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Word of the week - Cacao

Published on May 17, 2016

Word of the week - Cacao

Image courtesy of National Geographic

Chocolate grows on trees. Not the rectangular segment kind or the gooey truffle kind, but in the form of a pod holding seeds called cacao beans. The tree is called Theobroma Cacao.

Cacao (pronounced ka kow) as opposed to cocoa (pronounced koh koh) becomes cocoa once it has been processed. Confused?! This is why many raw chocolate products you see are called cacao because it hasn't been through the roasting process.

The two words are regularly used interchangeably, whether rightly or wrongly. If it’s something you feel strongly about, this is an interesting article that asks chocolate experts for their personal take on the difference between the two. I particularly like the uppity comment by a famous chocolatier in the US, Jacques Torres: ‘cocoa means nothing to me’ and the comment further down that says ‘folks who look down their nose at others because of word choice are snooty-patooties’. I must try to use snooty-patooties in a normal sentence this week.

Anyway, back to the beans… there are three main types. Now concentrate, because there will be a test at the end.

  1. Forastero - Most chocolate is produced using Forastero beans. They are the most disease resistant variety, resulting in mass production and guaranteed sales for farmers. It is less expensive because of its high-yielding qualities. Meaning ‘foreign’ in Spanish, it originated in the Amazon. Most likely to be found in cheaper chocolate and mixed with other ingredients to improve the flavour. It is responsible for around 80% of the worlds chocolate.
  2. Criollo - This type of bean is the hardest to farm and is only used in luxury chocolate because of its aromatic flavours and its price tag. Criollo means ‘native’ and originates from Venezuela.
  3. Trinitario - This is a cross-breed between Forastero and Criollo that originated in Trinidad. This is the bean most likely to be found in high quality dark chocolate and is sometimes mixed with Forastero beans to add a finer flavour.

If you rate yourself as a chocoholic you may think that the Forastero beans are worth avoiding, but flavour is not only effected by the type of bean but also by origin. Much like wine, chocolate can now be bought from a single origin which has a flavour profile given by the local soil, temperature, sunshine and rainfall. Not only this, but the way the chocolate has been processed also effects its flavour and this is why so many chocolate companies are now set up as bean to bar manufacturers so they can fully control the process. One day…