When producing chocolate, most people are aware that the quality of the beans used will affect the flavour of the final product. But not many are aware of other factors that play a part in determining the taste of the chocolate. These factors include the variety of cacao, fermentation method, drying method, even the climate and soil conditions will affect the flavour. With so many things influencing the taste of the cacao, it is easy to understand why single-source chocolate will have so much variety and why large companies will blend cacao from 100’s of different locations to create a consistent flavour profile.
How does the variety/genome type affect the flavour of the chocolate?
To most, it is evident that each variety of cacao has its unique flavour profile; however, while this is the primary determining factor for the base flavour profile. However, this base flavour profile is influenced by other factors such as the climate, soil, fermentation method and drying method. Meaning the same variety of cacao grown in different locations will have different flavours.
How does the fermentation affect the quality and flavour?
Fermentation plays a considerable role in developing the flavour of the beans. The process of fermentation that causes the pulp to break down and the sugars converts into what is commonly known as “flavour precursors”. It is during this stage that the chocolate flavour and colour is developed.
The fermentation method varies based on the variety of cacao/genome type. Variation in fermentation method can be due to factors such as seed size, as well as the quantity and acidity of the pulp surrounding the beans.
In some areas, where then beans are pulpy and acidic. The beans are pressed before fermentation to reduce the amount of pulp and acidity. Fermentation duration and techniques should be tailored to the genome type to optimise fermentation quality.
How does the drying method affect quality and flavour?
This stage will predominantly determine the flavour of the beans. It is also the stage where contamination is most likely to occur.
The two primary methods for drying cacao beans are sun drying and mechanical drying.
As the name suggests, sun drying relies on the beans being directly exposed to the heat from the sun to remove the moisture from the beans. This form of drying generally uses large beds that vary from cement slabs to timber tabletops, in recent years greenhouses have been used to increase the heat and rate of moisture removal.
Mechanical drying of the beans uses a heat source to generate hot air to remove the moisture from the beans and preserve them slowly. The fuel used to create the hot air ranges from wood fires to diesel burners, and it is this heat source that can contaminate the flavour and quality of the final product. If the fumes/smoke directly touches the cacao, it will leave behind a very distinct smokey flavour and smell. Heat exchangers are utilised to transfer clean air from the heat source to dry the beans preventing contamination.