A prelude to fermentation

Oct 22 2019

What follows is the kind of thing you often see in papers on cacao or chocolate. In fact, the next few paragraphs come directly from my Masters thesis. This is to show that I’m guilty of the same dismissal of fermentation that frustrates me in other researchers.

“Chocolate is a confection made from the seeds of Theobroma cacao, one of 22 species of the genus Theobroma (Sotelo & Alvarez, 1991). Several of these species are used in the preparation of food and beverages, but T. cacao is most commonly used, and it results –with some minimal contribution in certain locals by T. bicolor and T. grandiflorum—in the foods and drinks collectively known as chocolate (Pérez-Mora, Jorrin-Novo, & Melgarejo, 2018). Modern-day chocolate is prepared in an elaborate series of processes which could only exist in a post-industrial, globalized market. This is because proper chocolate production requires time spent in two dramatically different climates, and it is rarely consumed near the place where it is produced (Moss, 2009).

The first step in the chocolate production process involves harvesting the cacao pods, which is best done by hand because they do not all ripen at once. The cacao tree continuously produces hundreds of tiny, odorless flowers which are pollinated by the random action of small insects and mosquitos crawling across them, because there is no smell to attract pollinators (De La Cruz, Vargas, & Del Angel, 2009). Cocoa pods ripen within five to six months of pollination (Tannenbaum, 2008). Because fertilization is continuous, ripening is also continuous throughout the year, although it does experience peak seasons especially in Western Africa (Hamdouche, 2016). Ripeness can be tested by lightly scratching the skin of the pod or by watching for a color change; the specific color change depends on the variety of cacao, but it usually involves a shift from green to yellow, red, or orange (De La Cruz Medina, Vargas Ortiz, & Del Angel Coronel, 2012).

After harvest, the pods are opened by tapping sharply with a machete or other long, narrow tool (Hamdouche, 2016). Then laborers remove the seeds, covered in a sticky pulp known as mucilage, from the pod and collect them in a box, pile, or other vessel (Papalexandratou, Vrancken, de Bruyne, Vandamme, & de Vuyst, 2011). Fermentation begins as soon as the pods are opened and exposed to the environment (Sulaiman & Yang, 2015)and typically continues for 2 to 8 days depending on conditions at the farm (Hamdouche, 2016). At this point, the fermented beans are dried either under the sun, over fire, or in a mechanized dryer (Sulaiman & Yang, 2015) until they reach approximately 8% moisture (Hamdouche, 2016)Sun-drying is generally considered preferable, as some off-flavors have been associated with the use of other drying processes, although they may offer greater control over the final moisture level (Yaw, 2014). Beans can then be safely packed and transported elsewhere as long as moisture levels are kept low, as cacao beans are extremely hygroscopic (De La Cruz et al., 2009).”

This is the kind of description that is typical of a paper establishing the fact that cacao is a fermented product without saying any more about it--just the kind of thing I hate! It's time to correct my mistake. In the posts to follow, I will discuss this step in more detail, as well as some aspects of it that warrant further examination.

Works Cited

De La Cruz, J., Vargas, M. ., & Del Angel, O. . (2009). Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Alimentación y la Agricultura (FAO). CACAO: Operaciones Poscosecha. 1–78. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/3/a-au995s.pdf

De La Cruz Medina, J., Vargas Ortiz, M. A., & Del Angel Coronel, O. A. (2012). CACAO: Operaciones Poscosecha. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/3/a-au995s.pdf

Hamdouche, Y. (2016). Discrimination des procédés de transformation post-récolte du Cacao et du Café par analyse globale de l ’ écologie microbienne Yasmine Hamdouche To cite this version : HAL Id : tel-01404879 & HQWUH , QWHUQDWLRQDO G ¶ eWXGHV 6XSpULHXUHV en Sciences Agronom. Retrieved from http://publications.cirad.fr/une_notice.php?dk=577097

Moss, S. (2009). Chocolate : a global history (A. Badenoch, Ed.). London: London : Reaktion Books.

Papalexandratou, Z., Vrancken, G., de Bruyne, K., Vandamme, P., & de Vuyst, L. (2011). Spontaneous organic cocoa bean box fermentations in Brazil are characterized by a restricted species diversity of lactic acid bacteria and acetic acid bacteria. Food Microbiology, 28(7), 1326–1338. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fm.2011.06.003

Pérez-Mora, W., Jorrin-Novo, J. V, & Melgarejo, L. M. (2018). Substantial equivalence analysis in fruits from three Theobroma species through chemical composition and protein profiling. Food Chemistry, 240, 496–504. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2017.07.128

Sotelo, A., & Alvarez, R. G. (1991). Chemical Composition of Wild Theobroma Species and Their Comparison to the Cacao Bean. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 39(11), 1940–1943. https://doi.org/10.1021/jf00011a009

Sulaiman, K. B., & Yang, T. A. (2015). Color characteristics of dried cocoa using shallow box fermentation technique. Inter Scholar Sci Res Innov, 9(October), 1277–1281.

Tannenbaum, G. (2008). Chemistry for everyone. 451(February). Retrieved from www.JCE.DivCHED.org

Yaw, I. (2014). Raw Cocoa ( Theobroma cacao L .) Quality Parameters - with special Reference to West Africa . Retrieved from http://ediss.sub.uni-hamburg.de/volltexte/2014/7104/pdf/Dissertation.pdf