5@5 - Understanding cacao (and your chocolate bar)
September 26th, 2011
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

White, dark, milk, bittersweet, semisweet - whatever your chocolate persuasion, it's easy, delicious and even healthy(!) to be livin' la vida cocoa.

But how does that perfectly unassuming cacao bean make its merry way into shiny foil wrappers around the globe? We'll let you in on a little secret: It doesn't involve tiny orange-faced, green-haired men.

Here to raise the bar on your level of chocolatey understanding is Ray Major, the head of the development team at Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker.

Five Facts About the Origin of Chocolate: Ray Major

1. Chocolate is fruit
“Cacao beans are seeds found inside the fruit or pod of the cacao tree. Roughly 500 cacao beans will produce one pound of bittersweet chocolate. To put this into perspective, it takes two men one day to harvest and prepare enough cacao to make 120 pounds of dark chocolate - a labor-intensive process, but well worth it!

Nearly 95 percent of the world’s cacao can be found +/- fifteen degrees from the Equator. Anywhere there is a tropical rainforest cocoa can grow. And, every growing region in the world produces its own unique flavor.”

2. Chocolate is like wine - it has terroir
“Genetics of the planted varieties affect cacao flavor, as does the care and techniques used in fermentation and drying the beans, and environmental influences of the growing region - what vintners call 'terroir.'

Cacao from Pará State, Brazil - for example - has notes of pear, green apple and white wine. Beans from Indonesia have bright acidity and citrus notes. Panama is characteristically earthy and spicy with a strong chocolate flavor. What you like really depends on what you are looking for in your chocolate and how adventurous you are.”

3. Blending beans gives the best flavor
“Each type of cacao has a very unique taste, but few have a complete flavor profile from start to finish. Madagascar beans have citrus, fruity front notes that then tail off in complexity; Ghana beans start slowly with big notes of chocolate in the middle; and Trinidad beans have licorice, tobacco, leathery notes that linger on in the end.

If you combine these three, the flavor profile stretches much longer in your mouth than it otherwise would by itself. The blend will make a more complex and interesting chocolate bar.”

4. The meaning of percentages
“The number you often see on premium dark chocolate bar labels is cacao content; the percentage of the bar that is derived from the cacao bean in the form of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter or cocoa powder.

If an extra dark chocolate bar label reads “82% Cacao," that means that 82 percent of the formula is derived from the cacao bean. You can normally assume the remainder of the percentage to be sugar.”

5. Cacao vs. cocoa...there’s no real difference!
“The vernacular can be confusing, but cacao and cocoa really mean the same thing. The Latin word for cocoa is cacao, so most European countries use this term while English-speaking countries have adopted use of the familiar word cocoa, as in cocoa powder.

In the artisan chocolate industry, cacao is generally used in reference to anything mentioning cacao in its raw form - the tree, bean or seeds, nibs, percentage.”

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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Filed under: 5@5 • Bite • Chocolate • Dishes • Think

soundoff (65 Responses)
  1. Ramon

    Yummy Chocolate – http://www.johfrej.com

    Come and get it!!!!!


    September 28, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  2. morgan painter

    I have a wonderful shirt, a gift from my sister.

    Garfield (the cat) is on the front with two huge six guns pointed at you, a cowboy outfit, and the caption reads, "Give me all your chocolate and nobody gets hurt."

    I love that shirt. Sometimes I wear it while making a big steaming cup of dark cocoa and sit down with that to a big piece of chocolate cake. A little bit of heaven on earth.

    Yeah, that's the way to do it.

    September 28, 2011 at 1:58 am |
  3. jjdecor

    They had me at "chocolate is fruit" now it fits into my diet! yeah!

    September 27, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  4. Michelle

    The processing alone eliminates any diseases or other disgusting things that may happen in transport. Also, as far as the low wages the people in these countries are lucky to work and the 10 to 30 cents and hour they earn is like manna for them. I'm not saying too bad, so sad...I'm just pointing out the fact there is a different economy there. Just like back in the early 1900's in America my great grandmother earned 10 cents an hour working as a laborer for the railroad; or in the 60's when I earned 80 cents an hour working as a dietary aide. You can't judge everything by our 'luxurious' way of life in these wasteful and spoiled United States.

    September 27, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
  5. msyellarose

    Don't care where it comes from, just give me chocolate when I need my chocolate fix.

    September 27, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
  6. reality stinks

    You own a large chocolate company, and employ a total of 1000 workers. You compete for cocoa against another firm from south america. The average worker picking the beans gets paid .30 an hour. Due to the high poverty rate most of the inahbitants of this region are farmers, and weather has been awful over the last few months so the crop yield is low. The farmers are earning around .10 cents an hour, some are barely making enough to eat. They rely on their children to earn a wage to help support their family. These children that are " exploited" are more than happy to work earning 3 times what their parents make. They take pride in coming home with an extra bag of rice, or beans, and their families rely on them to do so. You as a company are forced to make a tough decision. The competing cocoa company is offering the workers .27 cents an hour, a wage you feel is too low for them, you feel its unfair to pay children so little. You think of offering them .50 cents an hour, which is much much higher than the average, but still lower than minimum wage in the country you are from. You are also getting pressure from child advocacy groups to pay a fair wage. On the other hand if you offer the children the .50 cent wage, you will be overpaying them so much that your company will fail to compete with the other company. It is only a matter of time before the lower prices they can offer their products for drive you out of business. This means that the 1000 workers that depend on your paycheck might end up in the unemployment line should you choose to pay the children a wage you feel is reasonable, but is much higher than average.

    Is it really exploitation if you are offering them more money than they already make? Is it wrong to keep your employees in business? No......but reality stinks!

    September 27, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • jute

      You really need to educate yourself on the topic before shooting off. Many of the cocoa growers value their crops and it is a significant part of their family income. You can’t just go make set standards of living for a third world county to the level of your choice. Stop buying the chocolate and famers and their children will suffer.

      September 27, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
      • KIM92

        you should look for fair trade on your chocolate, witch means the workers get paid what they should! :)

        September 28, 2011 at 8:10 am |
    • morgan painter

      Mr. Myagi say, "must first have a-balance."

      September 28, 2011 at 2:00 am |
  7. bailoutsos

    Most chocolate is grown in Ivory Coast and picked by forced child labor. Enjoy your chocolate.

    September 27, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • jay

      Good ol capitalism at work.

      September 27, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • Leafonthewind

      "Most"? Did you even read the article? The Ivory Coast only counts for a small percentage of the world's chocolate, and there are web sites that will tell you where the cocoa from your favorite bar was grown, and what that region's labor practices are.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • humtake

      God said that no man is perfect. You should try living in reality once in a while.

      September 27, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • Joe

      Life's a b***h. Quit whining, grab a helmet, and get in the game.

      September 27, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • kenwood

      how do you know, where do you get your "facts", did you just make that up? is it now "Blood Chocolate" ? give us a citation for your source.

      September 27, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  8. Robin

    Try chocolate bars with bacon crumbles. Sounds strange but OMG is it good! Whole Paycheck, oh I mean Whole Foods. $7 a bar.

    September 27, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • Kechiro

      I have to agree. It comes in milk and dark chocolate varieties, too. I prefer the milk, oddly enough – I think the dark overwhelms the bacon too much. For two distinct flavors such as these, they need to be balanced.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
  9. Adam

    Interesting that there was no mention that all the work is done by the poor being paid below poverty wages.

    September 27, 2011 at 9:42 am |
    • no that gets mentioned all the time

      off that soap box snappy

      and the article particularly mentions that it comes from ALL over the world, so only a % fits the group you are mentioning

      September 27, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
  10. Stephan

    If you wish to understand how chocolate is made and where it comes from, Chocolate Weekend NYC has events where you can meet chefs and tour factories around New York City. Check it out.

    September 27, 2011 at 9:10 am |
  11. Godiva Lover

    Godiva dark chocolate is amazing. So are their dk choc. truffles.

    September 27, 2011 at 7:43 am |
    • Kechiro

      I think Godiva's overrated, but admittedly the best (aside from Lindor) that most people can get easily. Treat yourself to some Moonstruck truffles, or Joseph Schmidt if you like a little whimsy.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
      • Godiva Lover@kechiro

        Crap, I forgot to ask where I can get the other's you mentioned. JGI?

        September 27, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
      • Jessica

        Try the green and black's milk chocolate, amazing!

        September 27, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • Godiva Lover@kechiro

      Interesting. I feel that Lindor is bland and waxy. Twitches Zone.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
  12. jesse

    here is another fact...Rats(very large ones) live in the giant burlap sacks with the beans as they are transported from South America . They eat, sleep, pee, poop, fight and even have sex and deliver young during the sometimes several week journey. For the ahole lawywers among you...that is just my opinion(and my experience as a trucker who used to pick up the bags). Don't believe me ??? Ask anyone who works the docks in NYC or NJ. MMMMM- MMM yumyum

    September 27, 2011 at 2:55 am |
    • Leafonthewind

      I don't doubt you, but is it really all that bad as far as rat infestation goes? If so, why have I never been sick after eating chocolate? Law of averages alone would dictate that I would have by now. I'm pushing 60 and I'm a complete chocoholic.

      Besides, isn't there an icky infestation or contamination story about every sort of food we eat? It's a messy world. That's why we have immune systems.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • Whorhay

      That stuff is going to be so heavily processed before it's eaten that it doesn't really matter. You might as well make the arguement that food grown on a farm was fertilized with manure and so shouldn't be eaten.

      My family used to raise and slaughter several hundred chicken every spring. I hate chickens, they are filthy disgusting creatures. I don't ever want to touch another one in my life. But my oh my are they delicous, I'll eat chicken anyday of the week.

      September 27, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
      • amen brother

        I grew up on a farm and had a similar experience to what you describe

        this Jesse is a troll

        September 27, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
  13. Ramon

    The fruit displayed in the photo above is absolutely delicious and should be enjoyed as much as the refined treasure its seeds create.

    Much of raw production of chocolate can be traced back to Mayan roots, which is mainly what we know today as Southern Mexico. My family and I have been refining the chocolate process by hand since 1920 to create some of the finest Mexican Chocolates, that we are certain can give even the best chocolate truffles in the World a run for their money. Our production and company size pales in comparison to some brand names, but its been all us and no others since the beginning in 1920. To learn more about what Mexican chocolate is all about, please explore what where are doing in the Mexican World of Chocolate at http://www.johfrej.com. Chocolates JOHFREJ, C&V. www (.) johfrej (.) com



    September 27, 2011 at 1:14 am |
    • Kechiro

      I'm checking this out. Thanks!

      September 27, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • Dianne

      I had the most wonderful hot chocolate when I was in Yucatan.

      September 30, 2011 at 7:25 am |
  14. PooDIPIDI

    Why not extract a white powder from it?

    September 27, 2011 at 12:07 am |
  15. Pimpson

    This made me hungry.

    September 26, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
    • PooDIPIDI

      Coke never makes me hungry.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:04 am |
  16. I need goggles

    I feel as if I'm the only person who strongly dislikes chocolate :c

    September 26, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • nimrod

      You are.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:12 am |
    • Dianne

      You have my sincere condolences!

      September 30, 2011 at 7:31 am |
  17. ChoczInmyMouth

    I LOooOoOVe CHooococolate.. especially Lindt!!!

    September 26, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
  18. Joe

    Food of the gods. The body also synthesizes the active ingredient theobromine in cocoa from caffeine, which in MODERATE amounts has many health benefits from improving circulation to fighting some cancers and may even help manage depression. it also acts as a cough suppressant. dark chocolate is a better source than milk chocolate.

    September 26, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
  19. boodles

    So how does this relate to the recent article on CNN about child slavery harvesting cacao beans in Ivory Coast? There should be a connection.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • HerringBones

      Excellent point; No mention of the chronic exploitation of children here. Would've been a simple thing and still pertinent to the article to perhaps include a "consumer beware" bit. Oh, but that might've been inconvenient or actually forced somebody to take a look at the PEOPLE who make that "labor intensive" product so "worth it!"

      September 27, 2011 at 12:10 am |
  20. elle

    Ah, chocolate! it is good against depression. One problem – if I eat too much, I get pimples on my face :-(

    September 26, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • Jeff

      That is not true...chocolate does not cause zits. Ask any dermatologist

      September 26, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
    • PooDIPIDI

      You need to start washing your hands after you poop!

      September 27, 2011 at 12:06 am |
    • Elizabeth

      There is a lot less chocolate allergy than people think.
      However, some people can develop breast cysts from caffeine products, including chocolate.
      And women with endometriosis are sometimes told to avoid it. But there are always rumors, even in the medical community, and you need to check the latest facts.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:47 am |
  21. Matt

    Cacao isn't Latin for cocoa. It's Spanish,and is further derived from the Aztec Nahuatl language. There is no Latin word for cocoa.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • Sheila

      Here's some Latin for you: Ipse Dixit.

      (Means: "If you say so.")

      September 26, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
      • Veni Vidi Veci

        latin gets me hot

        September 27, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
    • cord

      You're wrong and the article is wrong. The article should have read, "The latin name [not word] for cocoa is . . ." But the plant does have a Latin (or scientific) name, which is Theobroma cacao.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
      • Matt

        Look up the plant if you must. Theobroma is not Latin, and neither is cacao.

        September 26, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
    • Ogre


      September 28, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  22. Diana McCalla

    Or better yet, Try the healthy chocolate that is not candy, but the most advanced health product you can buy. Because they cold press the cocoa beans, they keep all of the nutrients and antioxidants. And it is so decadent and delicious you will think you are doing something wrong! You can get the equivalent of 12 servings of raw fruits and vegetables for as little as 100 low-glycemic calories. There is a great article on the difference between “good” chocolate and “bad” chocolate at cocoa101blog.com.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • Sheila

      Going to cocoa101blog.com now.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
  23. Jon

    If you love chocolate, I encourage you to try Crio Brü – it's 100% cocoa that brews like coffee. It has all of the complex flavors that Ray mentions and with only 10 calories per cup! You can buy it on Amazon and Crio's website.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • Kelli

      Jon, is that the same thing as Choffy? Choffy is also 100% cacao beans, roasted and ground, and brews like coffee. It has a ton of health benefits, which you can read about here: http://www.drinkchoffy.com/kelli. I've discovered it as my new "healthy hot chocolate!" I will have to look into Crio Bru, too.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
  24. Skottikins


    September 26, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
  25. lmew

    I love chocolate :)

    September 26, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
  26. teamom

    This article is just papp. Scharffen Berger is now owned by Hershey's.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
    • Barneyjake

      I love Hershey's...the kisses, the highway, the.......what were we taking about?

      September 26, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
      • mike

        did not go unnoticed. lol

        September 26, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
      • mr sunshine

        hersheys is the best. My friend makes it out of his aparmtment. Im in charge of being the fudge packer and I get a lot of enjoyment out of it.

        September 26, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
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