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All about CACAO


Cacao and chocolate ingredients

This holiday season, cacao rises as the star ingredient of cocktails. It’s superb with aged tequila and if you add a pinch of dried chili, even better! A universe of derivatives of this ingredient unfolds before your eyes—from the classic liquor, to its powder, nibs and bitters— offering creative options stretching as far as the imagination reaches, even when it comes to serving it. Here’s everything you need to know about this drink of the gods to create your own special potion.

Cacao curious historical facts

Curious Historical Facts

Theobroma Cacao: The Food of the Gods

Credits: Vera Mexicana

Cacao: The food of the Gods
  • Even though the cacao plant originates from the Amazon, cacao was first processed into chocolate 3,000 to 4,000 years ago in the Aztec or Mayan territories. 

  • The word “chocolate” traces its origin to the Aztec word “xocolatl.” 

  • Cacao was called “the food of goods” by Aztec and Mayans.

  • Cacao was considered valuable in pre-Colombian times and was used as a currency. Two hundred cacao beans were equivalent to one male turkey. 
  • When the Spanish invaded Mexico, they encountered the unsweetened “xocolatl” for the first time. Moctezuma, the Aztec king, is known to have served it to Hernan Cortes. 

  • Even though Spaniards do not like the bitter flavor of chocolate, cacao became one of the most important resources that Spain traded throughout Europe.

  • Chocolate has gone from being a popular drink in 17th century Europe to being a mass produced global product.
Chocolate bars
  • The modern chocolate that we know is accredited to Joseph Fry in 1847. The first one was sold by a little English company called Cadbury in 1868, while milk chocolate was introduced to the market in the 1870s by Nestle.

How is chocolate made

Credits: La Iguana Chocolate 

1. Harvest

The seeds are taken from cacao plants.

2. Removal

Pulp and beans are removed from pods and placed in ventilated wooden boxes to allow yeasts to begin fermentation. 

3. Fermenting

This process takes from two to ten days. Thanks to lactic acid and acetic acid (process naturally), the cacao becomes bitter, astringent and develops richer flavors. 

4. Roasting

The beans (without the husks) are then roasted in a large iron pan on an open fire for five days. The temperature of roasting varies from 120 to 150 °C

5. Sun Drying 

6. Peeling

The dried beans are peeled by hand.  

7. Winnowing

This is the process of separating cacao nibs from cacao bean shells.   

Making cacao liquor, cacao butter and cacao powder

Grinding.

Beans are ground by machine and then by hand. 

Cacao paste or cacao liquor is the product of grinding cacao beans. 

Cacao or cacao butter is the fat obtained after pressing cacao liquor. 

Cacao powder is obtained from grinding and sieving the remaining cacao mass. 

Making Chocolate Bars 

Conching

Cacao liquor is mixed with sugar and refined between granite rollers. 

Tempering

The cacao liquor mixed with sugar is heated, cooled and heated again to create uniform crystals. 

Moulding 

The cacao liquor mixed with sugar is poured into molds, cooled and packaged.

Main Types of Cacao Beans

Types of cacao beans

Criollo:

Originally from South and Central America, Criollo beans are known to have the finest flavor. The exceptional flavor profile is nutty and floral. Fermented and dried Criollo beans are not overwhelmingly strong in cocoa flavor.

 

Forastero:

Predominantly cultivated in Brazil, West Africa and Southeast Asia, this bean represents more than 80% of world’s production. The flavor is a full-bodied cocoa that is identified as being chocolatey. It generally lacks the fancier delicate extra notes found in either Criollo or Trinitario types. 

Trinitario:

This bean originates in Trinidad and Tobago and is considered the “world’s finest cacao hybrid.” It has a good basal cocoa flavor with a delightful range of flavor profiles from fruity to floral. It combines the aromatic and sensory virtues of Criollo with the strength and production yield of Forastero. 

Types of Chocolate

Types of chocolate

Dark chocolate:

cacao liquor + cacao butter + sugar 

Milk chocolate: 

cacao liquor + cacao butter + sugar + milk 

White chocolate:

cacao butter + sugar + milk

Cacao By-products

Credits:  Larousse de cocina   

Cacao and chocolate
Cacao powder

Nibs:

bitter-tasting, fermented and chopped cacao beans (without husks).

Cacao liqueur:

fine paste obtained from the processing of roasted cacao beans (without husks).

Powder:

made from solids obtained from cacao paste.

Butter:

the cacao fat obtained from the paste; used to give shine and as a preservative for chocolate.

Gianduja:

obtained when sugar and hazelnut paste are added to the cacao paste.

Shell:

can be used as a container for serving cocktails.

Cascarilla:

the cacao bean shell that comes off after roasting; used to make flavored infusions.

Pulp:

the cacao mucilage; its juice is used to make drinks, jellies and jams.

Cocoa bitters:

these bitter drops are made from cacao and contain the same alcohol concentration as other bitters and maintain their bitter taste.

Cacao Bitters: The Best Ingredients to Prepare a Cacao Cocktail 

Credits: Angostura® Bitters 

In 2020, Angostura® launched its cacao bitters, which celebrates one of Trinidad and Tobago’s most coveted commodities: cacao. 

The bitters are expertly crafted in Trinidad and Tobago with the finest locally harvested Trinitario cacao nibs.

Cacao bitters contain top notes of rich, floral, nutty cocoa combined with an intoxicating infusion of aromatic botanicals. 

Use them to remix classic cocktails or put a luxurious spin on contemporary ones. 

Take a look at its tasting notes: rich and bold, bitter chocolate, nutty caramel and aromatic botanicals.

Cacao bitters pair perfectly with sweet vermouth or aged spirits—such as whiskey, rum, cognac and tequila—while bringing new layers of depth and complexity to cocktails, such as the classic espresso martini.

Angostura® Cacao Bitters: A  Story of Sustainability

Cacao beans

Sustainable agriculture is a long-term endeavor that takes substantial initial investment and expertise to establish. In order to maintain it, significant knowledge, skills and inherent respect for the environment and surrounding communities are also required.

The Sustainable Future program is designed to ensure a sustainable and profitable future for small-scale organic cacao farmers in Trinidad and Tobago for generations to come. 

Sustainable Future supports, empowers and promotes small local cacao farmers while protecting and showcasing the heritage and unique qualities of Trinidad’s prized Trinitario variety to an increasingly ethically conscious and discerning consumer. The project also helps fund the expansion of organic cacao production in rural communities and the upskilling of local farmers and workers.

How They Do It

Sustainable Futures established three organic cacao nurseries and clonal gardens in strategic locations to provide healthy, productive, disease and drought resilient varieties of Trinidad’s heirloom cacao plants, making the cacao sector more attractive and financially sustainable for local farmers, while mitigating the effects of climate change and the risk of diseases. 

The project will also produce useful data and specific insights about soil conditions, micro-climates, and other external factors on tree productivity and is funding a documentary called The Story Behind Trinitario Cacao. 

Trinitario Cacao

‘The Story behind Trinitario Cacao’ is a documentary by Denise Speck that charts the stories of local small-scale farmers. One is a local returning from Europe with a dream of setting up a sustainable far; another is an older farmer whose agricultural continuity is endangered as none of his family members want to work in farming; and the third is a high school graduate who has decided to dedicate his life to carrying on the agricultural practices of his ancestors.