Monday, April 22, 2019

Dark Magic of Black Cocoa

Most of us have had plenty of black cocoa knowingly or unknowingly in the outer cookie of a classic oreo which has a unique flavor that isn't quite recognizable as chocolate.

This darker color of cocoa results from a heavier hotter application of the dutch process which mellows out the acidity of cocoa with an alkalizing agent. The "dutch" designation comes from inventor Coenraad Van Houten, the enterprising Dutch chemist  whose father Casparus invented a hydraulic press that would separate cocoa butter from the processed cacao nibs to leave a cake which crumbles into that miraculous powder from which we make hot cocoa.  The son invented the process that makes for a milder less bitter hot chocolate that dissolves more easily. This father and son tag team really made hot cocoa the beloved beverage that it is today.

Unfortunately dutching while taming the astringency progressively destroys the healthful flavanol antioxidants present in cacao  according to this 2008 study(full pdf),  Black cocoa has less than 10% left but not all that is imbibed must provide a health benefit. I'm just glad it doesn't eat brain cells.  As a puerh drinker,  I get my fill of healthful bitter compounds.

Since I got this particular batch bulk packed from Berkeley Bowl labeled only as "Organic Black Cocoa", I have not much to go on about the source of the beans but it's a good guess these are robust Forastero beans most likely from West Africa. Delicacy of heirloom beans would be wasted with such a heavy handed process.

Since black cocoa is used mostly for color in baking in conjunction with a lighter cocoa to provide a more chocolatey base flavor, I wasn't sure what to expect for just an all black hot cocoa.   But the resulting cup enhanced with blackberry honey is velvety and beany in a good Asian dessert sort of way.  It's not hot chocolate the way you would recognize but I welcome it as a more robust alternative.  I was planning to add some natural cocoa or quarter of a chocolate bar but I really enjoy the black cocoa flavor on it's own- not unlike drinking an oreo cookie without the center creme. In years past I would have dismissed such heavy handed processing that destroys the natural fruity flavor of cacao.  But just as the dark roasting of espresso beans make for a rich intense cappucino, heavy dutching has produced a black cocoa with malty charms that has transformed a mundane Monday afternoon into something more magical.

(Addendum: My husband the morning after tried a little of my black cocoa almond butter and he recoiled a bit at it's bitterness.  I cannot detect bitterness in it at all which is probably why I can glug down sheng. )

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