Bakers Journal

The Final Proof: June 2010

June 4, 2010
By Stephanie Ortenzi

New fermentation techniques and the rise of single-source cocoa bean varieties could signal new growth for fair-trade chocolate market.

New fermentation techniques and the rise of single-source cocoa bean varieties could signal new growth for fair-trade chocolate market.

For many, chocolate is a necessity, eaten in a sometimes desperate gobble, followed by a closed-eye nasal inhale and exhale, a hit for the chocolate monkey on our backs.

Chocolate is top of mind right now for the food industry since Barry Callebaut announced it is joining forces Malaysia’s cocoa board. The big push is to implement a controlled fermentation technique that promises to create a predictable, consistent quality of cocoa bean, improve processing and enhance the beans’ flavonol component – touted as the best health reason for eating chocolate.


Fermentation occurs naturally for beans in the field, as it does in a vat of crushed grapes, but it can be unpredictable and unreliable. And just as it does for winemakers, science steps in to help, so that what comes to market is a dependable product.

Barry Callebaut boasts the two largest chocolate factories in the world: the first in Belgium, the second here in Canada, in Saint-Hyacinthe, near Montreal. And following what’s happening in chocolate today, the company has positioned itself among the world leaders in organic and single-source chocolate imported from Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela, Java, Ghana, Madagascar, Haiti, Tanzania and São Tomé.

Like most major chocolate players, Barry Callebaut is also making strides in what is being called the equivalent of what Grand Cru is to wine – single-plantation chocolate, where there’s a unique and different flavour profile each year.

“More and more, people want to know where their food is coming from,” says Mark Pennington, who represents Barry Callebaut’s Gourmet Division in Western Canada. “In the case of single-plantation chocolate [Callebaut has three in its series], you can know precisely. Here’s the farm. Here’s the grower.”

Pennington says production of this series is very small. Only six tonnes are available in Canada each year. I know. Six tonnes does sound like a lot, but it hints at the burgeoning size of the specialty chocolate market, which has been growing steadily over the past 10 years. Says Barry Callebaut’s CIO Hans Vriens: “We have seen a jump of more than 50 per cent in the demand for fair-trade-certified products in 2009 and an increase of 12 per cent in certified products volume overall.”

Not all single-source or single-plantation chocolate is fair-trade certified. It’s costly and for that reason is undertaken by farming co-ops, but if coffee is any indication, the fair-trade chocolate market is destined for growth.

For the record, fair trade is a model of global economy that fosters equitable and long-term relationships between conscientious buyers and producers in developing countries. Certified fair trade requires sustainable farming, biodiversity and habitat preservation. It guarantees minimum set prices for producers; provides financial and technical support, healthy and safe working conditions, and economic development for their communities; and offers educational opportunities for farmers’ children.

Chocolate critic Clay Gordon, publisher of, recently wrote about being on a cocoa buy, showing a feature few buyers will bend to easily – helping the farmers get a better price for their beans. They used the fair trade pricing model as a starting point for negotiations, but then added profit sharing, paid for options contracts on future crops and invested in pre-harvest infrastructure improvement. Even though they hadn’t bought 100 per cent of the crop, their help affected the quality of the harvest and allowed farmers to charge more for their beans. Such measures are counter-intuitive and until recently, unconventional, but promising. The market is willing, happy and sometimes compelled to pay.

With that in mind, and in the spirit of the comparison to Grand Cru wines, here are some tasting notes from chocolate taster Eric Durtschi:

Mexican Tabasco – Savoury, meaty, mouthwatering, a very pleasant earthy aroma, with very little astringency. A bit tangy. Don’t be afraid to give these a full roast, but don’t roast them until they “pop.”

Panama – Light fruitiness (apple and fig), earthy and classic cocoa taste. Not too complex and just enough bitterness to balance. Medium roast for best flavour.

Madagascar – Light chocolate flavour with intense flavor notes of citrus and raspberry. Be careful with the roast. You’ll have to toy with it, but a little under-roasted or over-roasted makes a huge difference with this bean.

Ecuador Nacional – Delicate cacao flavour, accented by a perfumed floral scent and lovely floral tones, including a dominant jasmine note and nutty after-tones.

Rio Caribe – A Trinitario bean grown near the Rio Caribe in the Sucre State of Venezuela. This cacao has a slight dark tone and a refreshing bitterness. Common flavours are coffee, almonds, slight red fruits and pure cocoa. 

Ghana – This cacao has classic earthy chocolate and light vanilla aroma. There is also a hint of peach while roasting.
Papua, New Guinea – This is an interesting bean. It is smoke dried and not sun dried. It tastes a little like bacon and leather.

Stephanie Ortenzi ( ) is a Toronto-based food marketing writer.

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