What can be learned in a cacao harvest?

John Hepler
07/01/10 12:19:07AM
What can be learned in a cacao harvest?
Fellow Scientists,
This subject line is a good excuse to inform you of my coming Cacao Harvest Tour (aka SaveTheChocolate.com), in Nicaragua, this coming Oct 15- Dec 1.

My interest is practical science, and one of the simplest things we will discover is at what general temperatures does cacao ferment.
Another will be to ferment the same beans for eight days (the standard in Nicaragua for Ritter Sport, seems overfermented but very tasty) vs a four day ferment. Then making it into chocolate, we can taste the difference.

And are these white and pink cacaso actually criollos? According to Maricel Presilla (The New Taste of Chocolate), the USDA does simple tests on cacao leaves to determine whether criollo or other..... I will ask her if they do approximate percentages.

What would you like to learn in a cacao harvest?

A few associated notes, maybe more historical than anything.
I've been wondering when and how Mexico (and Nicaragua) lost the old tradition of fermenting. According to Dr Michael Coe (True History of Chocolate), the old Mayans "would have stored fermented, dried and roasted beans." This makes some sense in that the roasting may have rendered it immune to the 'polillo' a problematic weevil/worm for storage.
Responding to my information that todays cacao in Mexico is (almost) universally NOT fermented, then roasted to near-burning (up to 300F for half an hour or more) to make it barely edible, he commented, "Modern Mexican chocolate is universally awful, and now I know why -- no fermentation. This has to be a post-colonial innovation, since the Spanish court -- the ultimate destination for so much Mexican (and Venezuelan) chocolate -- would never have tolerated the unfermented product, nor would the Aztec court. I've made the mistake of buying packets of powdered chocolate along the road in Chiapas -- these were marked 'Soconusco' -- and they were terrible, obviously processed the way you describe.."

J Sandy Hepler