The Truth about “Raw” Chocolate

by Stephanie Zonis

There isn’t any.Let the angry e-mails commence! I don’t mean that there isn’t any chocolate that’s truly raw (although that may be the case, too); I mean that hard and fast truths about such a product are very difficult to come by. There’s almost as much misinformation about this subject as there has been about JFK’s assassination, and considering the brief length of time that “raw” chocolate has been around by comparison, that’s really saying something.First things first: at this writing, there are no legal standards for “raw” products, period. There is no independent, third party certification for “raw” products, period. There is no agreement, even within the raw food community, about the maximum permissible temperature for a food. 118 degrees F is a popular number, but I’ve also seen 116 degrees F, 104 degrees F, and at least three other candidates between 104 and 118 degrees F. With the lack of a legal definition or even consensus among raw fooders themselves on exactly what constitutes a “raw” food, anyone can tell you that their chocolate is “raw”, but that may or may not be true. In 2009, for instance, Essential Living Foods (www.essentiallivingfoods.com) issued a statement announcing that they (and, by extension, their customers) had been duped. The supposedly “raw” cocoa and cocoa butter they’d been obtaining from Ecuador was nothing of the kind; it had been processed at temperatures exceeding 200 degrees F. (The company now sources their raw cocoa products from Indonesia and proclaims that they are the world’s first “verified” raw products of this type (meaning that company representatives traveled to Indonesia, videotaped the manufacturing process, and satisfied themselves regarding temperature limitations). But “verified” is not the same as independent, third party certification; that still doesn’t exist.)The temperatures are important, because cacao seeds/beans on the way to becoming chocolate are typically put through several processes that involve heat. There’s fermentation, which rids the beans of some of their bitter and astringent flavors, and subsequent drying of the beans to remove excess moisture prior to storing, sorting, and shipping. Fermentation is carried out when the beans are still surrounded by the fruit pulp of the cocoa pod, and the process lasts for at least 48 hours (sometimes much longer, depending upon many factors). While the temperature of the fermenting mass can rise above 118 degrees F, this is not a given. Much depends on how the fermentation is done; the temperature of the drying beans, too, will vary considerably. Clay Gordon, of www.thechocolatelife.com, notes this, “…It is actually easy to fully and completely ferment cacao (italics and bold type are Mr. Gordon’s) and keep the pile under 118F…  The “trick” is to control the size of the pile. There are a number of fermentation boxes I have personally seen that make it possible to do this…It is somewhat harder to dry the beans and keep the temp under 118F —if the beans are dried in direct sun, and especially if they are dried on a concrete pad. Temperatures can easily reach 140F —at least at the surface of the pad. It is possible to dry beans at low temp, it just takes a lot more care, takes longer – and therefore costs more.”zonis_cocoa_puro.jpgAnyone familiar with the chocolate-making process knows that a critical part of the manufacture of conventional chocolate is roasting. The maker of Amano Chocolate, Art Pollard, states that roasting “is one of the most important steps in the process of developing chocolate flavor”. He adds that roasting temperatures begin at 210 degrees F. Tom Pedersen, of www.cocoapuro.com, tells me that roasting temperatures should be above 212 degrees F, in order to steam off moisture content; higher temperatures also enable caramelization and a process called the Maillard reaction that add flavor to the beans. So a “cold roast” process, that is to say, one under 118 degrees F, can’t exist. Not only that, but the lack of roasting doesn’t allow crucial flavor changes within the cocoa bean, so any “raw” chocolate won’t have the flavor profile associated with conventional chocolate.

Since any genuinely raw chocolate must be made from beans that are not roasted (though they might be dried further at low temperatures), some people are concerned about pathogens in the unroasted beans, including Salmonella. Www.gardenislandchocolate.com quotes Dr. Keith Warriner, a food microbiologist at Canada’s University of Guelph: “Because chocolate is high in fat it protects Salmonella from environmental stress and stomach acid…if chocolate does become contaminated, Salmonella survives longer and only needs to be present in low numbers to survive passage through the stomach.”

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Colin Gasko (www.roguechocolatier.com) tells me that people wouldn’t want to eat raw chocolate if they saw the way cacao beans were treated in countries where they’re grown. He has seen beans stored outdoors, by the side of the road, or under other decidedly non-hygienic conditions, such as sharing an area with chickens, who walk over and/or defecate on them.

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Kristen Hard (www.cacaoatlanta.com) agrees. She’s visited Venezuela to source beans, and there are no sanitary regulations on farms where beans are initially processed and dried. Animals, she explains, are “out and about among the beans”. Ms. Hard points out that there are some lower-heat, or non-heat-dependent, methods that might help this situation, such as ultraviolet lights. Farmers that grow cacao are generally poor, though, so any technology of this type would likely have to be supplied by an outside source. I have not heard of any cacao farmers being supplied with non-heat-dependent means to reduce pathogens. That doesn’t mean it’s not happening, but if I were a supplier or client doing this, I’d use it as a selling point. Surely germ-phobe Americans (and we are germ-phobes) would want to know that their raw cacao beans had less risk of possible pathogen contamination than untreated beans?If cacao beans do become contaminated, even a thorough cleaning and winnowing of beans might not be sufficient to remove pathogens from them, something else that higher-heat roasting can accomplish. Not everyone shares these apprehensions; Samantha Madell (www.tava.com.au) is a chocolate maker in Australia who has done considerable research into this issue, and she has found no occurrences of raw chocolate causing salmonella poisoning. Her belief is that “chocolate products typically become dangerous when non-cocoa ingredients, such as egg and dairy products, are added to them”. And in fairness, it should be noted that cases of Salmonella poisoning have occurred in conventional chocolate. Post-processing testing for pathogens is important for all chocolate products, raw or conventional.

f_bitebar.jpgThere’s another process after roasting that can heat cacao beans to higher temperatures. Once the beans are freed of their outer shells, the bean pieces, or nibs, are crushed in mills that operate at high speed. The resulting paste-like mixture is cacao liquor or chocolate liquor (unsweetened chocolate, in layman’s terms, and, despite the name, it contains no alcohol). The friction in any high speed process will usually generate a good amount of heat; Tom Pedersen informs me that the grinding process generally raises cacao liquor temperatures upwards of 130 degrees F, and even higher temperatures have been mentioned by others who work with conventional chocolate. Samantha Madell believes that grinding nibs under 118 degrees F is entirely possible, but she says, “It’s easy to coarsely grind nibs at a low temperature…it’s also easy to grind small quantities of nibs, or to grind nibs for a short time, or to stone grind nibs slowly, or with expensive water-cooled equipment, at low temps.” (The italics are hers.)

zonis_alchemy.jpgJordan Schuster, of The Fearless Chocolate Company (www.fearlesschocolate.com), writes that Fearless uses “water jacketed ball mills” for nib grinding. Daniel Sklaar (www.fineandraw.com) employs a small (65 pound) stone grinder for his admittedly small-scale business, but adds that there are several different machines capable of grinding at low temperature. John Nanci (www.chocolatealchemy.com) agrees, saying that standard (read: industrially-produced) chocolate is ground in a high speed mill. Nanci has been making his own non-raw chocolate on a small scale for years. For grinding, he employs a peanut grinder, and the end product emerges “at around 110 F”.
zonis_fineraw.jpgAfter the chocolate liquor is produced, most manufacturers will conche it. While there’s some debate about whether conching improves the flavor of the chocolate, the process unquestionably provides a smoother chocolate. Originally, chocolate was conched in long stone receptacles; the process was accomplished with stone balls and often took days. Modern manufacturing uses heavy rollers or rotary mixing blades, and chocolate may be conched for only a few hours or for up to several days. Bear in mind that the chocolate undergoing conching needs to be in liquid form. The question now becomes, is it possible to conch at temperatures under 118 degrees F? John Nanci sells devices called “melangers”, for conching small quantities of chocolate. His take on the situation? “I’ve heard of people using the melangers I sell to make raw chocolate by somehow keeping the temperature under 118 F, but personally I’ve never been able to do it.” His e-mail added that his current batch of chocolate, in the melanger as he typed, was 127 F, “and many batches I run are above 135 F.” By contrast, Daren Hayes (www.stirsthesoul.com) declares that keeping chocolate under 118F while conching is “all about climate control”. He has an airflow going over the motors of his conching machines, as well as an exhaust fan that can either heat or cool the room in which the machines are located.

Again, after the chocolate liquor is produced, it’s sometimes separated into its components (cacao butter and cacao powder) via hydraulic press. These presses are serious business; according to Maricel E. Presilla’s The New Taste of Chocolate, they can exert a force of over six thousand pounds per square inch. As a rule, that amount of pressure results in a build-up of heat. How much heat? Samantha Madell comments that she and her partner have pressed cocoa liquor in hydraulic presses at temperatures under 118 degrees F, but that “the same limitations apply as with grinding: if it’s inefficient, or slow, or small scale, or on water-cooled equipment, it’s not too difficult.” Others I’ve talked to, all of whom work with conventional chocolate, don’t think that even slightly larger-scale hydraulic liquor pressing is possible under raw temperature restrictions.     There are other ways to separate the components, including a screw expeller (Ms. Madell has had “quite a bit of experience” with screw expellers; she’s never checked the temperature on any she was working with, “but the output was definitely hot—I would guess considerably hotter than 118 F”). There’s also something called the Broma process. In this, ground cacao beans are bagged and hung in a warm room. In theory, the heat in the room causes the cocoa butter to melt and separate from the mass of ground beans. Cocoa butter melts at around normal human body temperature, so the Broma process wouldn’t violate any raw food restrictions. However, the Broma process is notoriously slow and inefficient, and some chocolatiers to whom I’ve spoken don’t think it works at all. While I haven’t checked in with everyone making bean-to-bar raw chocolate, I know of no one using this method.

Even supposing that you can find cacao beans fermented and dried at a low temperature, kept constantly below the 118 degree F threshold, can you manufacture a truly raw chocolate product? That depends. You’ll want to sweeten whatever you’re creating, as unsweetened cocoa powder isn’t especially palatable. Now, as you might expect, chocolates labeled “raw” should not use refined sugar as a sweetener. Agave nectar is a popular choice these days, but is it raw? Well, maybe. Again, because there is no independent raw certification, because there are no legal standards, it’s difficult to be sure. I’ve seen claims that all agave nectar is processed at temperatures under 118 degrees F, and I’ve seen statements insisting that 140 degrees F is a much more common temperature for making nectar. Another chocolatier, who did not want to be mentioned here, raised another potential problem with agave nectar; it’s water-based. Chocolate, even raw chocolate, is fat-based. This means that chocolate sweetened with agave nectar would be extremely difficult to temper, although at least two bean-to-bar companies offer such a chocolate. If you don’t know about tempering, it’s a complex process, but one vital to most chocolate. Skillful tempering is what gives chocolate its shine, a good smooth texture, and that satisfying “snap” you get when you break a piece from a chocolate bar.

Raw chocolate can also be sweetened with dried dates or coconut palm sugar. Are these raw? Coconut palm sugar is not, according to an article at NaturalNews.com (http://www.naturalnews.com/028996_palm_sugar_natural_sweetener.html; incidentally, the author of this article asserts that agave nectar is not raw). Surely dried dates must be raw, then? Not necessarily. Some are, but some are sulphured or even soaked in sugar syrup. I’ve found a “raw” chocolate sweetened with maple syrup, a substance very far from being raw. This particular chocolate maker uses maple syrup for a number of reasons; among them are the syrup’s “superior flavor”, environmental sustainability, vegan-friendly nature, low glycemic index score, and their belief that it’s “nutrient-rich”. At least one “raw” chocolate is sweetened with rapadura, an unbleached and unrefined form of cane sugar. However, rapadura is not a raw product by any stretch of the imagination. Jordan Schuster, the manufacturer of this chocolate, has this to say about his choice of sweetener: “…we don’t consider rapadura to be a raw sugar. Our stated objective is to present raw cacao in the best, most delicious, most conscientious way possible. I use rapadura because it’s the least refined dry sugar on the market with the lowest sucrose content per gram…”  I respect the beliefs of these manufacturers. And what they’re doing is perfectly within the letter of the law, given the lack of legal definitions and certification for raw foods in general. You must decide if it’s acceptable that “raw” chocolate may not contain all-raw ingredients.

Let’s say you’ve done everything necessary. Say you’ve found low-temperature-fermented beans, unroasted, kept under 118 degrees F during all processing. You’ve found a raw sweetener that works for you. You’ve even found raw additional ingredients (Goji berries, coconut, etc.—always popular in chocolate products). You’ve got real raw chocolate, in whatever form you please (bar, truffle, etc.). My next question is this: why are you eating it? I don’t mean that in an accusatory way; I’m asking a question. If you tell me that you’re eating it because you love the way it tastes and it makes you happy, I will tell you to go in peace and enjoy your raw chocolate, and may it bring a smile to your lips and a song to your heart. However, if you inform me that you’re eating raw chocolate because it’s healthy for you, I’m going to have to take you out back to the (virtual) woodshed.

I’ll start my explanation by saying that raw cacao powder, like cocoa powder made from roasted beans, does indeed contain a significant amount of some nutrients, if you consume enough of it. Both have a bit of protein and are a source of iron. You’ll also find other minerals present, such as zinc, copper, manganese, and phosphorus, along with more dietary fiber than you might expect. Www.Sunfood.com has a letter from David Wolfe, a big raw chocolate proponent, announcing that raw cocoa powder is “the richest food source of magnesium of any common food”. And then, of course, there are the antioxidants. A food’s antioxidants, you may know, are measured by its ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) score. Conventionally-produced cocoa powder (made from roasted beans) has an ORAC score in the 80,000 to 82,000 range per 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces), according to the USDA (http://www.ars.usda.gov/sp2userfiles/place/12354500/data/orac/orac07.pdf). Raw cocoa powder is not listed in the USDA table I found (which dates from late 2007). According to Mr. Wolfe, though, raw cocoa powder has an even more impressive ORAC score of 955 units per gram, or 95,500 units per 100 grams. Recognize that there are many different types of antioxidants, and not all are found in any one food. Then ask yourself this: how many antioxidant units do you require for optimum health in one day? Of what variety should they be? If you don’t know the answer to either question, that’s good, because you shouldn’t. Nobody does. Nobody knows anywhere near enough about antioxidants yet to be able to determine daily needs, or whether different antioxidants work on different parts of the body. And, as is the case with vitamins and minerals, more is not always better. Is consuming antioxidants in excess of the amount you need harmful? Once again, no one really knows. Now, according to a tin of cocoa I have, one tablespoon of conventional, unsweetened cocoa powder weighs about 5 grams. (One tablespoon is the amount I use to make a cup of hot cocoa.) You can’t eat twenty tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder (to make up 100 grams) within any reasonable length of time. By contrast, it’s entirely possible to eat 100 grams/3.5 ounces of, say, raw blackberries or raw blueberries at one sitting. Doing so provides more overall nutrition, far fewer calories, much less fat, one serving of your daily produce, and between 5200 and 6500 ORAC units of antioxidants, respectively, or slightly more than you’d get from that one tablespoon of raw cocoa powder. And there’s never a question as to whether those berries are really raw.

fbc-logo-brown-for-newsletter.jpgWhat’s more, there is NOTHING magical about 118 degrees Fahrenheit, nor about 104 degrees F, nor about any temperature within that range. If you don’t understand the temperature guidelines in the raw food movement, they exist because of enzymes. Supposedly, raw food is healthier for you because it’s “living” food, containing active enzymes. Enzymes, which are composed of proteins, are essential to the regulation of metabolic activity. Raw fooders believe that heating foods above their chosen temperature denatures the enzymes and that the food is then “dead”. I don’t propose to start a conversation on the logic of such a diet here, but some interesting facts about enzymes are brought up in this article: www.ecologos.org/denature.htm. Incidentally, Ms. Madell has also heard that raw food is “living”, but pronounces this claim “nonsense in relation to chocolate”, adding, “By the time they end up in a chocolate bar, cocoa beans (whether raw or not) are categorically dead.”

It is true that heating enzymes beyond a certain temperature will denature them, stopping their activity. There is an article about temperature and enzymes here: http://www.rawfoods.com/marketplace/excaliburstatement.html. The letter is from the manufacturer of a dehydrator and includes this passage: “…we spoke with Dr. John Whitaker who is a world recognized enzymologist, and former dean of the Department of Nutrition and Food Science at U.C. Davis. He said that every enzyme is different and some are more stable at higher temperatures than others but that most enzymes will not become completely inactive until food temperatures exceed 140 to 158 F in a wet state.” Bear in mind that Rawfoods.com is a pro-raw food diet website. The site’s FAQ page proclaims that “In general, the act of heating food over 116 degrees F destroys enzymes in food.” Yet the letter from Excalibur refutes that statement. If you’re confused right about now, that makes two of us. Further, that same website declares, “…cooking a food changes the molecular structure of the food and renders it toxic”. I challenge anyone reading this to present me with even one large-scale, long-term study, scientifically carried out by a reputable research group or organization, conclusively demonstrating the toxicity of food heated above 116 degrees F.

I quoted Clay Gordon earlier in this article talking about lower-temperature bean fermentation. He asserted that, while possible, it would take more time and more care, and therefore would cost more. That will hold true for all aspects of raw chocolate manufacture. It will cost more to ferment the beans, just as lower-temperature drying, conching, etc. will take longer (and hence cost more) than their conventional counterparts. Refined sugar is relatively cheap, but it isn’t used in raw chocolate, and the other sweeteners will likely be more expensive, as will additional ingredients. In a nutshell, raw chocolate is going to be pricey. I believe that some of this is because of the perception surrounding it. Think about organic food for a minute here. Yes, organic food does cost more to produce, but given the belief that it’s better for you, some sellers will charge more for it than costs would justify, and many consumers will continue to buy it because of a belief that it’s more nutritious and/or healthier for you. In my opinion, the same thing is happening with raw chocolate. Who doesn’t want to believe that the chocolate they love to eat is “healthy”, or at least better for you than a supermarket chocolate bar?

One more thing to think about, and that’s the source of “raw” chocolate and cocoa powder. I’ve mentioned Tom Pedersen, head honcho of Cocoa Puro, in this article. His business is heavily dependent upon cacao beans. He’s done his research, and he’s quite knowledgeable. The regions where most cacao bean processing is done are not wealthy, and in-depth technical knowledge of bean processing can be hard to find. Tom points out that “…much of the cacao industry, particularly (in these countries) isn’t set up to handle the finicky nature of raw food requirements. You’re lucky to get well-fermented beans at all, much less fermented and dried within a specific low temperature range.”

I wrote this article because I’m tired of the hyperbole and the exaggerated claims surrounding “raw” chocolate and “raw” cocoa powder. I’m weary of the insistence that a raw food diet is capable of miracles, like preventing the aging process. Nobody doubts that eating lots of raw or lightly cooked fruits and vegetables is a good idea, but chocolate and cocoa (raw or otherwise) are still dietary luxury items. And the concept that your food will be valueless or even toxic if it’s heated beyond 104 degrees or 116 degrees or 118 degrees is, frankly, fertilizer. I know that people are angry at the way large corporations produce and distribute our food. People are frightened and they feel powerless. With so many food recalls in recent years, and negative reports emerging frequently regarding what’s in the food we’ve eaten for years, it’s hard to blame anyone for that. But if the stereotypical American diet of overprocessed, high-sodium, high-fat, high-protein, high-sugar foods is one extreme, a raw food diet is simply the pendulum swinging to another extreme. Is that an improvement? I don’t think it is.

I’ve come down pretty hard on raw chocolate producers here. I’ve communicated with a number of people involved in the production of raw chocolate for this article, all of whom were unstinting with their time and had no way of knowing whether I was going to praise or condemn what they make. The great majority of raw chocolate makers and raw chocolatiers are like the rest of us—they’re just trying to find a niche and scratch out a living for themselves. Those I’ve spoken to seem convinced that they’re doing something good for people, and they’re all hard-working folks. But if you take away nothing else from this article, understand that your “raw” chocolate is dependent entirely upon trusting someone else’s word that it’s genuinely raw. In turn, that someone else must depend upon their suppliers’ word that the products the supplier furnishes are really raw. Raw cacao beans, raw cocoa powder, and raw cocoa butter require exacting conditions and techniques. But these products are not grown/processed in the US, where such conditions and techniques can be met or acquired without excessive difficulty; they’re grown/processed in Third World countries. In a time when suppliers will be anxious to bring more and more “raw” cocoa products to market due to increasing demand, will those exacting conditions and techniques still be met and applied constantly and continuously? I don’t know.

Does this mean there’s no real “raw” chocolate? The most interesting opinion I heard about this was from Daren Hayes (www.stirsthesoul.com), a small-scale raw bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturer. Hayes has made some of his own equipment and modified machines he’s bought. Stirs the Soul offers people a choice of three sweeteners. They grind their own beans and are in the process of acquiring equipment to do their own cocoa butter processing. When the 2009 Essential Living Foods story about “raw” cocoa products not really being raw broke, Stirs the Soul refused to sell bars made with that cocoa butter as raw, sustaining a heavy financial loss. So Mr. Hayes speaks about this subject with some authority, as far as I’m concerned. His way of looking at raw chocolate is that all bets are off—when it comes to industrial-scale production. He believes that raw chocolate production lends itself primarily to small business. My own belief is that there may indeed be some small businesses doing raw chocolate right. However, given the lack of legal definition and certification, there are no guarantees; those who eat these products must purchase and consume them on faith. Because of that, because of the health hype, and, last but not least, because I’ve never found any raw chocolate product I really enjoy, I have no recommendations for you. If you like the idea of supporting raw chocolate producers, ask a lot of questions before you buy, and keep trying products new to you. As usual, if you find something you love, e-mail me, and I’ll check it out. If you can intelligently refute anything I’ve written here, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Finally, I call upon the raw chocolate industry to set some standards for themselves. At the very least, this means getting a third-party certification system in place, though a legal definition might be required first. If nothing else, standards might reduce some of the confusion out there. And in this Age of Too Much Information, anything that can be done to lessen bewilderment can only help consumers in the long run.

Special thanks:

Tom Pedersen, Cocoa Puro, www.cocoapuro.com

Samantha Madell, Tava, www.tava.com.au

Colin Gasko, Rogue Chocolatier, www.roguechocolatier.com

Jael and Dan Rattigan, French Broad Chocolates, www.frenchbroadchocolates.com

Jordan Schuster and Trevor Martin, The Fearless Chocolate Company, www.fearlesschocolate.com

Kristen Hard and Caline Jarudi, Cacao Atlanta Chocolate Company, www.cacaoatlanta.com

Daniel Sklaar, Fine & Raw Chocolate, www.fineandraw.com

John Nanci, Chocolate Alchemy, www.chocolatealchemy.com

Daren Hayes and Lisa Rain, Stirs the Soul, www.stirsthesoul.com

29 Responses to “The Truth about “Raw” Chocolate”

  1. Dear Stephanie,

    Thank you for this very informative writing on raw cocoa and foods in general. I found the observations objective and useful for people such as myself looking for credible information about foods we buy and consume for health.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. Superb article. Just one thing about enzymes and the comment from Dr. Whitaker. He mentioned 140 degrees to be the starting minimum, for most enzymes, to become completely inactive. Rawfoods.com said above 116 enzymes destroys enzymes in food. The question might be where does the point of enzyme destruction commence and to what degree does it progress as the temperature rises to 140-158 for complete inactivity of the enzymes. 116 or thereabouts seems to be a reasonable possibility. Asking Dr. Whitaker for a definitive answer would be best. This might make more sense of the actions of raw food makers of bars and such, even if unreasonable in many respects. Again, one of the best articles on cacao/chocolate and every aspect of it in a precise, relatively short essay that I have ever read. Thank you

  3. Spot-on!

    We are cocoa producers and have lots of inquiries for “raw” cocoa. We’d love to supply these clients and see happy chocolate eaters but we would be forced to have tens of shades of “raw” in our portfolio to satisfy each an every interpretation of “raw”…..

  4. Claudine,

    My first thought when reading your comments about enzymes comes from my general chemistry, and scientific background, and is rather devil’s advocate, and I will grant comes off as a bit flippant, but there is it. Enzymes….why do you care? Is there any evidence the stomach (at pH <2) doesn't deactivate them? And if not, what good do they do you? They are proteins, and nearly all enzymes have very specific conditions needed to make them active, and I'm suspicious that the human gut is conclusive to the enzymes in cocoa. For that matter, ARE there even enzymes in cocoa, and if so, what do they do, and why are you specifically concerned they remain active? Please know I am by no means discounting many of the benefits of raw food in general, I just dislike painting with the wide brush of 'raw is of course' better when there are numerous examples where raw is not best (soy beans for instance jump to mind in that they are not even digestible raw). I guess I am asking for the concrete scientific studies that show there is are enzymes in cocoa (which I totally concede there may be), and that there is a very specific benefit to consuming in their non-denatured form.

    As for the 140 F degree comment about most enzymes becoming inactive, all I can say is that as a long time brewer, alpha and beta amylase don't even become active until that temperature. Food for thought....

  5. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this. I have found it incredibly informative. I myself have started a micro business making chocolate bars from cacao powder, paste and butter and have been going back and forth about the ‘raw’ factor (I have been using so-called “raw” ingredients before all the research I have been doing.) I am now pretty convinced to use roasted paste/ beans. I still want to create a product that is different from those I find on the shelf, mostly because I do like the raw chocolates I’ve come across (ie: Lulu’s) and ever since trying these raw versions I cannot enjoy regular chocolate. I think for me it is the sugars used as well as the other ingredients (lucuma, mesquite, and maca) which make it appealing to me. I myself am not a raw foodie, nor do I want to be. I just am a person who prefers things not as sweet as the ‘sugar for breakfast, lunch, and dinner’ majority. I think one of the theories behind raw chocolates is about using a healthier sweetener, and thereby allowing the body to gain the benefits of the cacao without the detriments of white sugar. I have been using coconut sugar because of this and enjoy it alot. It is full of nutrients, not raw but wholesome. Once again thanks for this, it has helped me get clear on the direction my business is heading.

  6. Enzymes survive only when you not roast the beans over 47.5 celcius that’s why i choose a chocolate that’s only produced at 31 celcius and this hand made chocolate is the first in the world who mannaged this to reinvent the machines.

  7. About all I can say about this is that I checked out your site, and all I see is testimonials but nothing concrete or any documentation that backs up that enzymes are preserved and if if that is the case, why it’s even important. Can you point to any scientific analysis or studies that show why anyone should care if there are any enzymes present in chocolate? This is basically what I said before – ‘so what?’ Testimonials of ‘I ate this and felt great’ just don’t hold any water for me.

  8. This information is extremely well researched and logical. There’s too much hyped up opinion on the benefits of raw food/raw chocolate and not enough factual info so that raw foodists/those interested in the raw food movement can make informed decision on the drawbacks of consuming certain health foods. I am more concerned with the carcinogens in heated chocolate since they roast the beans at such high temps. The beans been kept outdoors in unhygienic conditions is also something that is not shared on most “raw chocolate” sites. Thank you for bringing to light that the enzymes in both raw and processed chocolate is actually denatured after the beans go through processing.

  9. By the way, really nice article. It made me reach for a piece of chocolate.

  10. To read this information after some of my posts pertaining to nutritional content of cacao is humbling. When I have contacted three “raw” bean suppliers these companies use a citrus based disinfectant to sterilize the beans. Two of the companies supplied me with MSDS reports showing a moisture content of one percent roughly and no pathogen content. As Alchemist has stated, I have to go on trust here. Someone educate me here… There is a concern of sterlization with “raw” beans due to exposure from animals etc. Are beans that are fermented and roasted exposed to similar conditions? If so, roasting is a form of sterilization. Is using an organic citrus disinfectant a valid form of sterilization as well. It seems to me that “raw” or not both have the potential of being in conditions that could be unfavorable. The U.S. is a far cry from as high of standards as some may think. I know of folks that worked salt and sugar plants where all sorts of dead animals were found. Kinda like lawns. Just because it is a brighter green doesn’t mean it’s good. I don’t think organic is a claim to be beneficial. Haven’t there been enough studies proving the effects of chemical contaminants on the body. It is absurd that a “leading nation” has allowed a standard of food where only two percent of food is organic. Quite frankly, that’s pathetic. Please excuse me, just a rant. I am not so into the name raw as it’s creating yet another label. My interest lies in supporting cacao production that strives for standards. Not just flavor but mainting its health giving integrity. A question I would love to hear thoughts on. Say raw cacao movement production became a majority, what are some of the affects? If these countries producing growing cacao are already poor, by not fermenting and roasting(which is a very long tradition) is it possible the work force required could be greatly reduced? Is it more sustainable to keep with tradition of roasting than using disinfectant? The disinfectant concerns me. When big manufacturers get there hands in the pot, god only knows what chemicals they would use as a disinfectant. We already have enough problems with this. That is a fact, not a debate.
    Below I have given an ORAC score from one company randomly pulled from internet. This drives me nuts about the internet as the numbers are quite a bit different than what John is saying in regards to raw and roasted. Someone knowing nothing on the subject and not having consistent scientific evidence from suppliers, seeing these scores would likely lean me towards “raw” beans over roasted(that’s to say if my interest lies predominantly with nutritional content) What say ye about this?

    ORAC scores for the Top 10 Antioxidant Foods (per 100 grams)
    1) Raw cocao powder*
    95,500
    1) Raw cacao nibs*
    62,100
    2) Roasted cocoa powder
    26,000
    3) Goji Berries*
    25,300
    4) Acai Berries*
    18,500
    5) Dark Chocolate
    13,120
    6) Prunes
    5,770
    7) Raisins
    2,830
    8) Blueberries 2,400
    9) Blackberries
    2,036
    10) Kale
    1,770
    Source: US department of Agriculture/Journal of American Chemical Society
    *Brunswick Laboratories MA, USA

    John the Alchemist… A simple thank you is well deserved for providing a wealth of knowledge and reminding me to ask questions.

  11. The main thing I’ll say about the ORAC numbers is that they are specifically ‘in vitro’ numbers and may or may not reflect what our bodies can absorb. After that, I note that Roasted cocoa powder is #3 on a list of top 10 and that is just about as hard as you can treat cocoa. And even there, noting that a 2/3 (estimating) drop is still a lot, it’s is still damn high. As a criticism, they don’t state whether those three top cocoa products are from the same starting product. In that the 3rd is not from the same laboratory, I’d say there is no chance they are the same…and without them being the same any comparison is basically impossible as I’ve seen data for a series of raw cocoa samples from different regions that vary from 20K-99K.

    As for the citrus based cleaner (shiver) in order to give it any credence I’d want to see results before treatment, not just after. I did the same test and found what I though was a great sanitizer…only to find I was using beans that were not contaminated. A before and after is critical for this kind of test. After testing a number of sanitizers on purposefully contaminated beans I found none had the slightest effect. Food for thought.

  12. Thank you. I have had many discussions with people regarding the raw chocolate they are eating.

  13. Here’s a challenge: If raw is better, where’s the evidence?

    The story everyone is telling is essentially the same. It’s interesting to note somehow that all the research to date on raw chocolate (benefits) is magically applicable to all makers and chocolatiers alike. If there where no benefits of raw chocolate, would anyone still buy it?

    Who is willing to spend the extra money and go above and beyond the nutritional label data required by the FDA?

    I think I hear silence.

    A give big thanks to the author and to the Alchemist for hosting this article…

  14. You wrote and excellent and high quality article.

    ” I challenge anyone reading this to present me with even one large-scale, long-term study, scientifically carried out by a reputable research group or organization, conclusively demonstrating the toxicity of food heated above 116 degrees F.”- Stephanie Zonis

    Challenge:
    1. http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/News/2007/December/05120703.asp

    2. In reference to above link. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/othercarcinogens/athome/acrylamide

  15. Nope, those don’t do it. Totally not pertinent to chocolate and the demonstration of ‘over 116 F’.

    Later research showed that whenever food is fried, roasted or grilled to turn a tasty golden brown, acrylamide is also formed, via the Maillard reaction of amino acids such as asparagine with reducing sugars above 120°C.

    That is nearly 250 F in the presence of a reducing sugar to make one particularly toxic chemical.

  16. Hi really good article and great responses,feel I have wondered into an alternative WWW where people care about silly stuff like facts and science and proof.
    You mention David Wolfe I have a subjective view of David and
    see his rhetoric as similar to any “sales person” of religion ,ideas supplements,blenders,poncho’s perms ,etc
    it’s a shame he is involved with such important issues as
    chocolate and the health of our world .

    re cooked food and toxin
    “When you eat cooked food an alarm goes off in the immune system. The body goes through a process called digestive leukocytosis, where it starts generating white blood cell activity against the cooked food you eat. The cooking process changes the food structure to the point where the body cannot recognize it and treats it like a toxin.

    In the 1930’s Paul Kouchakoff, M.D. showed that if you ate a diet that was more than 51% cooked food, your body reacts to the food as if it was being invaded by a foreign organism. He further demonstrated that if 51% of your meals were raw, you would have no leukocytosis (no white blood cell reaction), so your immune system would not be activated with a false alarm.” also there is vitamin loss some say 85%
    not sure this is true ,but is where the “toxic ” idea stems from
    thanks again really useful article

  17. I’ve been trying to find out how they process raw cocoa. As I understand it the roasting is what gives cocoa most of its flavor. I’ve searched some scientific databases to find out something about the processing methods but I haven’t really found any articles on cold processing of cocoa or even on raw chocolate. The lack of definition for the whole “raw” concept is probably why. I’m still curious. How do they substitute the heat in the process and if the process yields the some of the main flavor compounds as in regular chocolate then what are the differences in the chemistry of these two products (chocolate and raw chocolate).

    In my opinion, raw foods might actually be less nutritious than regular foods (veggies, cereals…). There is no short explanation to this but cooking helps digesting basically. And sure enough destroys most pathogens.

    Also, there are so many dishonest suppliers in the food industry. In Europe some time ago they had horse meat sold as beef to food factories. I wouldn’t be surprised if they irradiated these third world organic raw products in order to sterilize them. (Wouldn’t be dangerous, just dishonest when not reported).

    Antioxidants – there are few of them proven to function as such in vivo.

    Anyway, thank you for this article. I enjoyed reading it.
    Thought I’d share some thoughts from a European Food Chemistry Student’s point of view. Here the emphasis is on food safety.

  18. I have tried to publish the evidence on this website, but unfortunately, the moderator is biased and won’t let my data be published :( Perhaps that will someday change? I guess censorship is still alive and well in the USA! Anyway, I hope this data finds the light of day on this site! :) David Wolfe and I invented raw chocolate. It is the idea of going bean to bar without roasting the beans. This is the “definition” of raw chocolate. Furthermore, it is a cold grinding of those beans keeping the temp at around 115 F or below. A lot of chocolate flavor comes from fermenting the beans. Roasting the bean brings out different flavor compounds and suppresses others. This is exactly analogous to the difference in flavor profile between raw and roasted almonds, also a nut. Flavor is always subjective, but chemical analysis is not. What someone loves another hates. Anyway, here is the analysis on raw chocolate being pound for pound at the same cacao content a minimum of DOUBLE the antioxidants or roasted cacao bean chocolate: http://www.sacredchocolate.com/scientific-cacao-chocolate-health-research/nutritional-characteristics/antioxidants-orac-explanation-and-comparisons/
    Steve Adler
    CEO & Founder
    Sacred Chocolate, LLC
    415-342-0527

  19. Steve, I am the moderator and I’ve never not allowed your posts. Maybe you are thinking another site? Regardless, your ‘analysis’ is not a study and is the classic ‘cherry picked’ data to show the results you desire. You have zero idea what the starting value of any of the beans are so you can make no inference as to the cause of the differences in levels. You can only make circumstantial claims bases on an apparent loose correlation of one known variable (roasting). Sorry, try again.

  20. Hey thanks for this article. I also have been a bit dubious about claims of “Raw” chocolate. Mainly as I have been lucky enough to participate in making chocolate from scratch in Peru and also to visit an organic cacao farm in Colombia.
    Whilst the Cacao fruit is actually quite delicious I have tasted it from fruit to bean, to fermented bean, to roasted bean – to chocolate. Basically it tastes great after fermentation but absolutely nothing like “chocolate”. If it tastes kind of like chocolate- the bean has been roasted….. This always made me suspicious of all the “raw” cacao and chocolate products I’ve seen around the place. They have all tasted roasted to me!

  21. Did Steve Adler actually say that he “INVENTED” raw chocolate?

  22. When I lived in Benin in 2013 my housekeeper would bring me the cacao fruit, which was free to everyone as long as the taker spit out the seeds and returned them to the cacao farmer. All cacao farms in thee surrounding countries had the same policy. Those spit out and returned seeds are what we buy in the West as cacao.

  23. Thanks for the article. I’ve tried just about every Fair Trade, organic dark chocolate bar that’s run through my health food Co-Op. We have a few local chocolatier that make their own bars too. The only company selling “raw” chocolate that I’ve run across Is a brand called Santosha. I tried their 85% bar which was like $5 an ounce. It’s very odd, bitter tasting and slightly dry. I much prefer Alter Eco. Their chocolate bars are consistently great and the 85% tastes much better than the flashy, expensive “raw” bar I tried. Haha.

  24. Regarding the temperature of enzyme inactivation, this would not be a single temperature (agreeing with what was stated in the excellent article) but the denaturation temperatue would depend on the enzyme in question.

    I think people who are willing to have a strong opinion about the health benefits of raw foods should be sure to understand what they are talking about, and understanding the chemistry of enzymes that are found in foods is central to that.

    Any freshman college course in general Biochemistry discusses enzyme kinetics, and there is an associated laboratiry with that too, which means this can easily be done at home with the purchase of some equiptment. Or go to your local college or university and ask to sit in on that unit.

    Active enzymes begin to denature at a charcteristic temperature and usually retain some biological activity until denaturation is complete. Enzymes do not need to be in living cells to be active, and active enzymes may be sold for use in research, as example.

    Here is a link to a very nice overview of enzyme kinetics:
    http://chemwiki.ucdavis.edu/Physical_Chemistry/Kinetics/Complex_Reactions/Enzymes/Enzyme_Assays

  25. It is not necessarily the case – even if raw cocoa had higher antioxidants than dark chocolate – if it is filled with sugar and sweeteners it won’t be healthier than a conventional milk chocolate which is not too sweet – maybe only worse. The same thing is true with tea – a cup of green tea with lots of sugar added is worse for you than a good cup of actual masala chai so they say. Yet stupid people believe anything that is said. It depends what the rest of the sheep are all doing out there, I guess. Beeeeeeeeh

  26. Only one thing can be done to lessen bewilderment in this Age of Too Much Information: don’t get bogged down by the little things. Focus on the things that will have the biggest impact, and don’t worry too much about the health properties of what you rightly call a luxury food item. Thanks for the in-depth article :)

  27. Most discussion seems focused on the enzymes, with some above on antioxidant properties.

    In regard to the effects of heating, we are dealing with 3 major components in this case:

    1. Enzymes (IMHO probably irrelevant once swallowed).

    2. Bioactive compounds, such as phenylethylamine, theobromine, anandamide all of which have a direct physiological effect, and are possibly inactivated by heating.

    3. Antioxidants. May be inactivated by heating. Jury still out on benefits/harm(!) of high level intake.

    Other components, such as vitamins, are undoubtedly affected, and no doubt, bacterial contamination is lessened when heating processes are used.

    But it is the physiological effects of the bio-active compounds which may be most interesting.

  28. Talofa lava (hello!) Stephanie

    Thank you for writing this article.
    My name is Fipe (Phoebe) and I originally come from Samoa, my Grandfather LAULU Sesole Stanley created the cacao strand Lafi7 in the 70’s, he worked closely with small villages back home to cultivate plantations of koko (Cacao) and export the fermented, dried beans to Europe. Unfortunately the relationships between Samoa’s small village farmers and european importers ended when he was laid to rest.

    I really appreciate your article as for many years I have been confused with the term “raw” when dealing with cacao. Knowing the conditions that the cacao had been processed back home, we always knew that the roasting of the bean is what gave it the flavour as well as didn’t make us all ill.

    The only raw part of the cacao we would eat is the fugi. Fugi is the Samoan name for the white stringy core of the cacao pod. I do no know what the english name would be.

    Since moving to Australia and asking those selling the “raw” cacao what makes this raw or what is their definition of raw it surprised me how little people know about the processing of their “raw chocolate” and also at times how defensive others would become.

    Fa’afetai lava
    Phoebe Preuss
    co-owner Living Koko

  29. Thanks for your article!
    There is no such thing as raw chocolate. Period.
    I own two tiny cocoa farms in the Dominican Republic, not to be self sufficient but to understand the process (been making chocolate since two decades).
    One reason, of many, why fermentation – controlled or spontaneous – is being carried out is to kill the bean. To create “cell death” so they will not sprout.
    The brown color is also a result of the fermentation, or more correct due to “cutting protein chains”. Remember that raw cacao beans are white, pink or purple on the inside.
    Even if you have “Sanchez cacao”, meaning you skip controlled fermentation in boxes etc. the cocoa will be spontaneously fermented mostly on the crust, but still partly fermented.
    If you loose temperature during the fermentation, this happens a lot, the process will be incomplete and the beans will most likely be mouldy (have personally seen many, many tons of bad cocoa beans through the whole cacao belt).
    First the mould will appear at the crust, then inside-out due to water activity. Sanchez is very often, if not always, mouldy.
    And yet raw chocolate makers keep talking about low temperature during fermentation.
    Is it safe to produce “healthy” raw chocolate from mouldy beans?
    How can raw cacao powder be brown at all?
    However, fermentation is not the BIG issue, it is the drying process.
    Have you tried to dry something in a very hot and humid climate?
    I say, it is impossible to dry incomplete fermented beans rainy days, even under covers. And it rains … So when the sun shines everyone takes away the cover. Even the tunnels are being uncovered, why? People cannot afford to loose their crops.
    So, there will be difference from batch to batch.
    Well, there is so much more to say. Just happy I found a place to share some of my notes.
    Anna-Sofia Winroth, Sweden

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