Ask the Alchemist #10 – Halloween edition

“Flying winged creatures, webs, creepy crawly things, dry ice and that eerie fog it makes – how is this about chocolate?”

Ok, I admit it – it’s kind of a forced question – but it works for the day and it’s a good subject. Really, it all comes down to one thing – Cocoa moths. Much like a good scary movie, or haunted house, or creepy story, this subject has a tendency to make people squirm.

(hushed whisper)
There are bug parts in that organic chocolate you have been eating
(gasp)


Yep. Or most likely. Moths LOVE cocoa. It is a fact. Now, I am not talking chocolate covered ant quantities, but they are there. And even more so, the chances are higher if you are talking organic chocolate. (Disclaimer – I am NOT dissing organic chocolate, or saying it’s worse, just talking hard facts). Why? Even the cleanest cocoa, I have seen tale tell signs of moths. Sometimes it is just a trace of webbing across a bean (one or two in a whole sack) or a small hole in a bean. Sometimes it is a larvae crawling around from an egg that has hatched out. And sometimes I don’t see anything at all but see moths flitting around. And generally speaking, organic cocoa is the worst….well, that does not sound good…. organic cocoa is often where I see the most signs. And obviously, it’s because nothing was applied to them to kill off any of those fun little creepy crawlers.

So why are the beans you buy not infested with moths and larvae and webs? Because it is possible to treat the beans organically and keep everything under control quite well.

Enter Gassing the little buggers. Death, mayhem, destruction, suffocation…..and that fun stuff Dry Ice.

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When cocoa arrives here, it goes into a storage unit that I add a good quantity of dry ice to. The result is that the dry ice, frozen carbon dioxide, is released. Now, we breathe carbon dioxide all the time and do not die (from it). That is because there is oxygen present. If you add 10 lbs of dry ice to a small area, a lot of the oxygen is forced out, and the resulting atmosphere simply can not support life. Bye bye you little buggers.

And just in case, every month or so, the beans are treated again to keep any new comers or later comers in check.

Really, all this is not nearly as bad or scary as it sounds. Once you flip the lights on, and start talking about it, that creepy movie is just not that bad. I’ll say out right that I don’t bring in beans that are actively infested, and should a infestation occur (I’ve seen two, and dealt with them) the beans are NOT treated and sold – they are THROWN OUT.

This dry ice treatment is a result of such an out break many years ago and at this point it is purely preventative. But, even should a small moth or crawler make it through, by the time you roast, crack and winnower, the majority, if not all of that moth is GONE.

If you are buying bulk beans (25 lbs or more, and specifically full sacks), you may want to seriously think about your own program for moth control. One bag into a 55 gal drum, with 1 lb of dry ice, closed up for 2 days will take care of anything that may, or may not, be there. It’s really that simple. But you need to think about it and do something about it, and not just turn your head away. Unlike the movies, closing your eyes here because it makes you squirm can cause you problems. Turn those lights on, stare the issue at hand in the face and deal with it….and know that near everyone deals with it and it’s not a big deal. And heck, if you DO see something flitting or flying or crawling around….take heart – you have another layer of assurance those beans are organic, or if not certified organic, certainly not ill treated or those buggers would not be around (if you get a lemon, make lemonade as the saying goes).

So, ok, second admission – I probably overstated the case that your chocolate has bug parts in it. If there were any there, most likely they are gone…..oh, but there is another case for roasting properly and thinking twice before popping that raw cocoa bean in your mouth…..OOOOOHHHHHHHHH

Happy Halloween folks. Oh, and if all else fails, set up a good scowling gargoyle to scare them away…..

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