other stages that contribute to flavour including conching and tempering, but the take-away from this 'did you know' is the next time you eat an exceptional chocolate and enjoy that moment of delight - this doesn't happen by chance. It is the product of a rare flavour bean coupled with years of experience, passion and art from the chocolate maker - and it's why not all chocolate is created equal.
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