Proclamations of truth usually fall apart on slippery slopes. Speaking of several raw food acolytes, many are sweet people, well-intentioned & sincere about healing the planet even as they’re often clueless about the science behind “raw chocolate”. It’s apparent that they tend to be led by hypsters & hucksters who understand the fundamentals of marketing best & the likelihood of repeating a falsehood often enough until it sounds like the honest truth.
Anyone who manufacturers or sells “raw chocolate” needs to, first, get informed. And then, secondly, conduct due diligence. Just as ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it, shirking responsibility by pointing fingers at unscrupulous suppliers & “raw” marketeers is likewise inexcusable now that information abounds on the fraud being committed in its name. Hopefully this article will help.
When it comes to chocolate, the raw tribe lives on the flip-side of rational inquiry, re-enchanted (to borrow Walter Benjamin’s recycling of Max Weber) with magic, mysticism, & myth in the pursuit of their eco-myopia: a pristine Eden where w’all can be primitive consumers again.
As much as any natural phenomena of the flora kingdom, chocolate is a man-made invention which, seemingly unbeknownst to them, they’re undoing in a kind of devolutionary cycle.
The general principle underlying the raw food pandemic nowadays is that by preserving enzymes (their raison d’être) we’re eating “live” food, & a person consuming “live” food naturally becomes more alive, seen by a glowing aura captured in Kirlian photography (which has its own mysterious basis but let’s stay on topic).
Heat applied to food above an uncertain temperature kills enzymes. Uncertain because the raw world has a sliding scale that once set the magic number at 112ºF, then moved it to 114, followed by 118… maybe 122 & as high as 125 (when it became apparent that temperatures in the fermentation pile of their favorite food – cacáo – can climb to that level). To date, no scientific study has been conducted that correlates the known upper limit temperature to enzyme preservation for a particular food.
At least 6 potential opportunities exist in cocoa processing to exceed these thermal limits – fermentation, drying, roasting, alkalization, grinding, & pressing.
1. Sweat boxes or fermentation piles of cacáo can exceed 50ºC or 122ºF;
2. Fermentation turns a living cacáo seed capable of germinating into a cocoa bean that cannot, rendering it dead. This process facilitates accessibility to enzymes yet that very access hastens their inactivation as polyphenols, acetic acid, & ethanol increase during the process;
3. Open-air sun-drying of cocoa beans in the tropics, often laid out on cement or black-top surfaces, can cook up to 125ºF & hotter;
4. Dr. J. William Hurst, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the chemical analysis of cacáo compounds, investigates chocolate in its various forms (dark bars, milk chocolate, cocoa powder, alkalized / unalkalized, etc.) & states that any sparse enzymes surviving the manufacturing cycle – be they raw or roasted – “are minimal at best” (Personal Communication 2009).
Temperature vs. Time for Fermentation of Cacáo Seeds… typical of the significant differential between ambient & internal heat (graph courtesy of Avinsash Ramnanan)
Now to the nib of the matter: Quality & Taste – the latter is less subjective than people think, & the former definitely possesses objective criteria. Purveyors would like consumers to think otherwise for the obvious reason that it makes their lives easier to pedal junk (see the 3rd Law of Chocodynamics). And both are different from personal preferences or what one likes. Unfortunately, “raw chocolate” satisfies neither taste nor quality.
Quite a few emails are sent to the C-spot™ admonishing why the “harsh treatment” of “raw chocolate” (fair is fair, no?) & “stop reviewing something you don’t like” (incorrect, the C-spot™ purposefully covers “raw chocolate” because it wants to find the goods in all its guises & has discovered some raw exceptions in Pacari + Divine Organics); that “’raw chocolate’ belongs in a separate category” (the raw tribe itself invites the comparisons on blogs, forums, promo material; one raw lupe-guru declares it the ”best chocolate ever” that’ll leave “Swiss & Belgian chocolatiers shaking in their shoes”) &, most critically, they invite comparison in their pricing.
With respect to price, the C-spot™ supports whatever the market will bear &, in the case of cacáo, the more they better because chocolate is too cheap in our estimation. What oil generates on the global commodity market in 1 day takes cocoa a whole year. Low price often converts to paying farmers peanuts for it, which contributes to cycles of poverty in the producing world where it grows as cheap fodder for a commodity market controlled by the Big 4 (Cargill, ADM, Barry Callebaut, & Petra).
That said, raw cacáo fabricators perform only a fraction of the tasks of typical premium chocolate makers yet charge roughly the same price. Their workload & technique rank with slipshod industrial giants. They should charge likewise – a buck or two, not $8, $10 or more. They rarely conche; hardly ever temper; most just do a quick mix; some don’t even crack & winnow; & never, by definition, roast. Yet roasting is the key crucible (& an expensive one at that) in developing a chocolate’s profile. Heating a cocoa bean generates a myriad of chemical reactions described by L.C. Maillard, hence the process is known as Maillard Reactions. Technically the browning of an amino acid by a reducing sugar – a carbonyl group – Maillard Reactions can convert tannins, depending on degree, into neutral tasting phlobaphenes that result in less bitter / less astringent chocolate & produce a broad array of aromatic chemical compounds such as aldehydes, pyrazines, phenyl-enales derivatives, furaneol, hyroxymaltol, & cyclotene that contribute to flavor formation. It also enhances chocolate’s color.
Beyond that, roasting, which often includes some water injection, also decreases high microbiological platelet counts & levels of toxins such as mycotoxin, or heavy metals like lead (contaminants which typically adhere to the bean husks).
So why the exorbitant pricing for “raw chocolate”?
At the supply end in the growing fields where cacáo gets harvested, fermented & dried, legitimately raw cacáo is indeed more labor intensive, requiring specialized equipment, & would therefore justify a premium price. But precious little “raw chocolate” contains raw integrity for reasons already cited. Calls for independent certification at the supply end of the production chain are fraught with the same potential for chicanery that currently game the Organic, Fair-Trade, & Rainforest Alliance programs: just another layer of cost & bureaucracy, often for a false assurance. Let quality be the guide instead of suspect certificates.
Cacáo butter, for instance, presents an easy tell-tale sign of raw fraud. Most hydraulic or filter presses that extract cacáo butter fat to separate it from the bean’s mass (leaving behind ‘cocoa cake’) reach temperatures of around 200ºF. Much of what passes for “raw” cacáo butter bears shades ranging from off-white to ivory & lemon yellow – all too pale to be what it purports. Truly unheated cold-pressed cacáo oil is golden bronze that hardens into a darkish off-brown taupe & even somewhat jaundiced-colored butter.
Those processors who labor few & far between in isolated pockets of Brazil, Bali & a couple other growing zones around the cacáo belt, strictly regulating procedures (fermentation, drying, pressing, etc.) to conform to definitions that meet raw criteria & merit such a label, often have the fruits of their labor undone by food irradiation – a common practice that trading goods are subjected to during int’l shipping. Beyond that, they’ll have difficulty nonetheless generating “live enzymes” as well as anything that tastes even remotely like… well, ‘chocolate’ (i.e., strong chocolarity measured as ‘CQ’ or Chocolate Quotient – straightforward chocolate flavor without interfering under/overtones). None of those origins contain the breeding stocks or genotype necessary to achieve identifiable chocolate flavor in raw form.
Any exceptions come from those who understand the fundamental premise that, far from terroir or any maker, the foundation of great chocolate is rooted in seed selection & genetics, basically the M.O. of Domori, & why this very site is the first of its kind to feature extensive discussion on cacáo strains & cultivars primarily geared for consumers (with an increased following from the professional trade too). To date only one maker has released a quasi-raw bar that bears any semblance to chocolate, in this particular case an excellent one: TAVA/Journée Chocolate out of Australia, sourcing a cacáo of high CQ in Vanuatu.
By touting the glories of “raw” cocoa beans (which, by technical definition, disqualifies it from even being labeled ‘chocolate’), that for the most part leave cacáo’s complex of powerhouse flavors so locked up inside they taste flatter than asphalt & more in league with sawdust or sheet rock, the raw tribe sends out happy-smack for marketing purposes, reluctant to let go of one of their biggest sellers.
The basis of a raw food diet – eating fresh fruits & vegetables, nuts & seeds – may be healthful. If nothing else, unadulterated food, sans sauce cuisine, is wondrous in its own way. And “raw chocolate” probably does contains higher polyphenols & anti-oxidants, for standard dark chocolate can lose up to 80% of its polyphenol content throughout processing. Mary Wagner, a chief technology officer for Mars Botanical, says gentle processing is the key to preserving them. “Flavonols are very sensitive to oxygen, light, & heat. The moment the pod is opened, the clock starts ticking.” But this relates to functional aspects quite separate from flavor & economics.
The upshot: “raw chocolate” can hardly hold a candle to premium chocolate. It’s the equivalent of comparing the Special Olympics to the real games. Let’s just call it what it is: ‘unroasted cocoa’ or, more aptly, ‘cocoa sludge’… best ingested as a nutriceutical supplement inside a vitamin cap.