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This may be a stupid/newbie question, but how do I know if my raw cacao powder has been fermented or not?

Without repeating myself too much, in the introduce yourself section you can read that I get ill from chocolate. People with histaminosis get ill from most fermented foods/ingredients. This is because during fermentation enzymes break down some of the protein into various amines which we can't tolerate. Amines are not destroyed by heat.

So I believe the light came on, on why I get ill from chocolate, to do with the fermentation. Do I understand correctly that most commercial chocolate are made from fermented beans? Because if fermentation is indeed my issue and if 'my people' do tolerate raw better due to no fermentation, then my answer is in using unfermented beans/cacao but yet roast it to kill the bugs (and obviously increase the flavor)?

If I can just figure out on whether it is indeed the case that my raw cacao is also unfermented? Please help with that.

And how do you roast cacao powder? Sorry for all the questions...

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There are a few important steps that could impact the formation of biogenic amines.  Most of them do not form during fermentation, i'm afraid.

The first is fermentation - fermentation can take up to 7 days, and can be done a variety of ways.  One of the things that occurs during fermentation is the consumption of raw materials (i.e. sugars are consumed), which results in the increase of non-consumed components.  This leads to a higher fat content, which is important for future processing.  Unfermented cocoa beans, on their own, will have a fat content that is too low to enable the cocoa bent to be fluid once it's ground.  Those processing it won't be able to pump it.  Most free amino acids are in the pulp at this stage, which drains away.  Pyrazines begin to form at this stage.  Temperatures can get fairly high here (150F +) - since there is no definition of 'raw' - it becomes difficult to say if fermented beans are raw or not - however the general consensus in the raw community is that if temperatures exceed 118F, it's not raw.  Since it's quite common for the ambient environmental temperatures where cocoa is grown to exceed 118F, never mind the temperatures during fermentation, most of the raw community wouldn't consider cocoa to be raw.

Next is drying - if you don't dry the beans, they'll have very high moistures and rot, or if low enough prevent rotting, they can still be high enough to give viscosity issues during further processing.  Temperatures can be very high here, but most use the power of the sun.  A complex cascade of internal chemical reactions is occurring here.

Next is roasting - very high temperatures. Here is where most of your amino changes are occurring, with lots of strecker degradation reactions occurring as a result of the thermogenic induction.  This is also your primary micro kill step.  It's reducing your  moisture down to ~1% level so you can process it (again, it will be too viscous if you don't), and since raw cocoa beans have extraordinarily high microbiological counts (this is the reason they're not safe to consume pre-roasting), this is the step - and the only step - where those counts will be reduced to safe levels.   Since flavor precursors are forming during fermentation (hence the pyrazine comment above), roasting of unfermented beans doesn't result in a flavor improvement.

For cocoa powder production - what happens next is the beans are ground up (turned into liquor) - where they become flowable.  The grinding process itself generates heat (i'm unaware of any work that has been done to examine the changes in peptide profiles at this step), and then it goes to a very, very high pressure hydraulic press.  Since this press requires the liquor to be flowable and fluid, if the beans were not fermented, the processor would not be able to do this.  A very small amount of cocoa powder has it's butter extracted via supercritical fluid extraction, but that still requires the liquor to be fluid enough to pump it.

The net/net is - any commercial cocoa powder you purchase is highly likely to be fermented and roasted.  Most biogenic amine formation is driven by thermogenic - not enzymatic - changes, and free amino acids (including tryptophan), are present in un-fermented cocoa to begin with.  If you don't ferment the beans, the beans will be unprocessable from a viscosity standpoint; if you don't roast the beans, they will be unsafe to consume from a microbiological standpoint.

Thank you Sebastian. I think I'm narrowing down the reasons why chocoloate is an issue for people with histaminosis.

1. Biogenic amine formation during thermogenic changes, mostly during drying, roasting and grinding.

2. Milk powder in milk chocolated; biogenic amine formation during the production of milk powder

3. Cocoa is potentially a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAO Inhibitor); thus effecting neurotransmitter levels which ain't a good thing for some histaminosis sufferers as biogenic amines already tend to mess with neurotransmitters.

4. Cocoa seems to be a histamine liberator (causing mast cells to release histamine) for some unknown reason (to me)

 

So the best I can do is use raw cocoa which have the least amount of biogenic amines but with a possible high microbiological count. And to avoid milk chocolate. Any other suggestions?

If it's really that serious of a health issue, it sounds like a gamble to me to attempt to consume it.  I can't stress enough that there is no current safe method of producing raw cocoa consistently that has safe microbiological levels.

I'm not versed enough in the formation pathways of biogenic amines in the various process steps of cocoa, nor in their subsequent pathways upon ingestion to know if the above is a known element or an educated guess.  I've never heard of it, which leads me to believe it's fantastically rare, which leads me to believe it's not well studied.

As sorry to say this as i am, i'd steer clear of it.  Your either playing russian roulette with your disease, or salmonella.  At minimum i'd keep a course of quinolone or floroquinolones nearby.

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