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The 3 Drivers of Chocolate Flavor

The 3 Drivers of Chocolate Flavor

Hello and good day!

Our operating theory is that there are three primary factors that affect the flavor of chocolate.

Those factors are cacao genetics, fermentation, and roast.

There are other considerations to account for when making chocolate. Things like texture, ease of temper, melting points, etc But these are separate from flavor. They are certainly important, but not what I want to consider in this email.

Dark chocolate has been in the news a lot lately because recent testing showed that a lot of dark chocolate has high levels of toxic metals, namely cadmium and lead.

As I've written several times in these emails, our chocolate is tested under the very strict European standards and we test every single cacao bean that goes into our chocolate.

Tests have never showed more than a tiny fraction of the legal limit.

I bring this up for a specific reason in this discussion of flavor.

Cacao trees tend to suck up what is in the soil. If there is a lot of lead and cadmium in the soil, cacao trees suck it up and it ends up in the seeds we eat. As a result, terroir, the condition of the soil and the surrounding plant life impacts the flavor of chocolate as well.

If there are a lot of chemical fertilizers and pesticides being used, that can make a difference in the way the end product tastes. Or if the cacao is grown on a plantation rather than in an agroforestry environment, that can have an impact.

But when it comes to cacao, genetics is truly the big player that determines a chocolate's flavor potential. I use the word potential, because the potential must be extracted during post harvest processing, namely during fermentation.

I'm getting ahead of myself though.

While we are very proud of the cacao that we use in our Fortunato No. 4 chocolate, specifically because the cacao we use has special genetics that produces exquisite chocolate, it isn't the only exceptional cacao in the world.

Over the years, I've tasted chocolate made with cacao from many, many origins, and I love a lot of them. There was a time when my palate was well trained enough to recognize origins by taste. This wasn't only countries I could recognize, but rather specific growing regions and farms.

Cacao grows all over the world around the equator and just off the top of my head, I can tell you that there is cacao with wonderful and delicious genetics in all of the following places:

Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Belize, Honduras, Ecuador 

Peru., Columbia, Venezuela. Bolivia, Cuba, Jamaica, Trinidad

Dominican Republic. Madagascar, Brazil, Philippines. Vietnam

India, Ghana

Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Hawaii

And I know for certain that I am leaving out many.

There is a ton of wonderful cacao in the world. Cacao is a very unique and diverse ingredient. The chocolate made from these different origins is very distinct.

However, without solid post harvest processing, the potential of cacao won't be realized. In particular, poor fermentation leads to all kinds of ills.

To put it frankly, you simply cannot produce a fine flavored chocolate if the cacao is fermented poorly. Poor fermentation dooms cacao to the industrial supply chain and in that supply chain, cacao farmers find themselves in a never ending cycle of poverty and subsistence farming.

And chocolate lovers are denied the experience of enjoying very unique and delicious products. Cacao is covered in a white mucilage inside the pod. The mucilage is sugary. Freshly harvested cacao tastes nothing like chocolate.

When the white gel is exposed to the air, environmental yeast falls on it.

If you then put the cacao in a covered wooden box and cut off oxygen, the yeast will start to eat the sugary gel and this kicks off fermentation.

It is fermentation that develops the chocolate flavor in chocolate.

To get the best out of a cacao bean's genetics, this fermentation must be done well and this requires precision and attention to detail.

It took my brother Brian several years living out in the jungle to get our process mastered. If you under ferment cacao, it tastes green, kind of like biting into the thick stem of a plant in your garden. Under fermented cacao can taste so bad as to make chocolate inedible.

In the other direction, over fermented cacao tastes of rotten meat. Imagine a Christmas ham you put in your fridge and forgot about.

But right in the middle, when fermentation is just right, it produces the most amazing chocolate flavors.

Doing fermentation right requires some capital investment and time. These are two things that many of the world's cacao farmers are short on.

And that leads us to the final factor, roast.

Master chocolate makers are experts at using roast to bring out a cacao's genetic tendencies. Is the cacao fruity? What kind of fruit? Berries? Plums? Bananas? Is it nutty? Is it floral?

Expert roasting highlights and intensifies what is special in a particular cacao. It is an art form that requires many years of experience and a very refined palate.

However, most of the world's chocolate, like most of the world's coffee, is simply dark roasted to the max. If you are just going to make a caramel macchiato, you really don't need a subtle roast on your coffee. Likewise, if you are making peanut M&Ms or a Snickers bar, the cacao isn't really the star of the show.

The star of the show is the flavor profile that you are used to and that you have grown up eating.Cacao plays only a small role in that recipe.Dark roasting in most cases strips the unique characterstics of cacao and creates extreme uniformity. What you taste is the roast, not the cacao.

The great benefit of this is that it overcomes poor fermentation. Poor fermentation disappears in the face of the dark roast, and this gives industrial chocolate manufacturers the uniformity they desire.

But you can see how this creates a terrible economic cycle can't you? Poor fermentation. Dark roast.

Cheap chocolate. Vast distribution through tons of middle men and distributors. Never ending, crushing poverty.

I'm getting off track though. We're talking about flavor.

Sometimes a dark roast is called for in order to properly bring out the flavors in cacao and in those cases, you find yourself eating a very delicious and interesting chocolate. You can still taste the unique qualities in the cacao bean, but you also get a roasty profile to go along with it, think about the burnt outside of a roasted marshmallow.

Here at Fortunato Chocolate, we are dedicated to working with just a single cacao bean from a single origin. We use pure Nacional cacao from a remote canyon in northern Peru.

In the grand scheme of things, we are but a very small company, and likely will be for a long time to come. However, our model, which is a proven model, could be rolled out on a much larger scale and there would be tremendous benefits across the board.

The concept is to buy cacao direct from cacao farmers. Centralize post harvest processing in a community facility. Make chocolate with a great chocolate manufacturer, and sell it direct to chocolate lovers.

No middle men.

No cacao brokers in country.

No distributors or retailers taking a mark up.

This model gives you a great chocolate at a fair price and frees up money in the supply chain to pay cacao farmers much, much more.

We distribute via ecommerce and retail shops and I believe that this is a great way to distribute. It lets us cut out all the players who would mark up our products. T

here is a huge business opportunity here that would require capital investment to do at scale, but that could change the lives of millions of cacao farmers and bring all of these other wonderful origins to market for billions of chocolate lovers around the world.

And the framework is already known.

Great genetics.

Proper fermentation.

Thoughtful roast.

Delicious chocolate.

Until this whole thing happens on a larger scale, you can rest assured that you will always be able to get delicious chocolate from your good old friends over here at Fortunato Chocolate.  

Thank you so much for your time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!