One of the most important steps in the long journey making chocolate from the bean is fermentation. And yet, it is perhaps the least understood and most capricious of all.
Once the fruit of the cacao tree ripens, the football-shaped pods are opened and the pulp-covered seeds are scooped out and placed in wooden “sweatboxes” or other types of containers. The hot, humid air is a target-rich environment for all sorts of naturally occurring yeast and bacteria. Almost immediately, they begin converting the sugary pulp into liquid. Their hard work raises the temperature of the beans, stopping germination and beginning a series of chemical changes that have a big impact on flavor. Proper fermentation removes astringent tannins and other bitter compounds while adding body and richness to the finished chocolate that can’t be created later in the process. Yet this critically important step is often poorly understood by farmers and under appreciated by industrial chocolatiers.
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