There is a debate around raw cacao.
Some companies claim that they have cocoa products available that are processed below 40-48 degrees Celsius (depending on the person you are talking to). One should be very skeptical about the possibilities to process such a product, let alone a product that is food safe too. When we talk about production of cacao on an industrial scale, the waters get even murkier. First of all lets define raw cacao vs. cocoa.
Raw cacao is made by cold-pressing unroasted cocoa beans. The process keeps the living enzymes in the cocoa and removes the fat (cacao butter). Then there is what we refer to as cocoa, the cocoa was once raw cacao that was heated to high temperatures for reasons of preservation and flavour embodiment. The cocoa looks the same but it is very different in what it contains on a molecular level. Unfortunately the deeper darker chocolate flavours are then found through this roasting process, however the roasting process changes the molecular structure of the cocoa bean, reducing the enzyme content and lowering the overall nutritional value.
More understanding about what “raw” means in the the contest of cacao and the products boasting raw cacao on supermarket shelves:
- Temperatures in the countries of origin when processing the raw cacao exceed the temperature limits very regularly therefore relegating products that should be infact labeled as cocoa and not raw cacao
- Very high temperatures can be reached naturally simply due the hot humid environments that cacao is grown in, furthermore through the drying and fermentation processes
- When the raw product is being loaded into a container for transportation from its country of origin, in which it will stay for a minimum of 5 weeks. One only needs to stand inside a container under the sun for 5 minutes to realize what cacao would go through on its voyage to the western world markets. Some containers with food items have been known to reach as high as 57ºC
- We also know from our growers in Papua New Guinea that raw cacao is pressed using more antiquated machines that rotate at less than 800 RPM, the slower grinding process makes the work more labour intensive, however limits the friction between grinding wheels and nib, therefore all the time keeping the processing temperatures naturally low. Ie <40ºC. This process is also part of the butter extraction. (What is also interesting to note is that there are many people whom claim cocoa butter has a melting point of 27ºC when in fact it is 37ºC) The definition of cold pressing can vary of course, however the accepted industry temperature guideline for a raw cacao product is 48ºC
- Most processing facilities that use grinding equipment to process the nibs will create a high temperature friction point caused through grinding at such high RPM’s which in turn acts to raise the temperature of the product in excess of 60 degrees celsius
Another issue that is not often talked about with raw cacao is the presence of bacteria that are carried on the cacao beans before processing takes place. The microbe and salmonella levels found on unroasted beans is an alarming statistic in itself. It’s certainly a pressure point for the cacao industry to track closely in the near future. Right now there are no processing stages included to wipe out microbe growth on unroasted beans. The industry needs to further develop with the food safety issues taking front row seats.
There are people that believe that raw cocoa is healthy because of the high levels of antioxidants it contains. Research shows that un-alkalized cocoa (like natural cacao powder) contains similar amounts of antioxidants. The three ways of classifying cacao powders:
- Raw cacao
- Natural cacao (Similar to raw cacao, just that there is no proof of captured temperature levels during processing)
- Alkalized cocoa (Heat treated to high temperatures)
This article highlights the ways we like to present the health facts about consuming cacao and the fast changing laws around definitions of “raw cacao” the world over. However with all this talk, we still believe its better both contemplated and/or argued over a good bar of chocolate whether that be raw or otherwise.