It’s true – single origin cocoa butter really IS awesome. I know this because I taste it. A lot.
If you don’t agree with me about cocoa butter’s awesomeness you’ve probably never tasted the right kind. And the reason you’ve probably never tasted the right kind is because it’s very, very, very hard to find.
Why is it so hard to find? Well, because it’s very, very, very hard to make. But we make it because adding single origin cocoa butter to our chocolate makes a huge difference in the flavor. I didn’t realize how much of an impact it had until the revelatory day when I first tasted a batch of our chocolate I made with single origin butter I’d pressed myself.
One of the reasons we make single origin chocolate is because we love bringing out the many different flavors in different types of cacao beans. If we added the industrial, deodorized cocoa butter which is an ingredient in most chocolate bars we’d be at best diluting the flavors of the cacao, and at worst adding unwanted off-flavors.
So, we use single origin butter we press ourselves from the same beans we use to make our chocolate. By doing this we’re enhancing the flavors of the cacao, in addition to making the bars extra smooth. And, our chocolate can truly be called single origin since we’re not adding butter from different beans.
Before I expound on the benefits of using single origin cocoa butter, and why it’s so different from the deodorized cocoa butter found as an ingredient in most chocolate bars, I should explain a bit more about what cocoa butter is. As Wikipedia concisely puts it, “Cocoa butter, also called theobroma oil, is a pale yellow, edible vegetable fat extracted from the cocoa bean.” Why is it also called theobroma oil? That’s an easy one – the scientific name for the cacao tree is Theobroma Cacao, which is Greek for “Food of the Gods.”
As with any food the quality of the raw materials you start with determines the quality of the finished product. In the case of cocoa butter taste is influenced by many factors including the type of beans used, roasting methods, the extraction process, whether or not it’s alkalized and if the cocoa butter is deodorized.
Lots to unpack there, so I’ll break down the process.
Making industrial scale cocoa butter starts in much the same way as making industrial chocolate. Many different types of beans are roasted together, winnowed to remove the shells, and ground into cocoa liquor (also know as cocoa mass). Cocoa liquor is simply cacao nibs (the de-shelled bits of the cacao bean) that have been ground to become liquid. The reason they become liquid is because the beans contain roughly 50% cocoa butter – the high fat content is the same reason you get gooey peanut butter and not a dry powder when you grind peanuts.
An alkalizing salt (potassium carbonate) is then used to make the ph of the liquor more neutral. This process is known as alkalization (or “Dutching” in reference to the inventor, Conrad van Houten, who was Dutch. Relevantly, his father Casparus invented the industrial process for separating cocoa butter from the cocoa solids).
Alkalization is used in making the majority of mass market chocolate because it gives it a uniform flavor and darkens the color. The process also removes most of the beneficial flavanols (antioxidants).
In most cases a centrifuge is then used to separate the cocoa solids (powder) from the cocoa butter. Finally the cocoa butter is, in most cases, deodorized using a steam distillation process.
There are many reasons why this process results in cocoa butter we don’t want to add to our chocolate.
The primary reason is flavor. Even if the butter isn’t deodorized it’s made from many different types of beans, so the flavor profile wouldn’t be anything like that of our chocolate. If it is deodorized it has no flavor and will have the undesirable effect of diluting the flavors in our chocolate. Industrial cocoa butter can also sit on the shelf for some time, and the longer it sits the greater the chance it can begin to go rancid.
Another reason is our commitment to equitable sourcing. We always pay a significant premium for the high quality of our beans. But, the beans used for making cocoa butter are often of inferior quality and are usually bought at very low commodity prices, which makes it difficult for many farmers to make a decent living and treat their workers fairly.
We also don’t alkalize the cocoa liquor which we use for pressing, which means the butter retains the flavors of the beans we use to make it.
If single origin butter is so awesome then why don’t more people use it? The answer is simple – it’s time consuming and expensive to make. First there’s the cost of the beans, which we’re paying the same premium for as the rest of our fine flavor beans. Then there’s the process – the beans need to be roasted, winnowed, ground and then pressed. All of this takes time and resources.
Although it’s expensive to make, and we sometimes end up wiping cocoa liquor off the ceiling when the press explodes, the difference in flavor makes it worthwhile. People often comment on how flavorful and smooth our chocolate is, and the fresh pressed single origin butter is a big part of that.
Now the next time you bite into one of our bars you’ll have a new appreciation for why the fresh pressed butter is so special. It’s all about the flavor!