What makes cacao premium?

Just like wine and coffee, cacao has a wide range of flavours, aromas, and textures, resulting in endless possibilities for chocolate makers. There are many factors that affect the flavour profile of cacao, such as terroir, variety, fermentation, transportstorage & handling and off course, the crafting skills of the chocolate makers.

Silva selects premium cacao, or specialtty cacao, that grows in special geographic microclimates, or terroirs. These climatic conditions in combination with a controlled harvesting & fermentation protocol, and a carefully controlled supply chain, result in distinctive and unique flavour profiles. We have an unmatched fingerprint and focus on flavour, forest, farmers and the future.

Terroir

A terroir is the combination all environmental factors that affect a crop’s phenotype, including unique environmental contexts, farming practices, and a crop’s specific growth habitat. Collectively, these contextual parameters influence the quality of the cacao beans.

Cacao varieties

All chocolate is produced from the seed of the cacao tree (Theobroma cacao L.). Theobroma cacao is a tropical fruit tree endemic to the Amazonian basin in lowland rainforests and a member of the Malvaceae family. But within this single species, there are different varieties. Historically cacao has long been cateogrized into three varieties: criollo, trinitario, and forestro. This classifications is nowadays somewhat outdated. Molecular analysis of the genetic material has permitted to differentiate cacao into 10 major "genetic clusters": Amelonado, Contamana, Criollo, Curaray, Guiana, Iquitos, Marañón, Nanay, Nacional, and Purús. Recently even more genetic groups from Bolivia, Peru and Columbia have been discovered, and probably more will follow. In addition to these primary varieties of cacao, there is a wide range of cultivars and hybrids, such as the CCN-51.

Variety plays a vital role in determining flavour and aroma. Research and understanding the genetics of cacao helps to trace the historic path of the movement of cacao in many origins.

 

Fermentation

Cacao beans must be carefully fermented and dried to bring out the very best flavours. Flavour development is the results of the succession of microbiologal activities.

When cacao beans are removed from the pod, they are covered with a white mucilage. The coating has a high sugar-content, is sweet, and provides a food source for the bean when it germinates. Beans begin to germinate as soon as the fruit has been picked. The fermentation process begins almost immediately upon exposure to air. Spores from naturally occurring yeasts settle on the beans, and start to split the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Thereupon bacteria start to oxidize the alcohol, and processes of acetic and lactic acidification take place in aerobic and anaerobic conditions. During these processes, temperature rises and finally the cacao beans are killed and the cell wall breaks down. Complex chemical processes of enzyme acivity, oxidation and breakdown of proteins into amino acids take place. 

These reactions cause the development of flavour and colour. Polyphenols and alkaloids contribute to astringency and bitterness of cocoa and chocolate. A properly controlled fermentation allows positive flavour developments such as fruity, floral, nutty and herbal flavours. Incorrect fermentation can result in negative flavour developments such as ammonia or rancid off-tastes.

Logistics

Cocoa beans are highly hygroscopic, meaning that they can absorb and desorb water depending on temperature and humidity of the environment. Unproperly fermented cacao beans have even a greater tendency to release water vapour.

Premium cacao therefore requires particular temperature, relative humidity and ventilation conditions. A proper control of transport, warehousing and handling from the cacao plantations until the production of chocolate is highly important to maintain the distinctive flavour profiles.

Transport times should be limited, and storage should be in a dry, cool and ventilated warehouse appropriate for food storage, and separated from products which might cause cross contamination. The water content of the beans may not be higher than 8% to avoid risk of vapour and mould damage.

We recommend to store your cacao beans in a clean and dry room, with relative humidity close to 50% and temperature lower then 20°C. Lower temperatures result in a lower risk on infestation.