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Here is another technique I see a little of in cacao processing, mainly in cacao I get from Samoa and Fiji. So what they do is wash the beans with water after ferment has compeleted to get the pulp off, then they dry. This results in a shell that is super easy to winnow away. Does anyone know how this practice influences the flavour of the resultant cacao. Is this a bad practice or good practice. Anyone had any experience or care to comment?

Tags: beans, cacao, ferment, fermentation, washing, winnow

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Hi Tom,

Historical sources offer mixed opinions about washing fermented beans; there does not seem to be a good/bad consensus. The benefits of washing are a cleaner break (which you have seen), and faster drying which is good for limiting mould. The disadvantages are a more fragile shell which can be more easily damaged during handling, and deterioration of aroma although this influence may vary with cacao variety. Also in some cases growers may find no economic benefit to washing if they are not compensated likewise for their efforts. See Cocoa (Hall, 1914) p. 212 for a discussion.

Also, see Cocoa: cultivation, processing, analysis (Chatt, 1953) p. 95 for a specific reference to Samoan beans as having good results with washing.

Thanks for the refs Steve, i will have a read

Hi Tom, I've seen a setup to do this in Piura here in Peru but haven't seen any results.  It was basically a large upright rectangular wood chamber that they would fill with beans and pressure wash with water from a tank. they said that it makes the beans more attractive and easier to dry, but no beans were in process when i visited.

unless you wanted to do raw unroasted chocolate, then i'm not sure i see the benefit.  is winnowing a problem after roasting?  I'm more of a bean guy and less of of a chocolate maker but when i have made chocolate the winnowing is not a problem after roasting.  I can definitely see where shells that separate easily could be a problem in shipping.  After my beans go from campo to city to port to boat to port to city to factory they need to be tough to get there unbroken.  I have to be real careful about not letting them get too dry on the dryer bed or they can crumble in transit.  my understanding is that the processors want whole beans to roast and not raw nibs.

as for flavor or aroma loss, i don't know.  maybe taking away any part of the natural organic material results in a lessened flavor potential?  No experience on that front.

From a theoretical point of view washing the beans with water after fermentation is complete shouldn't effect the taste. When the fermentation is complete, the pulp has no more functional use. If, however, the beans are washed before fermentation is complete, the taste could definitely be effected (perhaps more bitter, and the taste would be less complex).

I've followed this discussion with some interest. To date, there seems to be no compelling reason to "wash" beans after fermentation is completed. However....a very real reason for not making this effort is WATER. Our operations are conducted far..far...from the "city main" and water supplies have to be created by filtering and treating water that is taken from a river that flows through our farm. This commodity is costly and bean baths would surely  create a waste stream that would have to be managed. Seems like we are adding costs to a product that currently borderlines on negative profit. Unless it enhances the quality i would give a thumbs down! 

There is little technical advantage to washing post fermentation, and as jim notes, there are logistical reasons as to why it'd actually be dis-advantageous.  You can certainly do this, however you'll get the same result as you would had you not done it, from a finished product standpoint.  Depends if you want to create more work for yourself or not.

Since it has come up again, I have had the opportunity now to work with beans washed and unwashed from the same stock. Washing is bad for flavour, very bad, it removes all the fruitiness and volatile acidity and you just end up with a very basic chocolate. BAD! Do not wash beans after ferment.....EVER!

Interestingly ADM received a patent in 2011 for washing cocoa beans to improve their "quality". Perusing the patent, it appears no small amount of effort was directed in this endeavour so it fairly represents the state of the art.  But the beans subjected to this treatment were full of mould, toxins, contaminants, etc. I don't know why they would be considered for use in chocolate production in the first place.

Ha ha yeah, I would recommend it in that case, but as you say why would you.

That's a little bit more than a patent for simply washing, it's an alkali treatment, claiming to reduce FFA's.  Of course treating high acid materials with alkali reduces the acid 8-)

So Tom, suppose you had some beans that were too fruity, which has sometimes happened to me. They probably weren't fermented well. In your experience would a light wash get rid of a little bit of the acidity?

No i didnt request them washed. Yes acidity was reduced but so was the body and soul of the bean, the difference is drastic. I dont know whether there would be such thing as a light wash. I am not sure why the difference is so great but i can have a go. The washing occurs before the drying and removes the left over mucilage. I would say the mucilages presence is very important for flavour development in the drying process, not only keeping compounds present but also keeping them in the bean, the coating is a lot thicker and harder with the mucilage. Once washed off the shell of the bean is paper thin and a lot of the compounds would be lost easily, i think. These beans are on drying racks on the equatorial sun for many days. I think of the left over mucilage as a marinade.


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