What’s The Gross Taste In Cheap Chocolate?

Dubious manufacturers of chocolates of low distinction like to pull a fast one on chocolate lovers that has many of us nonplussed, to say the least, but a great many more, those that have never had any other kind, content to ingest chemicals instead of cocoa.

The nefarious choco-mongers swap Polyglycerol polyricinoleate for cocoa butter (so they can sell you cheaper-to-make chocolate that tastes like cardboard and has been stripped of some of it’s most beneficial antioxidants it and then turn around and sell you the cocoa butter they removed as skin cream).

Ever wonder what that awful aftertaste is as you’re spitting out a bite of substandard chocolate? It’s PGPR, the chocolate industrial complex’s latest evil answer to if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Gone is the awesome taste of unsullied chocolate. Behold the gnarly taste of chocolate made from the fatty acids of castor oil.

For years, sub-quality chocolate manufacturers (Hershey’s, Nestle, Mars, et al) have been trying to get the FDA to allow them to replace the naturally-occurring cocoa butter with vegetable oil. Failing that, they succeeded in getting the cocoa butter – PGPR swap approved, ostensibly in the name of cost savings, but of course there’s a profit to made from that freed-up cocoa butter and hungry consumers with unhappy faces.

Not only does PGPR taste like yuck, it also replaces a healthful component of chocolate. A 1996 UC Davis study on the health benefits of chocolate revealed that the powerful antioxidants in chocolate actually derived from cocoa butter and the stearic acid it produces.

So that’s the hand you’ve been dealt by the big money chocolateers: a substandard(er) bar of chocolate with an unsavory aftertaste and the healthful ingredients removed. And in return, we are able to give those chocalateers bigger profits.

A Cocoa Bean Is Born

Somewhat counterintuitively, cocoa is not born a bean. In order to become the cocoa bean we all know and love so well, the seed of Theobroma cacao must first be fermented and dried. The process looks like this:

cocoa beanFirst, whole cocoa pods are harvested from the trees. This occurs at various times throughout the year as not all the pods ripen at once. Once harvested, they are transported to a fermenting facility.

Back at the facility, the pods are cut open and the pulp and cocoa seeds are removed and the rind is discarded. The pulp and seeds are piled in heaps, placed in bins, or laid out on grates.

cacao beansThe pulp and seeds ferment in the bins over the course of several days, the pulp liquifying during this time. The liquified pulp is allowed to seep through the bottoms of the bins into the grates where it is drained away. This process of fermentation, called “sweating,” must be monitored carefully, as it is essential to the taste and quality of the cocoa bean.

Once the rind has completely liquified and drained the cocoa seeds remain to be collected. They are spread out over a large surface, exposed to heat (preferably the sun), and raked frequently to speed the drying.

Finally, after this elaborate, several-day process, like an ugly duckling into a swan, a bitter cocoa seed has been transformed into a sweet, mild cocoa bean.

cacao beans