If you asked some in the industry, the answer would be yes! Our cacao is processed with the same methods used by other manufacturers who label their cacao as ‘raw.’ However, when it comes to cacao, that terminology is often technically inaccurate. The truth is much more nuanced, and as a brand striving for transparency, we’re going to give you the long answer.
Almost all cacao undergoes three heating processes: fermentation, steaming, and roasting.
Fermentation is a natural process that happens when the cacao pod is split open and the beans are exposed to oxygen. It usually lasts for 48-72 hours and—depending on conditions—may raise the temperature of the beans to as high as 140 degrees. This step is important for the digestibility of the cacao bean and the bioavailability of its nutrients.
Next up is steaming. This is a gentle and brief cleaning method that is essential for food safety. Without it, cacao beans are prone to the growth of pathogenic bacteria and molds. As with most produce, the harvest and transportation of the cacao bean to processing facility happens largely outdoors on farms and in trucks, and not in a sterile setting.
Lastly, the cacao beans are roasted. This step is ubiquitous to nearly all cacao produced at scale to some degree, despite what the label might say. It is considered essential for both food safety and palatability, as truly raw cacao tastes little like chocolate as we know it! Roasting also helps to dehydrate the bean, which can otherwise carry a higher level of moisture than is safe for food storage. Cacao can be roasted for a long period of time to develop particular, toasted flavors, or for a shorter amount of time. Ours falls into the latter processing category.
What about alkalization? This process is used to reduce acidity and mellow the sharper flavors of cacao, which is why some bakers prefer it in their recipes. It also makes the cacao powder easier to blend into liquids, hence its use in hot chocolate mixes. Alkalization has been shown to greatly reduce the flavanol and antioxidant content of cacao, which is why we never use this processing step on ours!
If this leaves you with more questions than answers, you’re not alone. The world of cacao is complex, and its processing mostly happens behind the scenes. Without any official regulations around the term ‘raw,’ it’s long been used in the cacao industry to refer to a natural, minimally processed, unadulterated product—but not in the true sense of the word as it relates to temperature.
So what makes our cacao special? All of our cacao is single origin and comes from the Liloma Cacao Cooperative in Sierra Leone. Our growers there use regenerative and restorative farming practices to produce high quality cacao that generates rural economic growth and revitalises the local environment. You can read more about their work here.