The Journey of Cacao
Planting the trees
Fresh seeds are taken from a freshly cut open Cacao pod, washed and placed in soil, normally in a black plastic bag filled with soil, to germinate.
This is then allowed to grow into a sapling (a small tree).
When the sapling is about 10cms tall, it is planted in the ground.
The young cacao tree grows successfully in an environment where there is about 40% shade, so planting amongst taller trees is favoured.
In a healthy environment a young cacao tree will have tiny flowers within 2 years, and fully grown pods before three years.
Trees are planted approximately 5 meters apart, as the trees do not like to grow closely together.
A seed will be taken from a fresh pod – often from the farmers favourite tree, or a high yielding tree. Often the farmer will check the colour inside the seeds in the pod and plant the finest. The whiter the seed, the finer it is in flavour profile.
Fresh seeds can be used to plant new trees, or put into fermentation for cacao beans.
White seeds are rare and are from the Criollo variety. When a farmer finds white seeds they will use these to grow seedlings.
This is the majority of beans colour in Solomons. Light purple means low acidity and from the variety Trinitario. Once the beans are fermented, all beans will go brown regardless of the colour they started out as, so post fermentation it is impossible to tell the variety of the bean.
New Cacao Plants.
The tiny flowers, slowly grow into pods over a period of 7-9 months.
A tree growing in a natural and healthy environment will have tiny flowers, small pods and ripe pods all at the same time.
However the tree tends to have two main harvests a year. When these harvests happen depends on the country. In the Solomon Islands it has one peak season April - October. The low season is Nov – March.
When the pod shows hints of yellow no matter the colour it is ready for harvesting.
The pod will be cut from the branch with a small cutter this is done by hand so it does not damage any other pods on the tree, or flowers that will become pods.
The trees are pruned to stay at a reasonable height so it can be harvested by hand. On uncared for farms, the tree grows tall and often the fruit at the top cannot be harvested.
A quality producing tree will bear 60 – 80 pods a year. A low bearing tree, which are common in the Solomons, due to lack of care and knowledge will bear 20-30 pods a year.
The tree does not drop its fruit. This is because it does not want additional cacao trees growing close to it, so relies on rats and birds to nibble through the husk of the pod, eat the seeds with the fruit and drop them further away.
The fruit will ripen on a tree over approximately a 4 week period. The farmer walks through his farm simply looking for ripe fruit and cutting them close to the branch.
A farmer with more experience and a larger farm, will select a section, and midly prune the trees in that section. This will stress the tree into ripening and so the farmer can focus on harvesting one section at a time.
However most farms have between 200-500 trees so its is possible for them to walk through looking for ripe pods.
Cracking open the pods
Ideally pods, once snipped from the tree are left in the heat of the sun for up to 4 days before they are cracked open. This begins the fermentation process and gives a higher quality in flavour.
Every country follows a different process in how long the pods are left before being cracked open. This is dependent on how they were trained, and what they have self discovered.
The pods are cracked open, by being banged against each other (not with a knife in case one of the seeds is damaged) the fruit is then scooped out (leaving the central cord behind, but all the fruit surrounding the seeds is scooped out with the seeds).
If the farmer is to ferment the seeds himself the fruits and seeds are placed;
In some countries/villages into woven baskets such as Samoa.
In other countries straight away into wooden boxes, in the Solomons and Peru.
Some farmers sell the beans in the white pulp at this stage to what’s called an aggregator. This is called selling the WET BEANS. If the farmer sells the wet beans instead of fermenting them, they will place the seeds and fruit into sacks. In the Solomons Diana provides them with sacks every time she visits.
NOTE: French king drawing
Ripe pods cracked open
Fruit and seeds being scooped out into sacks for sale
Wet beans in sack
Weighing beans for sale
Beans in basket for fermentation on the farm
The way this is done depends on the village and country. However in essence the seeds are left in the fruit from the pod, wrapped tightly and left for 5 – 7 days.
The heat the beans reach within the first 24 hours is essential, and should be above 50 degrees.
The beans are turned daily after the first 24 hours. Refinement in this process brings out different results.
With Cathliro we have developed the following: The beans and fruit are placed into one tonne boxes, upon arriving into Honiara (about 90 minute drive from the farms.
The boxes are lined with bananas leaves from the villages and the top of the box covered with banana leaves and then heavy blankets to keep the heat in.
After 36 hours the beans are turned for the first time. This has proven to give better results.
The beans are then turned every 24 hours by rotating into an empty box next to it. It is very hot work, in 32 degrees turning beans over 50 degrees.
On day 6 the beans are tested (100 beans taken as samples to test if they are all fully brown in side), based on the samples the beans will be removed or allowed to ferment for another 24 hours.
On the farms in Samoa beans are basket fermented for 5 days. On the farms in the Solomons and Peru they are fermented in wooden boxes like Cathliro do.
Beans after 7 days of fermenting
Beans freshly laid out from being fermented, now to be sun dried
Again this process varies by country and village. In Samoa the beans are first washed and then spread out in the sun. This makes the sun dried bean look super clean. Samoa cacao beans are known for this.
In Peru they do not wash but spread out in a thick blanket for the first 24 hours so the beans can slowly cool down and adjust to the temperature.
We have applied this process at Cathliro.
The beans are laid out on sun drying wracks in solar houses so they do not have to be taken in at night when it often rains. This is another reason why farmers are happy to sell their wet beans as they do not have to have solar drying houses.
The beans are turned hourly on the first day and every second hour on the second day and then 3-4 times on the third and 4th day. Each day they are spread out more thinly so they absorb more and more direct heat.
By day 7 the beans should be fully dry. This is again tested. The beans should only have 7% moisture content. This is why the beans last in the tropics as most of the water has been removed in the drying.
Solar drying house - beans laid out to dry
It is important that when first laid out the beans are laid out in a thick layer as the difference in heat will effect the them. The beans are super sensitive and so every step is essential in the care, flavour and health properties of Cacao.
The beans, once dried are stored in large sacks for grading. However as the beans are turned, they are meant to be graded, so very little grading is left at the end.
With Cathliro, the beans are poured out onto a wire mesh and checked for mould, being flat, or clumped together.
The beans that do not past the quality test are either sent to the bulk market storage for sale
Or if they are good enough quality, but too small, go to value adding and turned into nibs.
Upon final completion, the beans are stored in ute sacks, ready for sale.
Because of the low moisture content, they can be stored in the tropics for a long period of time. Diana has beans she checked from one farmer, stored for a year and they were fine (custom order).
Variety of Cacao
There are four main varieties knowm within the chocolate industry, but of course, being the highly intelligent tree, The Cacao Tree has thousands of varieties..
The three main varieties are:
Criollo – the rarest, finest and lightest in flavour. They are fragile to disease, and have a pure white bean inside the pod.
Forastario – a more robust version. They have a dark purple bean that tastes more bitter. They are strong against disease.
Trinitario, a hybrid of the above two, developed in Trinadad to combine the flavours and the robustness. They are a soft purple, and the perfect blend of bitter and flavour..
Amelonado is a fourth type, and is meant to be an offspring of Forastario. It is predominantly planted in the Pacific, again a very dark purple bean, bitter to the taste and robust. This bean is predominately used in the bulk chocolate industry.
Amelonando – Image taken in
the Solomon Islands.
I am often asked as to what variety grows in different countries. I am going to put myself out on an edge here and share that it is impossible to guarantee a variety of cacao, despite some brands declaring to be pure criollo for example. I will explain this further through a story:
Before visiting my friends Cacao Plantation in Samoa a number of years ago, I had done significant research into the different varieties of Cacao, the colour of the pods and the shapes as I had read that all four varieties had been brought to Samoa in the late 1800s. This was unusual for the pacific and was exciting to read.
And so I spent days finding different shaped pods on my friend's farm, it appeared she had all four varieties, but when I spoke to a local expert who had worked with Cacao for many years, he gently laughed and said, "the shape of the pod tells you nothing as to the variety. The only way to know is to cut open the pod and check the colour of the seeds inside before they are fermented."
And so again I spent hours, picking what would look like a Criollo pod only to find very dark purple beans inside. And then picking what looked like Trinitario to find white beans inside.
I even found pods where there was a blend of all three colours. And this marked another turning point in my journey of respecting the cacao tree and her intelligence. She, the tree, basically decides what variety to have within the pod itself. She will even blend the varieties…
On other cacao farms around the world, where the variety is stated as Criollo or Trinitario, I have found dark purple beans inside, I have found light purple beans and even white beans inside pods on farms that have only ever planted the variety well known in the Pacifica as Solomon Koko or Amelonado.
And another story: When we first visited Grace in the Solomon Islands, on her Cacao farm, and checked her beans, they were dark purple, except on the tree that she shared was her favourite. Every farmer has a favourite tree. This tree was completely out of the box and would fruit when no other tree would fruit and the pods would be ripe even when not the correct colour. Grace loved this tree for it kept her on her toes. Inside the pod were pale white seeds. I shared with Grace how the trees respond to her and her intentions. If she would like less bitter and more fine cacao, then just communicate with her farm of Cacao, through her favourite tree what she would like. Grace loved this as all Cacao farmers know that their trees are alive and respond directly to their communication, the farmer just doesn't always trust it.
When I returned 6 months later, Grace and I randomly checked the seeds inside the pods. We found so many pods with pale purple seeds. Some pods were even a perfect blend from dark purple to white.
Grace is a true inspiration of listening and following her intuition as to what is best for her trees and how best to ferment the seeds.
Health Benefits of Cacao
The Cacao Bean is truly astounding in all the powerful benefits it brings to the Mind, Body and Spirit!
Cacao is most well known for its Antioxidants.
The most note worthy antioxidants are Polyphenols, found in red wine and green tea. The Cacao bean is one of the highest sources of Polyohenols. In the Solomon beans that are imported by The Cacao Ambassador, there is 33mg per gram of Polyphenols. This is what gives the bitter taste but also the powerful antioxidant boost.
The second most recognised health ingredient in the cacao bean is Theobromine. Cacao contains the highest source of this, supporting energy and upliftment.
Even tests done on commercial chocolate has shown to have high levels of Theombromine. Theobromine is a stimulant like caffeine but far milder and works differently. It relaxes muscles and gives you energy as a slow burn, not a high followed by a crash like caffeine. Studies also show that Theorbromine reduces blood pressure.
Cacao also contains essential minerals including magnesium, calcium, zinc, phosphorus and iron.
Cacao contains Tryptophan and Tryptamine. Tryptophan creates a sense of Joy, and Tryptamine creates a sense of awakening and wakefulness, or Mindfulness. Both are precursors to the creation of serotonin.
PEA, which interacts with our dopamine pathways which is associated with feelings of pleasure and reward, and also what is known as the love molecule is contained in the Cacao Bean.
A further support to this is Anandamide, named after the Sanskrit word for bliss. The brain has receptors to receive the molecule anandamide and when it receives it, it clicks and gives a hit of pleasure. Chocolate and marijuana are the only two known providers of this chemical. Cacao has very low doses compared to marijuana, however Cacaao has two other chemicals in high quantities that prolong the effect of the anamide so the experience is more mellow and lasts for longer. A healthy effect of upliftment and bliss…
So together Tryptophan, Tryptamine, PEA and Anandamide work to elevate our mood, our focus, our sense of pleasure and reward, our positivity and mental wellness. Cacao unlike other enhancers does not contain high doses of any one of these but is rare in containing such a variety together, that creates a powerful synergistic effect of Joy!
In summary the health properties of the Cacao bean can be listed as supporting Mental Wellness, boosting immunity, reducing inflammation, supporting cardiovascular health, reducing fatigue, supporting skin and bone health, reducing blood pressure, supporting insulin resistance, and supporting with nutritional health..
Spiritually Cacao was used for thousands of years to connect humans to higher levels of consciousness. It was not used for example like mushrooms for a hallucinogenic effect for it is far more gentle and rather creates a state of positivity to support the navigation of day to day life being neuroactive but not strongly psychoactive.
It gently and softly opens the heart and the third eye to see more. Today this can be likened to mindfulness practices, taking us into presence through an open heart. It is not addictive and was considered the Food of the Gods, for its gentle and powerful support for a spiritual life as a daily food.
It is a myth that Cacao is bad for you, because of how it journeyed to being a sugar treat rather then the true state of its original consumption which was without sugar..
Shade Grown Sustainable Cacao
Less then 1% of Cacao globally is organic – the easy solution is market driven – if you demand it they will grow it…
Cacao grows best in the shade. It like to have taller trees around it, and in this way produces softer less acidic beans. When forced to go in direct sunlight, it is stressed and produces more acidic seeds. Often when people taste the Solomon beans we bring, they are surprised at how edible they truly are. All of the Solomon Cacao beans we import are naturally shade grown.
And so the growing of Cacao should not create deforestation and again it is in the consumers hands as to your knowledge and what you ask for.
Organic Cacao or fair-trade does not necessarily mean shade grown either.
The Cacao bean is an extremely healing and powerful seed.
Anything made of the cacao bean will have the health properties in it to different degrees depending on the processing.
The closer to the bean and the less processing involved, the more benefits will be available in the cacao product being enjoyed.
These benefits can be in chocolate if it is made from the whole bean and has had little processing involved in the crafting of the chocolate.
Cacao at Home
Whole peeled bean
These beans have been gently roasted and then hand peeled. They are wonderful to eat.
The Sundried Bean
At this stage, the seed of the Cacao fruit has been fermented in its own fruit and then sun-dried. If they have been tested for no heavy metals, then the beans can be simply eaten at this stage.
The Cacao Husk
The cacao husk is the skin that is removed from the bean. It is either done at an industrial level with rollers and a winnowing fan, by hand at a village level or at home in your kitchen.
The Cacao Nib
The sundried bean has been roasted, the bean broken and the husk blown away. The remaining pieces are the cacao nibs. This can be done gently by hand at home to optimise the health benefits.
Whole fat Cacao Powder
The nib has been lightly blended in a mill or spice grinder to become a powder. All the fat still remains in the powder so all of the health benefits are still intact.
Cacao Paste is 100% ceremonial paste.
This is the nibs ground into a paste with nothing added. Just the pure bean with the husk removed broken into nibs and ground into a paste. The Cacao Ambassadors Paste. As The cacao bean has told us to ensure cacao is also decadent when making the paste we add extra cacao butter so the experience is softer and smoother. So the entire bean is used and additional butter for more mmmmm sensual soft gorgeousness, whilst at the same time still maintaining all the health benefits.
Traditional Cacao Powder
The nibs have been ground into a paste. High pressure is then applied so all the fat is squeezed out
Cacao butter is the fat that is in the Cacao bean. Almost 50% of the bean is the fat. When Cacao powder is made as above, under the pressure all the fat is squeezed out. This is Cacao butter.
Note. In theory there is no such thing as raw cacao.
In the fermentation stage the beans go often above 58 degrees for over 4 days.
Also when extracting Cacao butter, the cacao paste has to be heated to at least 80 degrees in order for the butter to extract. There is no cold press available in cacao. The paste must be warm liquid and then heated further for the equipment to work.
However health properties are still optimal due to the low heat treatment and gentle care.
What is the difference between cacao and cocoa powder.
In essence there is no difference. The powder is the powder that comes from the bean. In the world of cacao and chocolate there are no rules or laws.
Even Hershey in the US are calling their powder Cacao powder.
However, over the years when the word Cacao or raw cacao is used it generally means that the powder has been low heat treated to the minimum level required to extract the cacao butter and leave the powder.
Unfortunately like most industries once something becomes popular the authenticity is lost, commercialism comes in and short cuts are taken.
The most powerful way is for you the consumer to buy from the most authentic source possible and even better make the products at home from the bean. It is possible. Even to make your own cacao butter.
The different kinds of Chocolate:
THE NEWEST CHOCOLATE AVAILABLE:
The mission of the Cacao Ambassador is to inspire and show the way for the newest kind of chocolate possible today, which is Homemade’, that is chocolate made by you from the Cacao Bean at home.
This is our deepest most inspired wish, for this will be the best chocolate possible, connecting you directly to the farmer, and bringing the incredible, wonderful, beautiful experience of making chocolate into your life. It will also be the healthiest chocolate possible where you can also decide on what % to make. This also creates a whole new market for the Cacao farmers, especially the farmers of the Pacific, our neighbours when more and more NZ’s learn how to use the Amazing Cacao Bean at home. We call it a daily food, for a Joyful life!
To learn more join us at one of our workshops around NZ or online:
We are often asked what is Cacao Ceremony Paste. Oonagh asked the Cacao trees and this is what they have shared:
As background and as we shared in the history of chocolate, Cacao was used for thousands of years as a sacred drink and was often prepared by elders in the village, through the medicine lineage and through the Shamanic lineage. If you visit central and south America you can attend very powerful sacred ceremonies held by Shaman in which Cacao is a key ingredient.
Cacao Ceremonies have now become a popular occurrence in the west. Originally they were conducted with Cacao initiated by a Shaman. However now the source of the paste and even often it not even being paste but powder is often foggy.
So Oonagh communed with Mama Cacao and this is what she shared:
Cacao Ceremony Cacao, should be made from the whole cacao bean and start as 100% without any sweetener. It is fine to add a natural unrefined sweetener to taste.
The source of the Cacao should be clear. its country of origin is not important but the below is.
The drink is to be made with water and to be drunk warm. The warmth is a fundamental aspect of the ceremonial drink being as potent as possible.
Cacao has shared that its not just the actual ingredients but also the intention that is important. When drinking Ceremonial Cacao, how it is prepared and by whom and their intention is important. The temperature it is served at, the purity of the Cacao, the lives of the farmers who have grown it, the minimal influence of commercialism and ego in the supply chain are all fundamental aspects of it being called ceremonial cacao and of the potency of the drink.
When consumed consciously and with intention by the enjoyer the powers of Cacao are amplified even more.
Ceremonial Cacao is about Awakening, support of the heart, connection to our inner essence, giving you courage to take steps in life, connection to positivity, to joy and to support other practices now popular in modern day that helps one connect to their heart such as yoga.
More then anything Mama Cacao would love for everyone to create their own ceremonial cacao, and not feel it has to be prepared for them. She shares that today it should be a natural part of our lives, taking the time and space to prepare it at home, drinking it with presence and inviting the support of her into our lives.
It can be prepared at home from the bean or 100% paste purchased. Just know the source and the lives of all involved to ensure all who have touched it are of good heart.
Ceremonial Cacao is rich in all the powerful health properties of Cacao, and prepared with water and served warm, the powerful mind body and spiritual aspects are opened even further.
Commercial chocolate is the Cacao bean roasted, crushed, the shell blown off, and then ground into a paste known as Cocoa Liquor in the chocolate industry.
Then separated into Cacao powder and butter. This is then remixed into the recipe of the chocolate company. This recipe will determine how much cacao powder and butter is put in. This is then ground until super smooth with sugar.
Every 70% chocolate will have a different amount of cacao powder to butter for example, but the remaining 30% will always be sugar.
The mix of the amount of Cacao powder and Cacao butter is called cacao mass or cacao solids on the packaging.
Usually soy lecithin is added to replace the need for some of the cacao butter, as it makes the chocolate more fluid.
A new kind of chocolate is called Bean to Bar. This is where the whole bean is used in the chocolate and not separated into Cacao butter and Cacao powder.
Some chocolate makers are what are called Melters as in they buy in chocolate and remelt to form bars, chocolates and chocolate treats.
Some chocolate makers, buy 100% Cacao paste and further grind adding sugar to make the chocolate smooth to their own recipe. I call this whole bean chocolate, but not bean to bar as the chocolate maker does not buy cacao beans but whole bean cacao paste.
Bean to Bar chocolate makers buy Cacao beans and make the chocolate onsite from the cacao bean. They roast, crack and winnow the beans into nibs and from there grind the nibs into cacao paste and further into chocolate. Sometimes the bean and sugar are the only two ingredients in their chocolate, and sometimes they add more cacao butter, depending on the style of chocolate they are inspired to create.
The Cacao Ambassador's Cacao Chocolate is none of the above as it is made from the cacao nibs bought from Cathliro in the Solomon Islands. The reason for this is to provide more income on the ground in the growing communities. The Cacao Ambassador works directly with Cathliro to create a sustainable trade between Cathliro farmers, and you the consumer, from the cacao bean to value added products such as cacao nibs. This ensures as much income as possible remains in the Solomon Islands and a true price is paid for the Cacao beans. What is also imperative in Cacao Chocolate is that every step and every point of profit made is clear and transparent and that farmers are truly part of that profit and are cared for in the creation of the chocolate. The beans are gently roasted, hand cracked and winnowed and then shipped to The Cacao Ambassador here in NZ. Sometimes we use machine made nibs from Ecuador as well to enhance the chocolate flavour. These are sourced by Pure Cocoa in Ecuador.