The Chocolate Life

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Greetings Chocolate Lifers,

I have been enjoying so much rich information from perusing this website, the time has come for my debut contribution - a discussion on "Raw Chocolate". Now before everybody launches into this based on personal convictions of the "correct", "traditional", or "market standard" way of processing chocolate, let us take a moment to consider the nature of human knowledge and how it progresses through the ages, be it scientific breakthroughs or cultural/industrial practices pertaining to food handling, and how the accepted assumptions of one age can be overturned and proven "false" by new "discoveries". Thus, let us keep an open mind and really consider other possibilities than the known, than what's conventional. That being said, this forum post is intended to be a place for discussion citing scientific studies, and experts in the field and on the ground, to see if there is anything of real value that can be gained by examining chocolate from a slightly different vantage point.

My interests in chocolate grew out of my involvement in the Raw Food movement (Youtube: David Wolfe), which for me is a fairly radical attempt to get as far away from the industrial and agricultural "revolution's" impacts on human health, and ecological health, by eating as close to the natural source as possible. Now, the discussion of raw foods is intimately intertwined with many other political issues, including organics (an attempt to lessen artificial pesticides and fertilizers which destroy long-term soil fertility), fair-trade (an attempt to equalize the economies of a global commodity market), human nutrition (the well known debate on the heat sensitive nature of enzymes, amino acids, and certain vitamins, ect.), and so on.

While not being for everybody, and perhaps most valuable only as a cleanse (as opposed to a long-term diet; research: Daniel Vitalis), I feel totally confident in saying that going raw for several months completely changed my experience of life in a drastically positive way. As raw foodists sought vegan sources of high-vitamin/mineral content foods, we saw the birth of the "Superfood" movement (research: David Wolfe, Linus Pauling), which brought to general market a certain pricy commodity being sold as "Raw Chocolate".

Praised for its rich mineral content, along with a wide array of psychoactive components, minimally processed cacao products fast grew into a trendy health-fad among "conscious" consumers who could afford it. As someone who came to chocolate from this perspective, I now am delving deeper into the history, the processing, the business, and the fine culinary aspects of cacao.

From my understanding, all fine chocolatiers roast their beans, a process which chemically alters the cacao in a way which produces the flavor profiles commonly associated with "good" chocolate. Now, there are two different approaches to come at this subject from this point: there is the personal approach which is most concerned with how different chocolate products make me feel. And then there is the scientific perspective incorporating biochemistry, and how various practices of processing affect human health and nutrition.

From the personal perspective, I have this to say. All "processed" chocolate, (ie. pressed at high temps/pressures, roasted, conched...) makes me feel bad compared to "raw" chocolate, despite the "fine" chocolates having a more subtle flavor profile. Now, the fine chocolatier would say I have not developed the palate for differentiating the subtle flavors of fine chocolate; the raw foodist would say the chocolate connoisseurs have not detoxed their body enough to feel the effects of eating the processed chocolate. Again, this claim is personal to me, although being confirmed by many people I know.

Now then, of the scientific perspective, examining how the chemical constituents (changed by different processing techniques) affects our biological system, I have heard several claims made. The first is that heating cacao (in the pressing to remove the oil, and in the roasting) kills the enzymes. I have also heard it argued that cacao does not contain considerable enzymes after the fermentation process. Next, exposing the cacao to high temps (especially over 200 degrees F.) supposedly reduces and/or eliminates the presence of some of cacao's fancier psycoative molecules such as phenylethylamine, anandamine, and tryptophan, as well as deteriorates the methylxanthines from theobromine into caffeine. Third, high-temp processing has been said to lessen the nutritional value of chocolate by reducing the amounts of vitamin C, as well as many of the other nutrients found in an unpressed, unroasted cacao bean (B-vitamins...). Lastly, and claimed by David Wolfe to be the final arbiter on "raw" versus "processed", all high-temp exposed chocolate contains rancid omega fatty acids (trans-fats) which can cause an inflammatory reaction once consumed by humans, whereas "raw" cacao contains stable omega fatty acids beneficial to human health.

 {for information purposes: "raw" is generally defined as never having been heated over 118
degrees Fahrenheit
. All chocolate that I know of being sold as
"raw" has been fermented, which does take the temp over 118 degrees F.
However, the difference from this point is in the processing which takes
place once the beans get in the hands of the "chocolate maker".}

Tags: benefits, chocolate, health, heat, of, processing, raw, roasting, temperature

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Hi Sirius,
Thanks for your passion!
FYI, I am pretty sure that RANCID fats and TRANS fats are two totally different things. I would research that more if interested.
Welcome to our forum!
Sacred Steve
True Raw is fresh unfermented beans that are fresh out of the pod or dried at low temperatures.
It all depends on your definition of raw of course. If your definition of raw is below 118, then you are correct, your chocolate is cooked. The more you ferment, the more you degrade antioxidants. Understand, this area is grey in nature. The more heat that is applied to any food, the more the food degrades in its natural life giving properties.

I have to respectfully disagree with you on your first statement - unless you can point me to an external, credible, and definitive source (i.e., not your web site) that makes the distinction between "raw" and "True Raw" - especially as it refers to chocolate. Beans fresh out of the pod are technically seeds (as they are still viable) and so "Fresh Cacao Seeds" is what they should be called. Calling them "Truly Raw Chocolate" is, in my opinion, sloppy and inaccurate marketing lingo that does the raw community a disservice as it lessens its credibility.

Lacking any external support, the only "standard" to go by is the "standard" that the raw community as a whole agrees to. By that "standard," the maximum temperature to which food can be subjected without loss of enzyme activity (and related nutritional aspects of a food) is 118F -- despite the fact that there is no firm scientific evidence to back the claims made for this specific temperature.

According to my research, there is no magic temperature for all foods in all conditions.

A lot depends on the structure and density of the food itself (e.g., lettuces are a lot more delicate than are seeds), whether the food in question is wet or dry, contact time (i.e., the length of time the food is subjected to a source of heat), the nature of the heat source (e.g., you can set a dehydrator to 125F and evaporative cooling - water escaping the food - will keep the temperature of the food below 118F until the water is removed), and the specific heat transfer profile of the food in question (e.g., it should be okay to subject the outside of a nut covered by a thick shell to very high temperatures for surprisingly extended periods of time to kill pathogens on the outside of the food - with little or no heat not transferred through the shell to the nutmeat inside.

It is actually easy to fully and completely ferment cacao and keep the pile under 118F - thereby satisfying the most widely accepted definition for the maximum temperature to which a food can be subjected and still be called raw. 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.

On the other hand.

I have eaten a lot of so-called raw (as some sources have now been discredited) chocolate from a lot of different vendors in the past two years or so that I've been researching this. When the rest of my diet is clean enough, I do notice a difference in the way my body responds and the way I feel after eating some raw chocolates, but that may be due as much to other "superfood" ingredients that have been added as the cacao itself.

I don't question that there is a difference, I only question the absolute cutoff temperature of 118F - knowing that there are ways to process cacao into chocolate that minimize the loss of all manner of nutrients and keeping the resultant chocolate a relatively whole food.

That's the key. If the temp hits 125F for 10 seconds or even 10 minutes, it doesn't really matter because the amount of chocolate you have to eat to reap meaningful benefits is actually quite small. New studies suggest that as little as 1/4 oz (~7 grams) of "cooked" dark (i.e., no dairy) chocolate is enough, when eaten consistently, to deliver measurable benefits even without any other changes to a person's diet. Here's one of the few cases where food combining actually makes scientific sense. Eating a 100% raw chocolate with a glass of raw milk reduces the antioxidant benefits of the chocolate because some of the proteins in the milk will bind to some of the antioxidants thereby reducing the bioavailability of the antioxidants.

I have a stone grinder and make a variety of foods for personal consumption. One is a nut and seed butter that consists of a combination of almonds, pecans, and cashews with sunflower, sesame, flax, and chia seed. I happen to like roasty, toasty flavors. A lot. So what I do is dehydrate, at a relatively high temp, a small amount of some of the ingredients. I find that this approach gives me the toasty flavors I crave while delivering virtually all of the benefits of the foods in the raw state. While it's not "100% raw" I can't see that it makes any meaningful difference, dietarily.

All raw chocolate makers face this problem when it comes to the sweetener they choose. Agave syrup is subjected to high temperatures to reduce moisture content - as are coconut palm sugar, maple syrup, and most of the other options (I don't know the processing steps for any of the sugar alcohols - xylitol, erythritol, etc.- so I can't speak authoritatively on the temps used). So - even though the cacao in a product may be "raw" the sweetener is almost certainly not.

In the end, the question is, "Where do you choose to draw the line?" 100% raw chocolate is difficult to do and comparatively very expensive. One of the clues that the chocolate you might be eating is not even close to 100% raw is the price. If it's anywhere near close to the price of a commodity "cooked" chocolate - then it's not 100% raw.
Hi Clay,
Thanks for this detail and clarification. I have been researching raw foods since 1993 and have been a raw foodist since then too. Keep in mind there is no real definition of "raw", and that is why I stated what I stated the way I stated it. If you were to survey people in the raw food movement, they would respond with a raw temperature definition of anywhere from 105 to 125 degrees F, which is plus or minus nearly 25%. Raw cacao is the actual "true raw" I was referring to. In other words, the FRESH raw beans right out of the pod or those same beans slowly dried at some temperature below a defined raw temperature. Raw chocolate is possible to make like you said, but it takes a lot of time. I make raw chocolate using unfermented beans in many cases in order to maximize nutrient content. I posted an article on this site showing how antioxidants drop off with fermentation times, and it is not determined whether or not those curves are fermentation temperature dependent. I believe it was under the "raw chocolate, what is it" discussion.

What you call "True Raw" is what I call "Fresh." Because there is no accepted definition (and no research to prove anything) of what raw is, your "slowly dried at low temp" is not scientific - it's personal opinion.

That's perfectly okay as long as we all recognize that it's the expression of your personal opinion, not "fact."

Can you point me to any research that shows that the nutritional profile of unfermented beans is "better" than the nutritional profile of beans that have been properly fermented yet kept under max raw temp? Or is this just conjecture on your part?

As with broccoli (where light steaming makes some of the nutrients more bioavailable), proper fermentation may actually make cacao healthier for you because of some of the changes that occur in the bean during fermentation. Some long-chain polyphenols are converted to short chain version that might (just might) be healthier. I don't know the answer, I am just asking the question.

While overall antioxidant levels in fermented cacao may be lower, there is no reason to automatically believe that more necessarily equals better. Fermentation may improve the bioavailability of some components of the cacao and "improve" it in some way. ORAC is one measure, it's not the only measure, and it may not be the best measure as it's not a comprehensive measure of cacao, just antioxidant activity and there may be confounding factors.

One of the challenges with raw foodism is that one of the primary tenets of raw foodism -- that enzymes (the source of a mystical life force) in food reduce the need for the pancreas to produce digestive enzymes -- has never been conclusively proved, at least so far as I have been able to find out.

That said - there are benefits to be had in the diet/lifestyle without buying into the unprovable "science" behind it. Read Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food. A predominantly raw (it's not necessary or even desirable in most cases, IMO, to be 100% raw) diet is very close to that ideal.

Plus - and this is another area where people get confused - raw does not automatically mean vegan. Eating sashimi is a very tasty and way to get necessary macro and micro-nutrients that are hard to get in a 100% raw/vegan diet.
From a personal perspective I agree with you, Sirius. I was introduced to raw chocolate only a couple of months ago and now my other organic chocolate is in the past. I recently bought raw cacao nibs and I love them in the raw! I'm reading "Naked Chocolate" and also "12 Steps to Raw Foods" to help me adjust to the raw diet. Am wanting to learn more about raw chocolate personally, and turn my passion into a business to support me in my golden years! Thanks for the interesting posts.
Chocofully yours, Suzanne
Hi Clay,
You should look up the article I already posted on this site which I already referred to in this discussion. It goes into great scientific detail on the fact that raw unfermented beans are higher in antioxidants than fermented ones.
BTW, I think we are splitting hairs here on symantics. But, just to clarify further, "Fresh" would mean fresh beans out of the pod. In regards to cacao (not chocolate), "Raw" would mean "Fresh" beans out of the pod that are then NOT fermented and then dried at a temperature below your currently defined "Raw" temperature threshold/limit.
Although what you say about broccoli or other herbal teas may be true, in general, one of the challenges of cooked foodism is that it causes a noticable increase in white blood cell count upon ingestion.

Please make it easy for everyone by posting the link to where you provide great scientific detail. That's a whole lot easier than making everyone search for it on their own.

:: Clay
Hi Clay, I don't have the time unfortunately. I forgot where I posted it unfortunately, but if the search function on this site is good, it should turn up the article using keywords like "antioxidant" and "polyphenol"
you might consider installing a google search into this site if you don't already have it? It is super useful and free!
It's on the home page and has been for months.

I do a lot of work maintaining a forum for you and others to participate in. All I am asking you to help me out a little - it's in your best interests.

Words are important so arguing about semantics is important in many instances.

I wasn't objecting to raw in and of itself, I was pointing out that your locution "True Raw" was an expression of a personal opinion, not something that is generally held as being "true" in the raw community in general - at least so far as I know.

What you called "True Raw" is what I think most people would agree would be "Fresh."

I also disagree with your definition that "raw" categorically means unfermented as it is demonstrably true that it is possible to properly ferment cacao and keep the temp below 118-125F.

What you call raw is "unfermented raw cacao" as opposed to "raw fermented cacao."

The distinctions are very important.


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