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What is virgin chocolate?

  • By William Mullan

Since the world’s first proper bar of chocolate was molded and introduced to the public by Fry & Son’s in 1849, cacao beans have traditionally been roasted. Indeed, heat has always been a part of consuming cacao. The Olmec’s (who are believed to have discovered the bean) and the Mayan’s both boiled their cacao when crafting their frothy beverage elixirs, often mixing it with corn and spices.

For Western chocolate makers, roasting is considered essential to flavor development. When cacao is roasted, acidity formed during the fermentation process mellows out, and tannins are reduced, not only resulting in a milder tasting bean but also a more complex flavor profile. Cacao beans are roasted anywhere from 215 F for an hour, to 300 F for fifteen minutes, depending on the beans and each chocolate makers respective recipe.

But what about those stronger flavors lost in the roasting process? Taste an unroasted cacao bean next to a bar of chocolate and you might find yourself perplexed and amazed by the differences. Depending on your palette, you may prefer the bean or the bar.  

Why not get a bar of chocolate that allows you enjoy both the bean and the bar?

At Raaka, we love the bold, intense flavors of the unroasted beans; the citrusy bite of Madagascar cacao or the earthy, umami funk of Bolivian beans. To honor the unique flavor profile of each origin, we simply skip roasting.  During our grinding process, the nibs will reach anywhere from 130 F to 140 F, smoothing out flavor while preserving their native character.  The result is a bar that tastes more like cacao beans.

Unroasted cacao is not raw cacao.  There is some controversy over whether a truly raw bar of chocolate can be crafted, since the beans often reach temperatures of 130 F at the origin level, before even reaching the chocolate maker, either in the fermentation or drying stages. Before the beans are packed and shipped to chocolate makers, they are fermented in wood “sweat boxes”, where they often surpass 118 F, disqualifying them as a raw food. Once they are properly fermented, usually a two to three day process, the beans are typically dried in the sun, on surfaces which also frequently surpass 118.

Being neither raw nor roasted, Raaka is different kind of chocolate. So we thought, why not give its own name? Enter virgin chocolate. Like virgin oils, such as olive and coconut, there is minimal processing involved in crafting our bars. In the culinary world, the word virgin communicates purity and quality, while carrying both a strength and delicacy in cadence. The quality and taste of our chocolate is a collaboration between great beans with exciting flavor profiles and creativity in our chocolate making process. Our process is gentle; our flavors are vibrant. This is virgin chocolate. 

The decision to skip roasting extends into our creative process. Our head chocolate maker Nate Hodge has a knack for flavor experimentation. Whether we’re stone grinding whole rooibos and honeybush teas into a mixture of beans from the Dominican Republic and Bolivia, or aging Belizean cacao in bourbon casks, we’re always looking for ways to bring out or compliment the innate flavors of the beans without changing their natural personalities. Our mission is to create a bar of chocolate that brings you closer to bean.
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