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The Lure of Unfermented Cacao Crafted By Cuna De Piedra

On April 20, 2021 I posted a blog focused on the molinillo in Cuna De Piedra’s molinillo set. It seemed fitting to highlight the importance of this Mexican kitchen utensil and its role in chocolate history. In this blog, I would like to spend some time talking about the drinking chocolates that are a part of the set - one made with fermented cacao (60% Mexican Cacao from Soconusco, Chiapas) and two made with unfermented cacao (60% Mexcian Cacao from Tecpatán, Chiapas and 60% Mexican Cacao from Chinantla, Oaxaca [with a touch of cinnamon]).

Before talking about their drinking chocolates, a discussion about unfermented cacao beans is warranted.

The cacao fermentation process is an art that takes a great deal of practice and patience to perfect. The skillful fermenter uses this chemical process to elicit desired flavors from the beans, resulting in a “customized” flavor profile.

It has become common practice to ferment cacao beans, thus you may be wondering whether using unfermented beans is unconventional and not very prudent when it comes to making drinking or eating chocolate. This is where I think we need to pause for a moment and dispel any preconceived notions of unfermented cacao beans.

To do so, let’s learn about unfermented cacao (washed cacao) from Cuna De Piedra:

“Cacao Lavado is the most common post-harvest practice for cacao in Mexico. It consists of a very labor-intensive process of cracking open the pods, washing the pulp from the beans in order to remove the mucilage manually, then the beans are sun-dried. Even though there is microflora present in the wet beans and in the environment, the fermentation rate is practically zero. Instead of the flavor development that takes place through the biochemical pathway of the fermentation, the tasting notes in Lavado depend mostly on genetics and altitude.
Cacao Lavado is strongly rooted in our culture, and it is the main ingredient in our traditional drinks (Pozol, Tascalate, Tejate, etc.), savory dishes like Mole and our Chocolate de Mesa (drinking chocolate). Historically, we don’t use fermented beans in our cuisine, the concept of fermenting cacao was brought to Mexico in the mid-1960s by foreigners who demanded that process for the international standards for the “Fine Chocolate Industry”.
We do use Fermented Cacao in our chocolate bars (and in one of our drinking chocolates), but we are very happy and proud to work with two origins of Cacao Lavado for two of our drinking chocolates; Tecpatán Chiapas and Chinantla Oaxaca, both harvested and washed by women, guardians of the Lavado tradition; Doña Elvira Gómez and Doña Dionisia García, respectively.”

While it is often said that fermentation is the process of bringing out the flavor characteristics of the beans, as mentioned above, let’s not forget that the beans have a flavor all their own even without fermentation. The beauty of unfermented beans is that the consumer is able to fully experience the pure essence of the beans themselves and how they’ve been naturally influenced by the terroir rather than a chemical process. As Cuna De Piedra points out, what you taste is the beans’ “genetics” and the “altitude” of the area of where it is grown. How much more natural and organic can you get than that?

Nevertheless, I understand that from a consumer’s perspective the primary concern is how it tastes. So let’s put this concept of unfermented beans to the taste test!

The first of Cuna De Piedra’s drinking chocolates that I tried was their Tecpatán Chiapas. This drinking chocolate was a reflection of subtle sophistication as any disparate flavor notes were gently muted to offer the taster a consistent mouthful of mild cocoa and toast/roast nuttiness from start to finish. The tranquil nature of this drinking chocolate resulted in a vivid memory of sitting on my back patio looking out at the ocean when I lived in Hawaii. Just as I enjoyed taking in all the sensations associated with this lovely moment, I had the same experience with this drinking chocolate.

The 60% Mexican Cacao from Chinantla, Oaxaca (with a touch of cinnamon) is Cuna De Piedra’s other unfermented drinking chocolate. The first thing that came to mind the moment this drink hit my palate was, “This is quintessentially Mexican!” as it showcased many of the wonderful distinctive flavors of Mexico all in a drink. The hint of flowery cinnamon accentuated the earthiness of this chocolate and brought forth lucid memories of a variety of foods I enjoyed when I visited different parts of Mexico. If you want to experience Mexico in a drink, this is it!

The last drinking chocolate in the collection, 60% Mexican Cacao from Soconusco, Chiapas, is made with fermented cacao. It tickled the tongue with its mouthwatering nut and caramel notes coupled with a suggestion of dried fruitiness. It had a balanced profile that was absent of harsh acidic peaks and had a distinguished mouthfeel. It made for the perfect compliment to raspberries and fresh figs.

It is astounding how you can experience the heart of Mexican culture and the country itself through these drinking chocolates. And yes, the two chocolates made with unfermented cacao, as well as the one made with fermented cacao, passed the taste test with flying colors! Don’t just take my word for it. Try it yourself and experience the essence of the terroir that the beans are from and see where they take you.

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