Why are different chocolate flavors so different? The difference in the origin of cocoa beans is one of the important reasons. The final product will be largely affected by the chocolate designer’s operation and equipment selection.
The type or gene of cocoa beans is an important factor in determining the flavor of chocolate. It is considered to be one of the most important factors. Different varieties of cocoa beans have different flavor characteristics.
There are three main varieties of cocoa: Frostello, Criollo, and Trinidad. This system is more dependent on genetic similarity, lacks insight into the actual taste, and has been out of date for decades. In 2008, the USDA’s re-doing of genetic tests on cocoa aroused people’s interest again and even proposed a new classification system that classified cocoa varieties into 10 categories, and the list is still increasing.
Cocoa bean variety information can provide limited flavor references. When trying to determine the final flavor of chocolate based on this, even if the classification system becomes more accurate, the actual corresponding results are still confusing.
Take the Maranon Fortunato 4 cocoa beans in northern Peru as an example: they have been tested by the United States Department of Agriculture and are considered to be genetically identical to the Ecuadorian national beans known for their floral fragrance. However, although this Peruvian version has the same genes as the famous Ecuadorian national species, their taste is not similar.
As one of the common crops, the water and soil climate conditions, the growing season, the weather during harvest, and the farming habits adopted by the cocoa fruit farmers will affect the quality of cocoa beans.
When comparing the same cocoa varieties grown under different conditions, the influence of terroir can be noticed. In Hacienda San Jose, a manor located on the Paria Peninsula in northeastern Venezuela, there is another legendary cocoa bean-Chuao.
Chuao cocoa is a famous example of the influence of terroir on flavor. It is considered to be a typical representative of the influence of soil, weather conditions, and farming methods in a specific area. Chocolate makers and cocoa farmers have almost no control. For example, the pH value of the soil, the content of nutrients and organic matter, and its ability to retain water in dry climates or drain water in areas with abundant rainfall, soil types will also vary, which also affects the flavor potential of the same variety of cocoa. There are various soil types in just one country, and of course, there is even greater diversity in countries where cocoa beans can be grown globally.
Also, depending on the season of planting and harvest, the maturity of cocoa and post-harvest processing conditions change, and the quality of cocoa beans is also different. For example, in West Africa, cocoa is harvested mainly in March or April. During these months, the monsoon blowing from the north will lower the temperature. As a result, cocoa beans need longer fermentation time to achieve the same degree of fermentation results to produce good flavor and quality. If farmers do not make corresponding adjustments to give the cocoa beans longer fermentation time, the quality of the finished cocoa beans will be poor, showing a gray and astringent taste.
3 Post-harvest treatment
The post-harvest processing of cocoa beans includes two main steps: fermentation and drying.
Fermentation is one of the important processes in cocoa bean processing.
Fermentation includes a series of biological decomposition processes that use yeast and safe bacteria as catalysts. The flavor produced by fermentation depends not only on the fermentation temperature and time but also on the ratio of yeast and other bacteria involved in the fermentation process. Naturally occurring or local bacteria usually transform into a specific taste.
After the beans are fermented, they go through a drying process immediately.
Drying is an important process because it helps to reduce the moisture content in the cocoa beans, increase the pH and reduce the astringency. Ideally, sun drying produces the best results, because it is a natural gradual process in which part of the fermentation process is completed. But if drying is too slow or incomplete, there is a risk of mold and odor.
Whether the drying can use the sun depends on three main factors, namely the duration, labor status, and climate type.
In many countries where the climate is too humid, manual baking/mechanical drying is the first choice. For example, Brazil, which produces large amounts of cocoa seeds, uses mechanical drying methods. Although it is the fastest, it can cause enzyme damage and sometimes high temperatures can make the cocoa seeds brittle and give them a strong smoky flavor.
4 Transportation and storage
The dried green cocoa beans will undergo transportation or shipment to the market for export.
To ensure the quality of the cocoa beans in the hands of chocolate manufacturers, proper transportation and storage conditions are equally important. It is critical to protect the beans from moisture, insects, smoke, or aroma pollution.
When the raw cocoa beans reach the hands of the makers, they go through a fixed step to make chocolate bars.
The production process mainly involves bean selection, roasting and shelling, and finally grinding to form the final chocolate bar. If the process of these links is changed, the flavor of chocolate will change greatly.
The initial procedure includes cleaning and selection. The cocoa beans in each producing area have their own dedicated storage space, which is completed in a dedicated room, to avoid accidentally mixing with another cocoa bean to produce a different taste. The sorted cocoa beans undergo three main steps that have a major impact on flavor: roasting, grinding, and ingredient addition.
Depending on the degree and amount of roasting, the taste will be very different (just like roasted coffee). The definition of baking is carried out at a temperature of 110-150 degrees Celsius. Baking helps stop the microbial reaction. The formation of flavor is carried out by the Maillard reaction, which reduces sugar and amino acids in cocoa beans, and leads to the production of different compounds such as acetaldehyde and pyrazine.
The flavor selection is largely due to the roasting of the cocoa beans. At present, most chocolate manufacturers usually strictly monitor the roasting process of cocoa beans to achieve the desired precise roasting depth and uniform heating, so that the whole bean process can obtain a unique flavor.
The choice of ingredients (such as cocoa butter and sugar) will greatly affect the flavor performance of the finished chocolate bar.
The sweetness provided by appropriate sugar can balance the acidity and bitterness of cocoa beans to achieve a more ideal and palatable flavor performance. But many types of sugar not only increase sweetness and taste, but many sugars also have their taste, which can form a subtle competitive relationship with the taste of cocoa beans.
The iconic style of a chocolate maker depends in part on the type of chocolate machinery (roaster and grinder). Due to different operating principles and different parameters, the type and use of equipment can greatly change the ultimate consumer experience of chocolate.