Cocoa beans are seeds of the Cacao tree. A member of the family Malvaceae, Cacao (Theobroma cacao) is a small tree that grows majorly in tropical regions. It is native to the Amazon basin although its cultivation has now spread to different parts of the world.
The beans serve as a major contributor to the acquisition of foreign exchange for countries that export it. Cocoa beans are enclosed in cocoa pods that grow directly from the trunk of the trees. The pods are cut open to reveal the fresh beans that usually have a purplish hue. This hue disappears and the seeds turn brown during the fermentation process. Fermentation is necessary as cocoa beans naturally have a very bitter taste. The process reduces the bitterness and builds up the desired cocoa flavour in the beans.
Due to its high versatility, cocoa beans are used in the preparation of many delicacies. Asides chocolate, which is its most popular derivative, several other products can be gotten from them. They are used in the manufacture of cocoa butter, cocoa powder, and other cocoa-based products such as chocolate cakes, icecream and so on. In addition to its versatility, cocoa beans carry numerous health benefits.
They are rich in antioxidants such as polyphenols and flavenols which help in reversing damage caused by free radicals in the body. Research has also proven them to be effective in fighting against heart disease as well as lowering high blood pressure.
To reap the full benefits of cocoa beans, it is very important to make use of high-quality ones. High-quality cocoa beans yield the best tasting cocoa-based goods while also preventing the health hazards that come with bad beans.
So, if you’re looking to purchase these beans, following the tips listed below will help you identify the high-quality ones.
The colour of the cocoa beans is a very good parameter in determining its quality
Properly fermented and dried cocoa beans are brown with no trace of purple in sight. This is achieved by allowing the beans to ferment completely for about 7 days.
If the fermentation process does not last for long enough, the beans will still retain its purple colour and bitter taste. This will have a nasty effect on the product the beans are eventually used to prepare.
Mouldy and slaty cocoa beans should be avoided
Mouldy beans have not been allowed to ferment nor dry properly. Hence, they look mouldy due to fungal growth and have a rough texture. The slaty ones have a colour combination of purple and grey and are results of incomplete fermentation.
High-quality cocoa beans have the rich, intense cocoa flavour
Under-fermentation and over-fermentation can cause flavour defects in cocoa beans leading to excessive bitterness and astringency. Cocoa beans also tend to absorb the flavour of anything they come in contact with such as smoke, chemicals and so on.
This adds some off-flavour to the beans that are usually impossible to remove even after further processing. To ensure the beans only have desirable flavours, you should ask that a sample of the cocoa beans be made into cocoa liquor or dark chocolate. Then, they are tasted to check the strength of the flavour, presence of any residual acidity as well as extra positive flavours the beans may possess.
Check the physical characteristics of the beans
They should be fairly uniform in size with unbroken shells. They should also be reasonably free from debris, sticks, broken shells of the beans, living or dead insects, and pesticide residues. The beans should not be clumped together or flat as this could mean serious losses for whoever purchases them.
The weight of a single cocoa bean should be verified before purchasing
An average bean should weigh at least 1g. A smaller bean translates to a higher percentage of shell which means the fat percentage in it will be low. Smaller beans also require certain adjustments in factory settings that increase the costs of processing.
High-quality cocoa beans have been properly dried
The percentage of moisture falls between 7 and 8%. If the moisture content is more than 8%, edible material is lost and there is an increased risk of microbial infection. A moisture percentage of less than 6.5% translates to broken shells and a higher number of broken beans.
How cocoa beans are stored plays an important role in determining its quality. If they are stored shabbily, they become dirty and infested resulting in a decrease in quality. The beans should be stored in clean bags. These bags should then be kept in dry storage houses that are free from rodents to prevent infestation.