Ben Ripple


user image 2009-12-29
By: Ben Ripple
Posted in:
Processing cacao beans with raw integrity was the single most difficult project we have undertaken at Big Tree Farms to date. It was a complete reinvention of the wheel because simply put, there were (and are) no technologies available which can process cacao beans under commonly accepted Raw temperature standards. There was nothing to go on, no point from which to start, so it was trial and error over a period of four years and the building (and scrapping) of many locally-engineered appropriate technologies along the way. It was a very long and very costly process with only one real market niche at the end of the tunnel; the raw foods/body-care community. And while it may seem like a crazy notion to spend such time and energy on a relatively miniscule market segment, we did so because it represents a tremendous opportunity for value-addition by small-farmers in a market where their scale would not necessarily make them unable to compete on price. Conventional processors of cacao butter and powder and their associated economies of scale make it impossible for small-scale social operations to compete. But the flip-side (we are learning) is also true; the production of TRULY COLD-PROCESSED cacao butter and powder is an industry so small and so new that no industrial technologies (even antiquated ones) can operate within the required temperature limits. And this is the key point; namely that most (and possibly all) of the cacao products (Butter and Powder and likely many other cacao products) being sold as raw in the US market at present are actually being processed with high heat, because everyone importing is purchasing from industrial processors using industrial cacao processing equipment (most coming from a handful of major processors in either Equador or Peru). Actual cold-processing of cacao butter and powder is not state-of-the-art and cannot in most cases be obtained from industrial equipment. It is a tremendously inefficient process from start to finish and leads to high final prices that are not competitive (or even similarly priced) with organic commodities. Strange then how it seems that with every passing month, bulk raw cacao butter and powder prices tend to fall ever closer to organic commodity levelsI just heard from a manufacturer in NY that purchased a pallet of Raw Butter at $3.75/lb.assuming the importer (who will remain nameless) was taking a 25-30% margin on a pallet sale, that puts there origin purchase somewhere around $1.80-$2.00.And this is an obvious fraud.Quickly before I get into actual product specifics, I want to just bullet point some of the claims that are made with raw cacao products on the market right now. I will then hit on most of these points either directly or indirectly in discussions of the ingredients below; Raw cacao beans must be hand-peeled Truly raw cacao beans should never be fermented because fermenting piles of cacao often heat to temperatures so high that they can spontaneously combust... Using un-roasted cacao beans ensures the raw integrity of the processed butter or powder that is produced By using state-of-the-art industrial butter presses raw integrity of cacao butter and powder is ensured The finest raw cacao powder is pressed so as to retain 10-12% of its original fat contentThe above bullet points have been collected from statements made on the websites of the current top importers and resellers of raw cacao butter and powder. Keep them in mind as I discuss the various ingredients we cold-process below.Cacao Beans To ferment or not to fermentthat is the question; Fermentation The actual answer to this in regards to raw standards is that it makes no difference. Contrary to the factoid above in the bullet points which obviously was taken from a Harry Potter novel, fermenting beans must be carefully managed as temperature is one of the three variables that can make or break a quality finished bean. If fermentation temperatures reach or climb above 50C there is a high risk for hammyness which is an awful flavor profile you could liken to barnyard manure in your mouth which occurs when fermenting beans come out of balance. In my experience (and remember that our experience here is substantial as we own and operate the only cacao fermentery in Bali with an annual capacity of 500 ton) I have only seen a fermentation pile rise about 50C. With good management you can attain full fermentation of cacao beans without temperatures ever rising above 115F (46C). Now, this is not to say that Polyphenol activity is not reduced somewhat through fermentation, but then, polyphenol activity is not part of a commonly accepted raw standard. What fermentation DOES do is to vastly alter the flavor of the seed from being extremely acidic/tannic to developing softer flavors of fruit and the precursors for chocolate flavor.Nibs Nibs are shattered kernels of cacao. Nibs can either be produced by running through a winnower (a machine that shatters the dry kernel and blows away the papery skin) or by hand-peeling. In our experience, one laborer can hand-peel about 4lbs of cacao beans/day A winnower can produce hundreds of pounds/hour if the product is roasted. And if the product is raw and simply sun-dried the machinery (depending on its size)can operate inefficiently to produce approximately 50 pounds/hour of shattered beans which must be hand-sorted to remove bits of skin that havent removed from the kernel.But regardless of the inefficiency, hand-peeling would at least quadruple the cost of the raw goods at the first stage of processing.Cacao Paste Accepted practice is to grind the nib into a paste using heat which liquefies the oils and allows the paste (or liquor) to run freely and easily refine. At Big Tree Farms we are only able to produce a rough ground cacao paste which is only used for butter pressing. Commercial pastes which are super smooth (and taste like chocolate) are created by stone milling or ball mill refining (both of which typically increase temperatures to at least 60C). Colleagues in the Cacao industry say that it is possible to produce a lower (raw) temp paste with a stone mill but this would likely not ring with the flavors of chocolateremember that the chocolate flavor profile most people know and love comes from chemical processes which occur during roastingWithout this process cacao tends to taste somewhat acidic and grassy/herby with high notes that do not exist in roasted chocolate.Cacao Butter The golden oil of the Food of the Gods! Our virgin butter is processed using a proprietary pressing system we have developed over the past 4 years. We do not have a cacao factory contract produce our butter (and powder) as do ALL other players in the raw market at present... We do it ourselves in two locations close to our cacao farms using the scale-appropriate equipment we have built ourselves with the help and input of MANY cacao industry professionals. Simply put, commercially available hydraulic presses operate at temperatures of +/- 200F. As one industry professional in the US stated:Typically for us if the press and the liquor preheater were not at or above 200F we considered it to be malfunctioning and corrective actions were taken. These sentiments are corroborated across the industry. We have searched long and hard for available machinery that could operate at lower temps and with the single exception of a german expeller press which could not extract a viable % of the total butterfat, no technologies were available.Cacao Powder - Once Cacao beans have been ground into a paste and pressed to release the butter were left with cake. Cake is then broken up, pulverized and sieved to create cacao powderIn general it is exactly the same process in either cold-processed or conventional processed systemsexcept for one key point; fat content of the final powder. This is one of the great indicators of a suspect raw cacao supply chain. To explain, cacao powder is available in two commercially traded grades: 10/12% and 22%. These numbers connote the remaining fat present in the powder after processing. 10/12% is obviously far lower than 22% and this is the red flag; In four years of processing and research (including working with German and Swiss engineering companies to test small batch commercial expeller presses) we have never experienced the ability to extract enough virgin cacao butter so as to end up with a 10/12% powder. Ever. And yet the powders being sold by the top raw brands are expousing the virtues of their raw 10/12% cacao powder from state-of-the-art processors. Sad but true, these 10/12% powders are ALL frauds. Another cacao processor in the US states that should the temperature of the press not be maintained at or above 200F, the fats would begin to exceed 12% in the end powder. In other words, 10/12% powders are not possible in raw processing. Period. NOTE - JUST BECAUSE A CACAO POWDER IS HIGH FAT (for example 22% fat) DOES NOT MEAN IT IS RAW OR COLD-PROCESSED...THIS HAS ALSO BEEN USED TO CONFUSE CONSUMERS.So this is the story with raw cacao.One of the most sought after and least available products on the market. It is an awful shame that many of the current market leaders of the raw community are so entrenched in a fight for market share that they allow product integrity to place a distant second to revenue. The raw foods community has been unregulated for too long and it shows with blatant fraud occurring throughout the supply from origin to consumer.


Eri Ikezi
03/25/16 07:57:36AM @eri-ikezi:

I support the honesty in the industry. But I wonder what kind of language raw chocolate makers are placing on their products for the consumers, because its a volatile product. For instance, I would recommend people who are not professionals to refrain from making something like ganache with it. There is a reason why professional chocolate makers treat beans at high heat. Maybe the product pass the microbe count at certain stage in a controlled environment. It doesn't mean bacteria won't grow rapidly in uncontrolled environmnet. 

Clay Gordon
11/12/14 10:05:41AM @clay:


The nutritional analyses you are looking for do not exist ... or if they do, they are not accessible to the public.

It's extremely important to keep in mind that any analysis can only refer to a specific lot of beans - a particular varietal grown in a particular location in a given year and then harvested at the same time and fermented and dried "the same way."

Changing any single variable will change the analysis. So there's no one-size-fits-all answer. That I can guarantee you does not exist.

Another thing to examine is the underlying assumption that any correlation between increase in temperature and effect on nutrition must be negative. Consider that steaming broccoli makes some nutrients more bio-available than they are in raw broccoli. Why do raw foodists assume that heating cocoa beans is only deleterious?

Why 125F degrees? Everything I have ever read about raw says 118F or below. There is even no basic agreement on this point. There are other methods for grinding and refining chocolate than the most common wet-mill grinders commonly sourced from India. Sweetening and refining into a smooth pasted are just two processing steps, there are many others that can generate heat (were the beans dried in the sun? if yes, then the chances are they exceeded 140F for extended periods of time).

I can go on and on and on and on on this topic but what's the point. Except these last two:

One: It doesn't matter what's in the cocoa beans, it matters what's metabolized and shows up in the bloodstream. The assumption is that more is better. Why not do the research to figure out at what point you just start excreting what you can't metabolize and use that as an upper bound? Then you can worry about how much nutrition is in any particular sample.

Two: To the best of my knowledge no-one has done any research on the placebo affect and how it relates to the health effects of chocolate. When you put chocolate in your mouth you relax and feel happy. That lowers blood pressure and has lots of other positive side-effects. How do you tease those out from the benefits related to just the nutrients? (The only way I know to do that is to deliver the selectively as a nutraceutical payload -- in pill form.) I want to feel good eating chocolate, not good about eating chocolate. Stressing about whether it's "really truly raw" (whatever that means) or are any antioxidants being destroyed in processing (yes - but maybe good ones are being created, too) or about the relative amounts of trace nutrients (got the right cation of iron from the other foods you are eating to ensure maximum bio-availability?) is counterproductive, in my mind, in the sense that it increases the stress that I am looking to avoid just by putting an amazingly wonderful piece of chocolate in my mouth and enjoying it for what it is and not worrying about whether it's the healthiest (whatever that means) it could be.

beth campbell
11/12/14 12:40:37AM @beth-campbell:

okay, having navigated thru this thread and also trying to find more info on the web I still have questions. I am looking for nutritional analysis info comparing roasted cacao paste with raw in regards to calcium and magnesium and other nutritional info, not just antioxidants. the only info I can find is the difference in the amount of antioxidants.

I appreciate the testing Steve had done on his product but wish I could compare it with a product made with roasted cacao. I think what I am finding is the only way to know what nutrients are in chocolate that an individual produces is to have it tested, because there are so many variables involved. For instance, I have yet to understand how one can sweeten raw cacao paste in order to make a smooth tempered bar without using stone grinders, which are said to heat it too much? also if it is heated to let's say 125 degrees how many nutrients are lost? Does anyone know of any research on any of this?

David Gomes de Freitas
06/22/13 10:32:08PM @david-gomes-de-freitas:

ow! I am in Brazil, and here the people just use sundried cocoa with gourmet purpose not else. So, you can this video how do we dry (walking in "barcaas")

Pé e rodo, o cheiro mais gostoso que já pisei!

that's it how do we "dry" a bean, with sunshine there s only one believe and this farm are

Ice Blocks!
04/09/13 12:21:22AM @ice-blocks:
>Cacao Powder - Once Cacao beans have been ground into a paste and pressed to release the butter were left with cake. Cake is then broken up, pulverized and sieved to create cacao powderIn general it is exactly the same process in either cold-processed or conventional processed systemsexcept for one key point; fat content of the final powder. This is one of the great indicators of a suspect raw cacao supply chain. To explain, cacao powder is available in two commercially traded grades: 10/12% and 22%. These numbers connote the remaining fat present in the powder after processing. 10/12% is obviously far lower than 22% and this is the red flag; In four years of processing and research (including working with German and Swiss engineering companies to test small batch commercial expeller presses) we have never experienced the ability to extract enough virgin cacao butter so as to end up with a 10/12% powder. Ever. And yet the powders being sold by the top raw brands are exposing the virtues of their raw 10/12% cacao powder from state-of-the-art processors. Sad but true, these 10/12% powders are ALL frauds. Another cacao processor in the US states that should the temperature of the press not be maintained at or above 200F, the fats would begin to exceed 12% in the end powder. In other words, 10/12% powders are not possible in raw processing. Period.Ben could you explain how the Big Tree Farms nutritional information panel for 100% raw cacao powder has a fat content of 2.5 g per 28 g or 8.93%? Is your hydraulic ram extraction process way better now? Is this paragraph now incorrect? NIP incorrect? I'm confused!
deedee devi
06/22/10 03:53:57AM @deedee-devi:
so here is another supplier offering RAW cacao beans/nibs ... anyONE want to offer anything they KNOW regarding this announcement? (stirring the pot :)Truly Raw Cacao (Chocolate) Pacari, episode #478
Clay Gordon
03/30/10 12:41:41PM @clay:
David:The first link (Excalibur) is interesting in the sense that it tests for the presence of an enzyme after dehydration. However, there is no way in these tests to understand a) how many different enzymes are in the food being tested before dehydration, b) the quantity of each enzyme before dehydration, and c) the quantity of each enzyme after dehydration. What these tests show is that some quantity of at least one food enzyme survives dehydration. It's probably not wrong to assume that others survive, but it should be noted that this is a qualitative test and not a quantitative one and so we still don't know how dehydration affects enzyme denaturing.The article in the second link ( is mind boggling. It mentions that pioneers of the raw foods movement (Howell, Wigmore, etc) KNOW that the 118F number is not a hard and fast ceiling temp. I quote from the article, " ... we spoke with Dr. John Whitaker who is a world recognized enzymologist, and former dean of the Department of Nutrition and Food Science at U.C. Davis. He said that every enzyme is different and some are more stable at higher temperatures than others but that most enzymes will not become completely inactive until food temperatures exceed 140 to 158 F in a wet state."The article also points out that air temp is not the same as food temp, and from there it's safe to assume that in a food of any size that the temp from the surface to the center can fluctuate widely. Thus, I could "subject" a dry cocoa bean to an air temp of 200F or higher for a short period of time (say 30 seconds) and not affect the internal temp of the bean at all - the shell might act as insulation.It's no so clear cut as is presented.I personally believe that we're looking at the whole subject of raw in the wrong way. If we take a look at Michael Pollan's excellent In Defense of Food, we see that he advocates a diet of minimally processed food, coupled with a wide variety of foods - a food rainbow if you will. Well, that's exactly what most raw foods diets I know of are. 100% raw vegan presents its own challenges with respect to getting all the necessary nutrition. However, a "raw" diet that is high in uncooked/minimally cooked processed foods (e.g., some of the nutrients in broccoli are more bioavailable when lightly steamed) IS very healthy.The point is to understand bioindividuality - what works best for you - and know that a relaxed attitude toward temperature (i.e., understanding what it REALLY means) doesn't automatically mean you're not raw.
David Lollia
03/30/10 08:00:13AM @david-lollia:
Clay: You definitely ask the right questions here.It might interest you to know that tests for enzymatic activity in a dry environnement have been made within the raw food community and I assume must also be known by raw foodists. They are not scientific tests but I post it here just to show that figures promoting the raw food diet have done research on this specific matter. According to this test enzymatic activity remains intact up to 145F in dried food.Also in this article published on and provided at the International Living and Raw Foods festival:Enzymes are only susceptible to be damage by high heat when they are in the wet state, therefore once the food is dehydrated the enzymes have become dormant, and can withstand much higher temperatures. According to our discussions with Viktoras Kulvinskas on this matter he said that we were right, and that, quote: dry enzymes can survive well up to 150 deg F. He has tested food he has prepared in his Excalibur dehydrators with an experiment he created, and found it to he high in enzymatic activity. We have also done some experiments by soaking various seeds. dehydrating them at different temperatures. and soaking them again afterwards to see if they will sprout. and they did, which proves that the enzymes are alive.
Sacred Steve
03/30/10 06:58:59AM @sacred-steve:
I am hoping to find the research on it, because I have not found it yet. But, I did hear once that PEA is greatly reduced in the presense of typical roasting temperatures. Supposedly there are 7 or 8 different analogues of PEA present in the raw cacao bean and only 1 is present in a typical dark chocolate bar. If anybody has any info on this, I would love to see it!!!
deedee devi
03/29/10 03:43:01PM @deedee-devi:
excellent qualifications gordon ... i can offer that ONE hears a lot about the work of fred bisci and of course dr gabriel cousens in regards to types/purpose etc of enzymes and their role in nutrition.i have not heard for quite some time about any further clarification regarding the RAW threshold from dr cousens or any other researcher so if anyONE else reading this board has KNOWledge of this, please do share ") love love love ...
Clay Gordon
03/29/10 01:59:32PM @clay:
David: 118F is one temperature that's mentioned. I have also heard 115F and 111F. I agree that it makes no sense that all enzymes denature in exactly the same way irrespective of environment (e.g., wet or dry) or - just as importantly, contact time.However, we can't overlook the basic premise of the theory of enzyme nutrition, which is that enzymes present in food when it is eaten survive through the stomach and make it into the intestine, thereby relieving the pancreas from the need to produce digestive enzymes. In this case, the contact temperature is quite low (~98.6F) but contact times can be quite long (up to several hours) in a very low (~2) ph environment.So - it is quite possible that dry cocoa beans processed at >50C could contain a large quantities of intact food enzymes. To the best of my knowledge, no-one promoting a raw food diet has ever done these tests.The real question is - does it really matter? Are food enzymes the same thing, biologically, as digestive enzymes? Do they serve the same purpose? Do food enzymes survive the stomach in sufficient quantities to deliver anything meaningful? I personally think we need answers to this question first - before we worry about the conditions under which enzymes in food degrade.
David Lollia
03/29/10 12:52:43PM @david-lollia:
Sure Gordon.The issue I have with raw cacao revolves specifically around that "raw threshold"? I understand that amongst the raw community, 118F is the commonly accepted temperature which food should not be heated above so that its considered raw. But in reality this temperature only represents the one at which certain enzymes become denatured in a wet environnement (like in fresh fruits and vegetables) and when exposed to heat for sustained amount of time. Conversely, enzymes and other proteins can stand up to 30 to 50 more Celsius degrees before being denatured in a dry environment, which brings us up to 75-100C / 170-206 F).This is where the issue of dried cacao beans comes into the equation. If raw food is defined by a food containing enzymes that have not been denatured, then could cacao processed at 60 or 70 C (140 or 160 F) still be labelled raw because even at this temperature most of its enzymes remain intact?Here are some related sources: Effect of hydration on thermostability (Quote: "The thermostability of several serine esterases has been studied using differential scanning calorimetry. The denaturation temperature (Tm) was found to be 3050C higher in anhydrous environments than in aqueous solution.") Effect of Water Diffusion Limitations on the Thermostability of Enzymes in Non-Aqueous Environments The influence of water activity on thermal stability of horseradish peroxidase Third and fourth paragraph of the "Moisture reduction" part I can't provide more accurate scientific data but i'll be happy if anyone more informed could elaborate on this.
Clay Gordon
03/29/10 11:31:04AM @clay:
At this point we need to be very careful.deedee has asked the question about scientific data that shows that "raw" cacao is more nutritious than cacao that has been heated above the "raw threshold" - whatever that is, and there is disagreement even within the raw community about exactly where that threshold is.Antioxidants are only one small part of the answer do deedee's question. Fats, protein, carbohydrates, and other macro and micronutrients also need to be considered. Fermentation will have a different effect (or none at all) on these aspects of the nutritional profile of cocoa beans.So - can we expand the discussion beyond antioxidants? Thanks.
David Lollia
03/28/10 10:46:48PM @david-lollia:
deedee: Barry Callebaut might have some info to share about their high antioxidant line Acticoa . From the diagram on their website and like Steve suggested, fermentation seems to be a critical stage of their process.
Clay Gordon
03/26/10 06:05:17PM @clay:
As an aside, I posted a video David Wolfe made of his trip to Big Tree to "verify" the raw-ness of the cocoa butter pressing process. I immediately saw some flaws in David's verification [sic] methodology but asked ChocolateLife members to weigh in with their comments. One such comment is here.
deedee devi
03/26/10 05:55:42PM @deedee-devi:
sacred ONE ... what IS the ideal number of fermentation days? I AM LOVING you (collective you as the SONship ")
Sacred Steve
03/26/10 05:43:09AM @sacred-steve:
From my personal research, one thing I know for certain that IMPACTS cacao nutrition drastically: 1) Number of Days of Fermentation 2) Roasting Times and Temperatures.
deedee devi
03/26/10 05:39:09AM @deedee-devi:
I AM almost sure that the discussion on varying rates of enzymatic denaturation was discussed by gabriel cousens on a talk he gave which may BE found on david wolfe's best day ever website (it has BEen quite some time since he announced this research > in any case, an email into the TREE OF LIFE could direct ONE to the data most efficiently)... in any case, I AM excited to KNOW for certainty that RAW cacao nibs are more nutritious than that which IS roasted as I AM certainly paying a premium to make the chocolate I AM making using ORGANIC RAW labeled nibs ") it would BE interesting to hear from various cacao liquid or paste makers (those established and prestigious or well KNOWn companies who process cacao beans into paste for candy making already in global distribution) what research they may have regarding the nutritional value of their products ... anyONE have any data regarding this? love love love ...
David Lollia
03/25/10 02:20:52PM @david-lollia:
I AM >deedee: I am very interested by these questions too. I remember finding sources showing that the denaturation of enzymes occurs at a lower temperature in a wet context. I read that in a wet environment enzymes are destroyed at 118 but in a dry environment a higher temperature is required to denature the enzymes ( i cant remember the exact temperature but i'll provide the reference as soon as I recover it). Does Gabriel Cousens elaborate on this in his book? Does anyone have more info about this whether related to chocolate or not?You might find some useful and scientific info about enzymes in chocolate here and some about antioxidants here .