From Bean-To-Bar & Beyond: 4. What’s New in Chocolate: Experiments in Cocoa Bean Fermentation

What's new in chocolate: experiments in cocoa bean fermentation blog post

What’s groundbreaking in chocolate right now? What’s the next big thing going to be? This post about cocoa bean fermentation is the first of several this week about what’s new in chocolate. They discuss what are no doubt only a handful of fascinating global chocolate innovations from the last few years.

Some of the chocolates are rare, and/or won’t be to everyone’s taste. But if you’re an adventurous chocolate connoisseur and you can find them, you might well want to give some of them a go!

NB: Chocolate Month has officially ended on Santé Bon Viveur. But there’ll continue to be chocolatey posts over the next week or two as I complete some projects I’ve already started. I’ll then turn to posting about some completely different things. But ‘From Bean-to-Bar & Beyond’ will continue as an occasional/regular series on chocolatey matters


Getting out and about to discover what’s new in chocolate

In September last year I had a fantastic time attending foodie mecca Abergavenny Food Festival. That included attending the Chocolate Curiosities masterclass run by chocolatier Demarquette Fine Chocolates.

While in Abergavenny, I also discovered the fabulous UK bean-to-bar chocolate maker Mayhawk, after stumbling across their festival stall. I was delighted that Mayhawk then invited me to visit their factory last month. There I spent much time talking about all things chocolate with company owner Conner.

This is the first post in a mini series this week on what’s new and unusual in chocolate right now. It’s a round-up of what I heard from Demarquette and Mayhawk, augmented with a little of my own research. I’ve made clear where the views stated are those of the companies rather than my own.


Creating new chocolate flavours through different cocoa bean fermentation

Raw pulpy cocoa beans in a freshly picked cocoa pod. CacaoTrails Chocolate Museum, Limón Province, Costa Rica.
The white pulpy mucilage surrounding the cocoa beans in this freshly picked cocoa pod is what will stimulate fermentation and flavour development. I took this picture at the CacaoTrails Chocolate Museum, Limón Province, Costa Rica when I visited in 2011.

So we kick off in considering what’s new in chocolate by looking at innovations in fermentation of cocoa beans.

After harvesting cocoa pods, all the raw cocoa beans they contain are fermented before being made into chocolate. Fermentation is triggered by the white, sugary ‘mucilage’ pulp which naturally surrounds the beans in healthy cocoa pods. You can read more about this process, and what happens to the beans next, in my article about how chocolate’s made.

Fermentation creates flavour precursors in the cocoa beans, so they start developing their unique flavour profiles. The flavour profiles that fermentation draws out will depend on many variables such as type of cocoa bean, the country and region of cultivation, and climate etc.

Double fermentation

The French company Valrhona – established 1922 – is arguably the grandaddy of bean-to-bar chocolate making.  They’re regarded as innovators, at the pinnacle of excellence. They lay claim, for instance, to developing the world’s first bitter chocolate – Guanaja 70% – some 30 years ago.

Demarquette told us that Valrhona have now invented a new double fermentation process to influence the flavours that develop in cocoa beans.

Apparently taking ten years of research to perfect, Valrhona claim this process ‘has paved the way for a new generation of aromatic profiles’ in the flavour of chocolate. This second fermentation is stimulated by adding fruit pulp in with the cocoa beans after their first fermentation has ended.

Valrhona’s Itakuja 55% couverture, made from Brazilian cocoa beans, is double-fermented with locally-grown passion fruit. And their Kidavoa 50%, made with Madagascan beans, is double-fermented with pulp from locally-grown bananas. Valrhona say that both combine rich chocolate flavours enhanced by notes of tropical fruits redolent of their regions of origin.

There’s more to read about all this on Valrhona’s website if you’re interested.

Valrhona’s Itakuja 55% & Kidavoa 50% couvertures, both made with cocoa beans that have been double-fermented. Photo credit: Valrhona

Valrhona sell both of these double-fermented chocolates – not as bars, as they do with some of their chocolates – but as couvertures. That is, as chocolate liquor to which they’ve added sugar, which is used by chocolatiers and chefs to make chocolates, bars and patisseries.

What I haven’t been able to find out, from internet searching so far, is in which named finished chocolate products you can taste these chocolates. I’m in the process of asking Valrhona, and will update this post when they answer. Personally, I’m dying to try them!

Fermentation crates for cocoa beans at the Chocolate Museum, Limón Province, Costa Rica, that I visited in 2011
Cocoa Beans in their fermentation boxes at the Chocolate Museum, Limón Province, Costa Rica, that I visited in 2011

Q-Fermentation: harnessing the best fermentation bacteria for the best flavours

Meanwhile, Demarquette told us that another prestigious chocolate company had been experimenting with fermentation in a different way.

Cacao Barry, established 1842, have been working on separating out the good fermentation bacteria from the bad. They’ve sought to harness the best bacteria to get the best from the bean. That is, they’ve homed in on those ‘good’ bacteria which they’ve determined give cocoa the best and most pure and intense cocoa taste.

Cacao Barry have been developing all this since 2013 at their plantations in the Ivory Coast. Here, they discovered specific bacteria naturally present in local soil and plant leaves that have beneficial flavour impacts on cocoa fermentation. They’ve named their new fermentation process Q-Fermentation.

Again, the chocolate made using Q-Fermentation is sold by Cacao Barry as couverture. One example of four in the range is Ocoa containing an impressively precise 70.4% cocoa. And again, it’s not clear where you can buy finished chocolates or bars using this. (It seems the other lower cocoa couvertures in the range are recommended only for patisserie work). But I’ll ask Cacao Barry and report back.

Cacao Barry's 70.4% Ocoa couverture chocolate
Cacao Barry’s 70.4% Ocoa couverture. Photo credit: Cacao Barry

Cocoa Runners

While my enquiries with the companies are pending, if you’re in the UK and you want to try excellent quality/cutting edge/rare chocolate bars from a range of companies and countries, then Cocoa Runners are a good place to start.

As you can see from the pictures below, The Daily Telegraph newspaper have described them as ‘chocolate’s equivalent of the Wine Society’. In a similar way then, it’s run as a club for which you take out a subscription, and then you’re sent different chocolate bars each month.

Cocoa Runners’ stall at Abergavenny Food Festival 2017

I do hope you found this post interesting, whether or not you get to taste these new types of chocolates. The next post in the series will be about ‘raw’ and ‘virgin’ chocolate bars, which are much more readily available to purchase outside the trade.

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