For a list of raw chocolate makers, click here.
Two years ago I bought a “raw chocolate” bar at a local food store. So I decided to write an article on raw chocolate and why a chocolate manufacturer might make chocolate using unroasted cocoa beans. But at that time, Google Searches on the subject were a disappointment and there seemed to be little information available. All I learned was that raw chocolate is made from cocoa beans that are unroasted and Pacari is a brand of raw chocolate. But I still could not quite understand why raw.
Today ‘raw chocolate’ seems to be everywhere, with more and more chocolate makers using unroasted cacao to make chocolate and explaining exactly why they do this. This has clearly become a chocolate trend.
So why do they make it? The reason is similar to why we might choose to eat raw fruit and vegetables over cooked ones: consume more nutrients. One chocolate maker, Amai Raw Chocolate, described their reasoning as: “It maintains its nutritional density because it is not subjected to the same high heat as traditional/ commercial chocolates.” (ref).
My research on raw chocolate has told me that it started out as being made by hand, and often includes natural and low glycemic sugars, such as coconut sugar or xylitol, and it is often mixed with other raw, organic fruit and 'superfoods', like Maca root in many cases. The cacao beans used are organic and the resulting chocolate is most often vegan. Also, what I uncovered is that many of the original makers of raw chocolate participate in a yoga lifestyle or in holistic healing.
However, more and more bean-to-bar chocolate makers are beginning to add a raw chocolate bar to their range of product offerings. As a result, smoother-textured versions of raw chocolate are becoming available. Also, these newer raw chocolate bars are being introduced by businesses with a lot of experience in chocolate production, flavour mixing and development, so the taste is improving.
There is some controversy in the chocolate world over raw chocolate. Raw food advocates say that the cocoa beans and the resulting chocolate can not be heated to temperatures above 118 degrees Fahrenheit (or 114F in some cases) while being processed. However, Jeffrey G. Stern, a cacao education professional, says that after the beans are fermented and dried in the sun on cement pads in the jungle where they are grown, the temperatures reach above 118 degrees F. So no chocolate can truly be 'raw' as defined by raw food advocates (ref). And unfermented beans have such a poor taste, that no one would dare eat them or turn them into chocolate. Some describe the taste of unfermented beans as "soggy, unripe nuts" or more vividly as "cats pee" (ref: Twitter, @ultimatelychoc).
Another concern about raw chocolate is bacteria, bugs, and other potential health hazards that may be on the cocoa beans, which can only be killed off by heating them. Raw advocates argue that "...chocolate-industry professionals...claim that the conventional method of heating chocolate is necessary to kill bacteria present in the raw ingredients, and that even after cooking, companies such as Cadbury's have still suffered salmonella outbreaks." (ref) However, it is understandable why large companies would roast the beans, if not for improved taste, but to ensure that they have done everything possible to remove the risk of illness for their customers.
Roasting cocoa beans is similar to roasting nuts, like almonds and pecans. It not only kills bacteria, it improves overall flavour. I have been making chocolate at home with my little coffee grinder and blender, and have now made some chocolate with roasted beans and some chocolate with raw beans. I can tell you that flavour is much improved with roasted beans. Much like with raw versus roasted pecans or other nuts, roasting pulls out some of the tartness and sweetens the end flavour in a way. It also adds a beautiful dark chocolate colour to cacao nibs, versus the grayish colour of raw nibs.
All that said, I still sit on my chocolaty 'fence' of raw versus roasted. Like with most other food arguments, I am just not sure which is better for my health? It is sort of the same as the debate over butter versus margarine. Or diet pop with aspartame versus full-sugar pop. But in the case of raw chocolate, it is the argument: more nutrients and risk of bacteria versus less nutrients but better taste and low risk of bacteria. So my decision is to do what I always do: mix it up. A little of raw chocolate at times to get those extra antioxidants and nutrients and a little (well, a lot) of roasted at other times.
So I have chosen to take the middle road and just be happy that there are more chocolate makers in this world, adding more and more options to choose from.
If you want to learn more about raw chocolate, there are a few books on the subject, including:
· Naked Chocolate by David Wolfe and Shazzie (Barnes & Noble Link) - this is one of the originals. David Wolfe introduced the concept of raw chocolate as a holistic and spiritual treatment to life's health challenges. Includes an "unconventional history of cacao".
· Raw Chocolate (Barnes & Noble Link) - with this book, learn to make the chocolate, then make many recipes like truffles, dipped fruit, cakes and more with a raw chocolate base.
· Ultimate Raw Vegan Chocolate Recipes book (Barnes & Noble Link)