I had my first raw cacao bean sprinkled with a little cayenne pepper. I was told this is what really is meant by hot chocolate. The seed has a sweet fruit coating that lightly covers it. The seed alone tastes a little bitter. When raw out of the shell, they are soft, not hard like a bean might imply.
The fruit is all about the seed, like a breadnut, not the fruit coating. Though, some children I’ve seen, like to suck off the fruit and leave the bean. Once you get over the slightly bitter flavor, they taste good raw. However, you need to process them to produce the flavor we all know and love – chocolate.
In Hawaii, you can find the pods at farmer’s markets or better plant a tree and in three or four years you can have your own cacao pods. Very easy to germinate the seed by leaving them in the pod until brown spots form on the shell. Once open, you will see the germinated seeds. If you’ve already eaten some of the seeds and have some left, leave them in the shell with a little water and they will sprout. I’ve never had them sprout if you just take a seed and put them in dirt. They grow in humid areas with a good amount of rain and 80 degree temperatures. The young trees like under canopy protection for best growth.
If you have your own tree, be careful when picking the fruit because if you damage the stem by ripping the bark, you’ll never have another flower grow at that same spot. So cut them off carefully, close to the fruit with a sharp knife.
Once you have a fruit or up to five or six in hand, you can make some chocolate. Cut the fruit lengthwise into the skin about 1/4 of an inch deep. You don’t want to cut through the pod or you will be cutting the seeds inside. Go all the way around and gently pry open the two halves. Inside you will see a organized grouping of seeds, remove them and cast away the membrane that held them together.
Below is the step by step process of how to make chocolate that I got from my friend, Ann Kobsa. I’ve been using this same method for years.
Step 1: Remove the seeds (should be unsprouted and free of mold) from the pod and put them in a jar. Add about a teaspoon of baking yeast per gallon of seeds and stir it in. Put the loose-lidded jar in a warm place (can put in sun) for 5 days, stirring each day or two. Add about a tablespoon of live vinegar (natural, with sediment), mix, and allow to sit for another 4 days, stirring again.
Step 2: Dry the seeds in the sun. This usually takes about 3 days.
Step 3: Roast the seeds for 2 hours at 275 degrees F. I use my solar oven and usually roast them for 4 or 5 hours. The seed coats should be very crispy and separate easily from the insides (nibs) when crushed.
Step 4: Shell the cacao seeds. I do this by running them through a Corona grain mill at the loosest setting and then winnowing (blowing) the seed coats away. You can also remove each seed coat by hand (good party activity). This step is not actually necessary but improves the texture and taste slightly. I’ve read that the seed coats contain a lot of vitamin D if they have been fermented and dried in the sun.
Step 5: Grind the cacao. You can use a coffee grinder to get it pretty fine for tea or cake. I have a Porkert poppy seed grinder that gets it finer if you want it super fine like a chocolate bar, but first use a mortar and pestle on the nibs before you grind it.
The seeds can be stored in jars after drying, after roasting, or as nibs.
Alternate step 1: Remove the seeds from the pods and put in a vessel lined with banana leaves. Try to get a lot of the white bloom from the underside of the leaves on the seeds. Stir the seeds daily for about a week.
Once you have the seeds processed into powder you can begin to experiment with different types of things to combine to produce the flavor you want. Things I often add are honey, vanilla, chopped up macadamia nuts, cacao butter, coconut oil, mint leaves, orange zest and a pinch of sea salt. Once you get the consistency you want, roll them up into balls and you can even roll the balls in chopped nuts or fine cacao powder.
You will have an amazing treat and you will be eating chocolate like it was really meant to be eaten. I guarantee the balls of deliciousness will be scooped up quickly.