Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Theobroma cacao

I sown the first beans April 2001 and I was happy enough to be effective. My Theobroma cacao is now 10 years old and procuces cacao fruits since three years. The crop of the first "harvests" was used to procude additional plantlets and to be honest I was so prud about my tree that the fruits were hanging for mounths. Opening the fruits, the majority of the seeds were already germinated, so no way to try to transform the beans into chocolate!

There are three main cultivars of cacao. The most prized, rare, and expensive is the Criollo, the cocoa bean used by the Maya. Only 10% of chocolate is made from Criollo, which is less bitter and more aromatic than the other beans. Approximately 80% of the chocolate is made using beans of the Forastero cacao. Forastero trees are significantly hardier than Criollo. Trinitario, a hybrid of Criollo and Forastero, is used in about 10% of the chocolate.

If my tree is a Criollo or a Forastero or a Trinitario, I don't know. The fruits are like Criollo but the cotyledons are not white (they have a violet discoloration like in Forastero beans).

The flowers are produced in clusters directly on the trunk and older branches; they are quite small. Cacao flowers are pollinated by tiny flies, so in a conservatory only few flower are pollinated and some even they will develop to small fruits, they then stop to grow up and die. The fruit, a pod, is ovoid, in cultivation reaches 15–30 cm long and 8–10 cm wide, ripening yellow to orange, and weighs about 500 g when ripe. The pod contains 20 to 60 seeds, usually called "beans", embedded in a white pulp. My tree being in a large container that limits their growth, produces usually 6 to 8 pods 15-20 cm long.

Harvest 2011.
The seeds are the main ingredient of chocolate, while the pulp is used in some countries to prepare a refreshing juice. I can confirm that the pulp is very sweet.
For the further processing, the pod placenta should be removed.

Beans are clean and ready to go through the next step: fermentation.

Fermentation of the seeds is an absolute requirement for the full development of chocolate flavor precursors. In the countries of origin controlled fermentation is perform in wood boxes or in banana leaves allowing the mass to reach 50 degrees Celsius. The fermentation take 4 to 7 days. An adequate aeration of the fermenting cacao seed mass is very important.

Well, I had just a small amount of beans and our outdoor temperature is not enough to induce fermentation. So I adopted an old strategy putting a small plastic box with my beans on a radiator. After 2 days the temperature in the mass reached 50 degrees Celsius. I aerated the mass every other day and I removed the excess of fluids. After 7 days all the pulp was disappeared and the beans were only covered by a small layer of whitish material.
After fermentation, the beans must been allowed to dry out to avoid fungus formation at the surface. Usually the beans are put in the sun for several days. Being February, and trying to do this in the Northern Hemisphere, this step is quite difficult. But I managed to have at least 3 days of sun. After that, the beans are to be roasted. I used the hot air function of my oven. To produce the roasted beans, you need for cocoa powder 95 to 125 degrees Celsius for about an hour, for chocolate the beans are roasted for a somewhat shorter time at a slightly lower temperature.

After the roasting procedures the beans are crushed to remove the very tiny inner shell (the picture shows the naked beans and the fragments of the inner shell).

Well, now I have my beans roasted so I just need some more time for the further steps. But before I have to decide: what I want to do whit my cocoa?