There are some pretty mixed opinions out there on chocolate which is being marketed as “raw”.
Most raw chocolate enthusiasts are looking for a chocolate that has higher levels of antioxidants / flavanols / polyphenols. Essentially the stuff that is really good for you, and is reported to have very high levels in dark chocolate. There have been many research articles on the benefits of dark chocolate for our health, and it is now known that if we have chocolate with a high cocoa content as part of a balanced diet, our physical and mental health can gain from it. It has been found that cacao which is processed at low temperatures has even higher levels of these health giving properties. The enzymes which contain the antioxidants present in the cacao are preserved, explaining the increased health benefits.
“Raw chocolate” is very often made by blending cocoa butter and cocoa powder with binding ingredients and sweeteners, such as coconut oil and agave syrup. Although this technique can often produce some very tasty results, it is not really ‘making chocolate’. The producer is working with recipes in a way that any enthusiast could replicate at home with a basic kitchen and the right ingredients.
Key points to consider about raw chocolate
The fermentation of the cacao. Fermentation takes place at the origin, either on the farm itself or at a nearby processing station. This natural process is essential when developing the tannins and unpleasant acid flavours found in truly raw cacao (straight off the tree) into nice fruity, chocolate flavours. Fermentation usually takes place over several days, with the cacao being turned to ensure an even ferment and the introduction of some oxygen. Fermentation will typically reach temperatures of between 45C and 50C. Most ‘raw’ chocolate makers may have no idea at what temperatures their cacao has been fermented. If fermentation takes place at a low temperature chocolate made from the cacao will have an unpleasant astringent flavour.
The drying phase temperatures can again reach high temperatures, this heat is required to pull moisture from the beans and prevent them from moulding.
Even the most gentle of chocolate making machinery will create heat above the ‘Raw’ temperature guidelines, even if just due to the friction between the stones that grind the cacao.
Roasting is not only done to develop flavours, but also to kill any harmful bacteria. If consumers with a high regard for their health were to be shown how cacao is usually processed at origin they may wish to re-consider eating raw chocolate. There are bacterial risks cacao is exposed to, even if it is treated with the utmost care in a dedicated processing facility.
The word raw means unprocessed. A carrot pulled from the ground or a cacao pod cut from a tree and opened to eat is a raw food. In our opinion, cacao which has been fermented, dried, crushed, and mixed with other ingredients should not be considered raw.