Why do we ferment cocoa beans? When you are preparing to bake, do you ever stop to consider how the cocoa you are using got into your pantry? The process of producing cocoa is a multi-step process of careful harvesting, fermenting, drying, and roasting. The higher the quality of cocoa, the purer it is for cooking, baking and making chocolate.
At Anarchy Farm we ferment our own cocoa beans so we control the quality of our products from start to finish.
What is Cocoa?
Cocoa is heated cacao beans that experience higher heat during the processing portion of their extraction. The cocoa retains a large number of antioxidants despite the heating process, which is an excellent source of healthy nutrients for your body. The cocoa processes with alkalised solutions, which work to remove a lot of the bitter taste you find in extremely dark chocolate.
Why are Cocoa Beans Fermented?
Depending on the type of cocoa beans and where they originate, you will find different ways to ferment them. The process of fermentation helps to produce a deeper, richer chocolate flavour. “What does fermenting cocoa beans mean?” is a common question to ask. It means the cacao beans have been removed from their pods and placed in wooden boxes covered in banana leaves and turned every couple of days. It is the process of converting organic acids using microorganisms, yeasts or bacteria under anaerobic conditions.
Cocoa bean extraction occurs up to four days after the cacao pod harvest. They can spoil if you wait too long. The cocoa pulp is extracted from the pods first by hitting the pods with a wooden mallet to split them open. Once they are open, the beans and pulp can be extracted by hand to go on to the fermentation process.
How Do You Ferment Cocoa Beans?
There are multiple ways to ferment cocoa beans. Cocoa fermentation techniques include placing the extracted pulp on mats or in buckets to dry. Sometimes banana leaves or reeds lay on top of them to help protect them. By leaving them to ferment, the alcohol in the beans changes to acetic or lactic acid.
As the acid seeps out of holes cut in the bucket or through the mats, the level of flavour increases. With rotation or mixing of the beans for several days, the flavour increases with a maximum allowance of a little over a week for completely amazing flavour notes. Fermentation causes the microorganisms and yeasts in the pulp to become active.
“What is the Importance of cocoa fermentation?” is an important question to ask. The importance of cocoa fermentation helps to bring out the full flavour of the cacao beans for use in cooking and baking. It also helps to kill germs that existed in the pod before the process.
Fermenting cocoa beans in boxes allows for easier control of the beans and regular rotation during the fermenting process. The boxes with holes in the bottom make it easy to let the acids drip out as the boxes have little legs to hold them off the ground. Moving the pulp from open box to another helps to consistently rotate the beans and prevent them from sitting in an acid that lingers in the boxes as the pulp breaks down.
Sun Dried Cocoa Beans
Once the specified number of days has elapsed, anywhere from four to ten days, the beans must dry in the sun. The beans can dry on a board raised at least a couple of inches off the ground with airflow beneath. Thin boards work best to allow airflow and drying on all sides of the beans.
The beans can take anywhere from five to ten days too dry, and, with proper rotation, the beans will produce cocoa in varying degrees of quality. In areas where there is a lot of moisture, the cocoa beans do not dry well and produce low-quality cocoa. Processors of cocoa in these areas will put their beans on a cement slab set high above the ground, alight a fire underneath the concrete.
The fire helps to dry the beans more quickly in areas where there is more moisture. It is a careful balancing act of tending the fire for several days to ensure the beans do not get too hot or too smoky. The beans will also require frequent rotation to prevent them from burning.
In areas where there is a lot of rain, building a shelter over the cement slab, buckets, or mats to prevent the beans from getting wet is common. If the beans get rained on, they will start to mold. Covering the beans regardless of climate is a wise idea.
The dry beans do not all come out equal. Once they are completely dry, the beans require sorting by size. Any beans that are flat, mouldy, broken open, or germinated are not kept. Until the sale, the beans remain in a safe area in bags that will keep the beans dry and clean.
Is Yeast Used to Ferment Cocoa Beans?
Cocoa beans are not fermented with yeast. Cocoa beans are typically fermented using a process that involves the exposure of the beans to heat and moisture. Although adding yeast is not required, the fermentation of cocoa can is initiated by certain bacteria in the air. Lactobacillus, for example, produces lactic acid and other metabolites that help cocoa beans break down sugars.
How to Ferment Cocoa Beans Without Banana Leaves?
For small batch craft chocolate makers it is possible to ferment cocoa beans at home without banana leaves, but temperature and humidity control can be more difficult.
To ferment cocoa beans without banana leaves, you will need to find an enclosed space with a temperature between 70-85°F – 21-28°C and a humidity level of 80-90%.
Hold cocoa beans in a container while they ferment, and cover them with a cloth to regulate the temperature and humidity. Be sure to check the temperature and humidity levels periodically, and stir the beans twice a day to make sure they ferment evenly.
Depending on the size of the beans and the environmental conditions, fermentation should take 2-5 days.
What is Fermented Cocoa Made Into?
Drying and fermenting cocoa beans helps develop the flavour in different types of beans. Some of the best chocolate comes from beans where the beans receive the best treatment and processing. The chocolate gets a rating for quality because of where the beans originated, the type of bean it is, and what process helped to ferment and dry them.
Cocoa powder, which is a common way to enjoy chocolaty desserts, is part of the cocoa fermentation process. While the cacao pods ferment the cocoa butter, the fat gets removed and dries. Once dried, the beans get ground into a fine powder enjoyed by bakers everywhere.
Other types of chocolate products require a combination of ingredients for manufacturing. Commercial chocolate bars contain the expected milk powder and sugar, but also cocoa butter and cocoa powder or a sold cocoa.
The ratios change for the recipe with high-quality cocoa powder used in some recipes. The higher the quality of cocoa, the more cocoa butter it contains verses lower-quality brands and beans. If the chocolate does not contain cocoa powder, it is “white-chocolate,” which is pure cocoa butter, sugar plus something to hold them together like butter or palm oil.
At Anarchy Farm our fermented beans make our top four organic products; 85% Dark Chocolate bars, 33% Milk Chocolate bars, Cocoa Nibs and Husk Tea and are available here. We also make cocoa mass, delicious brownies, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate ice cream, bread and other desserts for our own consumption and to sell direct from the Thinglish Kitchen.
Cocoa or Cacao?
The best kinds of cocoa come from properly fermented cocoa beans. These beans can come from different regions and go through similar processing, but cocoa is the powder produced from drying the extracted pulp. Cacao is the seed of the bean. Cacao and cocoa are almost the same things except cocoa is the final product of roasted beans.
Cacao is the chocolate bean that has not seen processing or roasting. It is the pure dried bean found in the health food section of the grocery store. Raw cacao gets included in a lot of vegan foods or foods that have seen little processing.
When looking to cook certain recipes, make sure you know if the recipe is calling for cocoa or cacao as the main chocolaty ingredient. Many recipes will also use a mixture of both to add a unique twist of flavours. Cacao nibs and fermented cacao are in multiple types of recipes and sweets.
The process of fermenting cocoa beans can have many tasty results. It is also a very time-consuming and balanced process where even the best beans can fail. A rainstorm or roasting at too high a temperature can ruin or reduce the quality of the beans produced. The best-fermented beans get to be in the best chocolate products. For more information, please subscribe and follow our bean to bar journey at Anarchy Farm.
To experience ‘the taste of freedom‘, visit our online store here for exclusive Anarchy Chocolate products fresh from the farm, made from the tree to bar with love in Trat, Thailand.
How Do You Ferment Cocoa Beans?