Raw cacao mass was essential to us. When we started Hnina we searched for cacao mass, also known as cacao liquor or cacao paste, for over four years until we finally found the one we loved.
We wanted very specific flavors and we wanted it to be healthiest.
The quest was so challenging, we just could not find it.
We contacted farms from Central and South America, as well as specialty distributors. Africa I am sad to write was not an option for me. I love Africa and it was a big part of my university studies, but children are often used for labor in their cacao farms. While I don’t wish to condemn an entire continent’s industry and certainly not all farms are guilty of this, I simply didn’t want to inadvertently support this practice.
We finally thought that a farm in Ecuador was the right one.
The only issue was that the cacao mass was roasted and not raw.
We are all about gourmet, aromas, flavors and taste. But we’re also about health, so we wanted raw AND organic. Raw was a challenge. It did not taste good. On top of that, the cacao was generally already processed into cacao powder form. To find a raw cacao mass is extremely difficult. To find it organic is practically impossible. To add to the challenge, the notion of single-origin has always been a reoccurring theme for us in our quest for traceability and purity. We did not want to have cacao butter from one place and cacao liquor from another. That certain “Je ne sais quoi” is lost. I actually know what is lost. The natural harmony in the chemistry of the components that come from the same cacao bean. Frankenstein cacao? No thanks.
We also refused to use “chocolate of couverture” made by big cacao manufacturers.
Raw cacao and pure raw dark chocolate was our goal. Many Chocolate of couverture are very high quality beautiful single-origin “Grand Cru” and are used by the best chocolatiers, but most of them contain emulsifiers and other additives which we don’t want in ours. We do not use anything processed in our chocolates.
So what did we find after four years of searching? More later on how the story ends and what we ultimately found to be the best cacao on the planet. But first, please let me explain some of the terminology from the above.
Cacao mass, cacao paste and cacao liquor refer to the same thing.
It is the paste of the ground cacao beans (or roasted cacao beans when roasted.) It is usually brown, not shiny and very easy to break.
Cacao butter is the fat extracted from the bean paste. Cacao butter can be extracted from raw or roasted beans. It is creamy, buttery, pale yellow and very tender in the mouth. The butter is what gives the shine of the cacao and the crispness when you break it. The fat contained in the cacao beans is stearic acid, which is also a solid, saturated fat, and appears to have a neutral effect, which is uncommon among saturated fats. Oleic acid, also in the cacao butter, is a liquid, monounsaturated fat that decreases the risk of heart disease. Cacao also contains flavanols and flavonoids, which are super antioxidants. Cacao, in fact, contains numerous nutrients and chemical compounds that make it one of the richest superfoods available.
Now cacao or chocolate is as healthy as the cacao spice it contains…yes, cacao is a spice. It does not mean that cacao powder is the right thing though. Indeed, most of the time it has been so processed that it end up providing few, if any flavanols or flavanoids.
Also its taste is not as pure and authentic as cacao mass.
When using raw cacao powder together with cacao butter, producers are attempting to reconstitute the paste. The results are not the same as the original paste on any level, both nutritionally and from a taste and texture standpoint. Cacao powder is indeed the remnant after the extraction of the butter from the paste. This “cake” is then broken up, pulverized into powder. Why is it done? Because cacao powder is easier to work with. For us, the sacrifice is not worth the convenience.
Cacao powder is available in two commercially traded grades: 10/12% and 22%. These numbers indicate the remaining fat present in the powder after processing. It is usually very challenging to reach the 10/12% fat content for the raw cacao powder. So the raw cacao powder contains more fat than the roasted one. But the roasting process at a very high temperature (like any other nuts, grains or seeds) produces acrylamide, a compound that has been shown to be both neurotoxic and carcinogenic. Hence, our insistence on using only raw cacao.
And now we cut to the chase.
The raw cacao mass we chose is from a family farm in Dominican Republic.
It is cacao Hispaniola and is fermented in very small batches. The father has been doing this for over 40 years. He comes several times a day to check on the temperature to ensure that it stays raw (never over 115 degrees). They may not have the machine to make it in chips or small bars (so we spend hours breaking it up ourselves) but the cacao liquor is just stunning. It is Certified Organic and Kosher.
It took such a long time for us to find this gourmet quality combined with pure nutrition cacao.
We refuse to work from the cacao powder, we searched for raw, for organic, for the best. Bean to truffle, without anything added. That is why we’re Nuts About HNINA Chocolate.
To read more about cacao and Hnina from one of the brightest minds out there, The People’s Chemist, please read the blog post Truth About Organic Chocolate: Where to Get the Best!