Who reaped-off the Cacao growers?

Grenada-bourgeon01According the ICCO cacao price archives and the Amercian Bureau of Labor and statistics on inflation, cacao is 60% cheaper today than 40 years ago. If price of cacao had only kept-up with inflation since 1974, cacao would now sell for US$ 7.3 per Kg, whereas it currently is at US$ 2.9 per Kg!

cocoa-pricesThis slow strangulation of the  cacao growers has resulted in the relative diminution of their numbers as well as in a quasi absence of investment in the maintenance and improvement of cacao plantations. Moreover, many small growers have stopped growing cacao in favor of sugar cane, coffee, bananas or other more rewarding crops. After loosing 60% of their revenues, how can growers be expected to pay for the investments needed to maintain and increase, both quantity and quality?

The large explotations in West Africa, South America or Asia, have also seen theri revenues decline forcing them to drastically reduced their investments. The various negative consequences include child labor, aging trees with diminihsing yeild and reduced research efforts.

During that 40 year period the average price of a chocolate bar has come up by 38 %. It came from 10 cents per ounce in 1974 (equivalant to 48 Cents of today) to 65 Cents today. Add to these facts the various productivity gains at the chocolate production end that have reduced production costs and you have a huge increase of the financial returns of the large chocolate and candy producers.


The Tastes of chocolate

Due to the Cacao beans'characteristics derived from a mix of their genetics, the soil that fed them, the weather during the tree's life and the processes they went through, each bar is unique.


It may have just a few flavors but strong and very satisfaying ones, or it may have a multitude of aromas and scents that develop gradually while you taste the product. It is the Chocolate maker's talent to identify the beans and to process them according to their particular flavors and to the aromatic goal s/he thinks is best for that bean.

At Cacao Authrority we use six main markers to rank chocolates:

  • Sugar : The more sugar added means less cacao. Also, sugar is often used to sweeten low quality beans which tend to be acidic and flavorless. Sugar should not be identifiable.
  • Cacao: There should be a clear presence of cacao. However, some beans are so fruity that the prevalent aroma may not be strong Cacao.
  • Acidity: Acidity may be unpleasant, but in reasonable quantity, it may enhance other sensations.
  • Roasted Nuts: Depending on its strength, this is a pleasant aroma that is often present in chocolate bars.
  • Bitterness: Specific to some beans and regions, bitterness can be good, up to a point.
  • Fruitiness: A very sought after characteristic which is typical of some bean varieties.

To summarize and rank the products, we try to assess four characteristics:

      • Aromas: Does the chocolate product smells, feels, tastes something good?
      • Texture: Is it pleasant in the mouth? Not too grainy, not too greasy and mixing well with the aromas.
      • Presentation: Is it presented in an appetizing way? Pleasure starts with the yes. Is it good looking?
      • Uniqueness: How commonly are those characteristics found?

Finally, we select the adjective that best describes the chocolate, either Sublime,Excellent,Very Good,Eatable or Unpleasant.

And of course, there is this fight for objecivity in the taster's mind. A fight that is endless..

The ultimate Tasting Kit

Canadian chocolate judge and expert, Eagranie Yuh offers the
best advice and the recognized tools you will love to appreciate,
critize, verbalize and share your own chocolate experience


Chocolate powders and alkalinazation

Around 1825, once his father had designed a press that could extract the cacao butter from the cacao mass, leaving a dry cacao cake, the duch chocolate maker Coenraad Johannes van Houten developed a process consitsing in washing the pulverised chocolate cake with a potassium solution (Alkalin solution). This process is now called "Ductching". This treatment greatly lowers the natural acidity of cacao bean, increases it solubulity in water or milk smoothes the flavor and improves the color of the resulting powder.

This alkalizing process also greatly reduces the the amount of flavanols (the antioxidants molecules) which are the main health benefit of chocolate.

However, because of its capacity to reduce acidity - allowing to use lower quality beans which are more acid - and the ease of use provided by a ducth process, it is widely used in chocolate preparations, from hot chocolate powders to chocolate bars and cooking or couverture chocolates.

In the picture on theleft, the "Ducthed" powder is on the left


The company created by Van Houten remains a major actor in the chocolate market worldwide producing many different chocolate powders as well as a cooking bars.

Cacao producerscacao-beans-dry-01

A large and very disparate crowd

Although it is estimated that 5 million households in the world farm cocoa for money, there are about 45 to 50 million people involved in the global chocolate trade. About two third of cocoa beans are produced by small farmers earning less than $1000 a year from it. Because of their small size, most of them lack access to essential resources and knowledge, such as bean characteristics, investment and marketing expertise. This results in poor quality beans, low prices and limited expansion in the production of a good chocolate. This is very damaging to everyone at a time when high quality chocolate is enjoying a constant growth in demand.
There are approximately 750 chocolate companies in the U.S. and more than 2000 in the EU. This is reflected in the consumption levels of these respective markets.

The coming bomb of climate change

hot earthOver 50% of the world cocoa production comes from the West African countries of Ivory Coast and Ghana, another 17% come from Indonesia. In a recent release of its study on the impact of climate change, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture concludes that those two countries alone will have a vastly different topography in thirty years than now. The rise in temperature and a different pattern of rainfall will require cocoa fields to be moved higher in regions that are not currently available for agriculture because they are already used for habitation or other purposes. With cocoa beans generating close to 8% of Ivory Coast’ GDP, a reduction in revenue will likely have a deep social and political impact on the country.   At the same time, it is estimated that the demand for cocoa bean will double by 2050. This mismatch will result in price increases but could also destroy the livelihood of millions of farmers.

A glimpse of hope

Read more: Bean producers

Cacao producing countries

Interesting data : Ghana has now been widely overtaken by Indonesia. This is the result of the 2 facts, Indonesia is increasing its production and Ghana is slwoing down its output because of an unstable political climate in the region for some years, which led to a lack of investment in plantations. Despite ist size, Cameroon has overtaken Brazil. This, also is the result of two opposiet factors, the witches' broom desase has reduce Brazil production and 



Top Cocoa Bean Producers: 2010


Production (Int $1000)


Côte d’Ivoire
























Dominican Republic






Source: Food And Agriculture Organization Of The United Nations - 2010


Read more: Cacao producing countries

Chocolate aromas

This list compiled by the site flavorofcacao.com is the most exhaustive one currently available.
It details 26 distinct aromas or flavors that can be identified in chocolate, with their cause.

Sensation Possible cause
Acidity (less) Shorter fermentation (less than 72hrs), since acetic acid production peaks at 72hrs after the start of fermentation.
Proper length of conching, which varies, allows acidity to evaporate
Gentle drying after fermentation allows acetic acid to escape through the shell
Acidity (overly) Longer fermentation(greater than 72hrs)
Cocoa grown from highly acidic soils. Soils with low phosphorous levels and higher amounts of iron and copper salts. Quick drying results in a hardening of the cacao bean shell and prevents the escape of part of the remaining acids and tannins in the bean, resulting in acidic and astringent flavors. Growers that artificially dry beans may also do it too quick.
Astringency Germinated beans can cause this
Quick drying stops the chemical reactions started in fermentation and prevents the escape of part of the remaining tannins in the bean, resulting in astringent flavors. Growers that artificially dry beans may also do it too quick.
Bitterness The polyphenols naturally present in cacao are bitter.  However, polyphenols are usually converted in to less bitter tasting chemicals during fermentation.  So a shorter fermentation (or no fermentation at all) could result in a more bitter tasting chocolate since the polyphenols have not had the time to convert into different chemicals. (Some mass market companies purposely allow short fermentation in order to save money.)
If different bean types are fermented together, over fermenting of one type and underfermenting of another results since bean types ferment at different lengths. Fermenting different bean types has implications on astringency and acidity also.


Too much conching can dispel desirable flavors
Too much cocoa butter
Possibly the result of deodorizing cocoa butter. This involves passing steam through the butter which is under a vacuum. While removing off flavors it can also remove desirable flavors.
Burnt rubber Use of unfermented beans
Artificial drying methods
Caramel flavor Considered desirable, it is brought out by proper roasting, which varies by bean type.
Cardboard flavor Packaging, sometimes plastic style wrappers contribute this.
Creaminess Use of an emulsifier such as lecithin 
Added cocoa butter
Long conching period
Earthy notes Considered desirable, it is brought out by proper roasting, which varies by bean type.
Floral notes Considered desirable, it is brought out by proper roasting, which varies by bean type.
Fruity flavors

An increase in acidity is strongly correlated with an increase in fruitiness
Long conching periods may increase the presence of chemicals known as “strawberry” furanone
Might be the result of acid rain

Grainy texture Conching was not adequate (with respect to time or machinery)
Chocolate not tempered properly
Grassy odors Beans stored under humid conditions may absorb the odor of the burlap bag they are kept in.
Ham Smoke from drying the beans over wood fires (* regions that harvest a lot of cacao during rainy seasons or cloudy weather must use artificial drying methods to decrease moisture.)
Overfermentation may result in production of chemicals responsible for this flavor.
Heavy metals Soil makeup and not fertilizers. Ex. Volcanic soils have higher levels of cadmium
Off flavors Use of synthetic ingredients such as vanillan, lactose, malitol, whey powder, cocoa powder, malt extract, butter fat, emulsifiers other than lecithin
Oily, resinous flavor Drying beans over an open fire
Smokey flavor Wood burning to dry beans without proper ventilation often results in a smokey contamination of the beans.
Smooth texture Long conching period
Sour, harsh or flat flavors Using a gas fired dryer and the lack of slow sun drying (* regions that harvest a lot of cacao during rainy seasons or cloudy weather must use artificial drying methods to decrease moisture.)
Spoiled/moldy taste Chocolate made from beans with > 3% mold (measured by a cut test). The longer the grower delays fermentation or drying, the greater the risk of mold. Cocoa free from mold or bacteria doesn't exist. The goal is to keep them to an acceptable level and then the roasting process often kills what is remaining.
Sweetness Considered desirable if light, it is brought out by proper roasting, which varies by bean type.
Unexpected flavors Storing strong smelling products next to or introduced to the beans either intentionally or by accident.
Blending beans from different plantations can produce unexpected flavors
Wine-like Extra tannins in the beans
Appropriate level of acidity


Tempering consists in aligning all the particles' of the chocolate so that it looks and feel homogeneous in texture and color. It also makes it break neatly with that distinguishable sound. The process consists in bringing the chocolate to a high temperature between 45 and 55 C or 113 to 130 F and then let it cool down to a temperature that varies slightly depending on the percentage of cacao in the chocolate –– 25 to 30 C or 77 to 86 F and bringing it back to the "working temperature" of 31 C or 88F. 

It is important that the chocolate cools down rapidly and not "by itslef" which would take hours for a large quantity and may not be evenly done. Industrial manufacturers use special containers equiped with cooling fans or pipes or water around them that gradually bring the tempearture down while continuously mixing the chococlate. Artisan chocolatiers use ta method which consists in adding solid pieces of chocolate at room temperature to the batch when it is at its high temperature. The hot chococlate makes the solid parts melt while bringing the temprature down. This is called "seeding" and is the most common method for small batches.tempering-machine02



Once tempered, the chocolate is put in molds to solidify before the bars are wrapped. Many manufacturers place it In its liquid molding chocolateform, tempered chocolate is used to cover bonbons by dipping them into the liquid.