After reading this title, you might think I am going to give away our awesome Cacao Art recipes… Tough luck. I am actually going to write about the whole cacao bean to chocolate process in a series of posts.
I love chocolate and chocolate comes from beans, so, naturally, this first post of what I am calling the “mechanics of” series is about cacao beans. After reading these posts you will amaze your family and friends with all your insider chocolate knowledge.
Let’s start with some basics. First, cacao trees are a tropical phenomenon. That means they only grow around the Equator. If you try to plant a cacao tree in Paris or San Francisco or Buenos Aires, it just won’t like it and refuse to grow. These finicky plants are indigenous to South and Central America. In fact, some DNA investigators report that the very first trees grew in the basin of the Maracaibo lake and around the Orinoco river both in Venezuela – I’m sure that’s what makes Venezuelan chocolate particularly wonderful.
Next important thing to know: there are three broad categories of cacao beans, called forastero, criollo and trinitario. Memorize these and you’re halfway there in your choco-education. The forastero is the most common and resistant type of bean, grown mostly in Equatorial Africa and it yields a consistent, plain flavored chocolate known as bulk product. You know what they taste like… Milky Way, Snickers, M&M’s, and so many others…
The criollo bean, more fragile and disease-prone, can be found in the Americas, mostly in Venezuela. Basically, these are the spoiled princesses of the chocolate world. They yield more complex and subtle chocolate, usually referred to as fine flavored cacao. Criollo beans are considered the best in the world.
Last but not least, trinitario beans are the real up-and-comers, offering the best of both worlds: the resistance of forastero and the delicacy of criollo. Trinitario beans are the result of a combination that took place in… you guessed it… Trinidad! The first time this fortuitous event took place was way back in the 16th century, but it has evolved a lot since then. Now Trinitario beans grow in Venezuela, Ecuador, Cameroon, Samoa, Sri Lanka, Java and Papua New Guinea.
So, three types of beans, countless possibilities! It is amazing what modern agricultural technology and industrial processing have achieved in terms of smoother, tastier chocolate resulting from these tiny little beans.
Next post, I will tell you about the cultivation and processing of the beans and the end result: yummy chocolate!