The Mouthfeel of Chocolate & The Cacao Tree

The chemical and physical interaction of a food and the mouth is called Mouthfeel. This concept is used in several areas of evaluation and testing of different foods. Wine tasting is one well known use of Mouthfeel; it evaluates the perception of the palate from the first bite through chewing and swallowing.

There are several things that are considered modifiers when testing the mouthfeel of chocolate:

The chewiness is the number of chews required at 1 chew per second before the chocolate can be swallowed. Coarseness is the degree of coarseness during chewing, chocolate should be smooth.

Graininess is the amount of small grainy particles; only low quality chocolates are grainy. Heaviness is the weight of the chocolate when first placed on the tongue.

Moisture absorption is the amount of saliva absorbed. Moisture release is the wetness/juiciness released. Mouthcoating is the amount of fat/oil that coats the mouth after chewing.

Smoothness is the absence of particles, lumps, bumps or any other noticible texture in the product.

Uniformity is the degree of evenness throughout the sample.

Viscosity is the amount of force needed to draw the liquid from a spoon and over the tongue.

Many of these modifiers are not desirable in tasting chocolate, as chocolate is supposed to be smooth and creamy to the palate.

Only poor quality chocolates are rough or grainy. Conching is the means used to reduce the roughness of chocolate; it involves a container filled with metal beads acting as grinders. Frictional heat keeps the blended and refined chocolate liquid during the conching process. This process reduces the cocoa and sugar particles to a size that can not be detected by the tongue, causing the smooth feel in the mouth.

The longer the chocolate is conched, the smoother it becomes, conching can be done for as short a time as 4 to 6 hours for low quality chocolate, up to 72 hours for high quality chocolate. Chocolate is then stored in tanks heated to approximately 45-50 degrees celsius to await final processing.

Cacao trees in the wild grow to forty or fifty feet in height, some may even grow to sixty feet in their natural environment. On plantations they are pruned to fifteen to twenty feet to allow for easier harvesting.

A cacao tree on the plantation will bear fruit for thirty to forty years before being replaced by seedlings, there are instances of trees that have produced fruit for as long as one hundred years.

A long handled goulette is used to harvest the pods because the trees are two delicate to be climbed by workmen. Women and children follow behind the pickers, called tumbadores gathering the pods and placing them in baskets they carry on their heads.

A machete is used to break the pods open; a good breaker can open 500 pods in an hour! Each pod contains between 25 and 50 almond shaped beans. The cacao beans come in several colors, white, cream or lavender and are surrounded by a white or pink, stringy pulp which hold them together. The beans are about one inch in diameter; after the pods are opened the workers scoop the seeds and pulp from the pods.

The beans begin changing color as soon as they meet the air through oxidation, changing them to different shades of purple. Within a few days the pulp ferments away, the seeds are then placed in baskets or wooden boxes for the fermentation process which removes the raw, bitter taste and to develop the cocoa butter essential oils). This part of the process takes between two and ten days, during this time the beans change to a dark brown color.

Next the beans are dried, being spread in the sun or in some areas they are dried by hot air pipes indoors, they must be turned often during the drying process. Most trees yield one or two pounds of dried seeds each year, each pod contains about two ounces of dried seeds. After the drying process is complete the beans are ready for packing and shipping.

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About The Author, Stephen Campbell
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