Part III: Fermentation: so critical for flavour to develop inside!
Once the cacao beans leave the small farms, they then go to small community fermentation and air-drying facilities. We met Neil, who works for the NGO and spends his days overseeing one of these locations.
This little facility was incredible! With 6 air-drying basins, plus the fermentation basin.
There are 3 KEY STEPS that allow the flavour to develop deep inside the bean and then come out to the surface: fermentation, roasting and conching. Lets chat about each:
First, FERMENTATION: the single MOST critical step if you want NATURAL flavour: this is where the cacao bean’s rich flavour will develop.
The large mass production chocolate companies don’t worry too much about getting this fermentation step right, as they will add a bunch of alkali at the next step. Alkali gets rid of the acidity (so mass production companies use it as a shortcut because it’s easier than the natural process). However, alkali also kills the FLAVONOIDS which are the precious healthy antioxidants of the chocolate.
In our small-batch process in the heart of Ecuador, it’s CRITICAL to get the fermentation just right. You must have all the right conditions: the wooden box, the burlap sacks (which are sheets of natural fiber), 2-3 layers AT LEAST to preserve the heat, more leaves, and finally, the entire environment must be at the right temperature and humidity conditions.
The fermentation is similar to how wine is made, where the yeast and acetic acid start to interact with the bean to “eat” the pulp around the bean.
As the beans ferment, a liquid is formed (which you can use to make yummy salad dressings). And the beans are very soft and squishy at this phase.
It’s a very systematic, step-by-step process.
Also, the fermenting process helps to reduce acidity and the beans inside the box can get heat up to 50 degrees celsius. The process takes 5 days.
Every day stirring, changing and mixing to get an even fermentation across all the beans, going from one box to the next.
Roasting & Conching at the next video (in the Factory!) ... very exciting.