As a naturally curious person, one of the components of chocolate and cacao which immediately caught my attention was the scientific complexity. Are you interested in tasting this complexity for yourself? Our craft chocolate bar selection is carefully curated to provide unique tasting opportunities perfect for those who are curious.
When I joined Laughing Gull as an employee, and later a co-owner, my chocolate education began quickly. I am still enamored by the molecular science behind tempering cocoa butter, the ecology and genetic profiles of the trees, and the proverbial giant but literal midge responsible for the majority of cacao flower pollination. In this blog post, I’d like to discuss another deliciously sciency component of cacao – fermentation.
Put simply, fermentation of cacao happens when microorganisms transform the naturally existing sugars in cacao pulp into alcohols and acids, which seep inside the shell of the beans and changes the chemical composition (and thus, the taste and texture) of the cacao nibs. These nibs are the parts that are later transformed into chocolate.
In most areas of the world where cacao is grown, harvested, and fermented, the fermentation process is knowledge that has been passed on by previous generations. Much science is involved but instincts, observation, and senses are used to determine if the proper level of fermentation has been reached.
Traditional Steps of fermentation include:
1) Removing the seeds (beans) and some of the pulp from the pods
2) Placing these beans inside large boxes or crates and covering with a natural material
3) Anaerobic fermentation begins when oxygen is reduced and heat is allowed to build up inside the crates – yeasts and microbes transform the sugars and other components into lactic acid and ethanol
4) The aerobic stage of fermentation is furthered when the farmers turn or stir the beans, introducing a surge of oxygen, this allows the ethanol to oxidize and acetic acid to be produced
5) These chemicals seep into the shell of the bean and kill the germ inside, preventing germination and creating flavor precursors that make up the classic chocolate flavors we know and love
6) At the finish, the beans are removed from the crates and laid out to dry, halting further chemical reactions and removing more moisture
And now we come to the chocolate. With this basic knowledge we can deduce that fermentation is essential for flavor production. We can also assume that variations in fermentation may affect the final flavor of a chocolate bar.
If you’re like me, and you don’t want to assume – look no further. Friis Holm is a chocolate that hails from Denmark and is crafted by Mikkel Friis Holm. This maker experiments with changes in single components of the chocolate process to explore the variety of flavors produced.
The single bean Chuno bars from Nicaragua cacao come in two varieties: Double Turned and Triple Turned. This refers to the number of times the farmers aerated the beans during the five day fermentation.
The flavor difference is astounding. The more subtle citrusy notes of one bar are pronounced in the other. The richer chocolatey flavors are brighter in one bar and deeper in another. I will allude to the differences because the best way to wear your chocolate science hat is to taste both side by side. Allow each to melt over your palette and note the flavors. Enjoy. Then try the same experiment another day. Taste the double and then the triple, the triple and then the double. Note down what you are getting out of the chocolate each time. Try each with your favorite wine or tea. Does one chocolate pair better than the other?
Chocolate is rarely one note. The complexity is fascinating and drives the passion to continue expanding our pallets and knowledge, one chocolate bar (or two!) at a time. What will you try next?
Friis Holm Double Turned and Triple Turned bars are available for a limited time in our shop.