The chocolate industry is constantly looking for a sustainable and uniform supply of quality cocoa for its products. The cocoa must also meet various requirements, given that today’s markets are more specialised and consumers more demanding, especially those belonging to the new generations. These new consumers are willing to pay more for healthy, natural products, which are organic and “free from…”, and they look for different flavours and new experiences and sensations.
In addition to the above, there is a trend towards eco-friendly, vegan, clean-label products that tell a story, conquer the senses, and comply with international food safety standards. This is where single origin chocolates -a chocolate made with cocoa beans from a single country or region- comes in to play a very important role. Not only does this chocolate meet consumer demands by providing them with a unique flavour in every bar of chocolate, but it also transports them to the place where the cocoa was harvested: to its roots, its culture, and the history of a region.
But what’s behind a Single Origin Chocolate?
There is a whole agro-industrial process that involves the cocoa-chocolate chain, where the work carried out by the cocoa farmer is of great relevance. Processes such as post-harvest, fermentation and drying have a significant impact on the definition of the sensory characteristics of single origin chocolate.
While genetics, climate, and soil are important factors in defining the flavour profile of single origin chocolate, post-harvest activities, such as harvesting cobs with the right degree of maturity and good sugar concentration, are also essential for an efficient fermentation process.
Cocoa pod harvest in Colombia
Applying proper fermentation and drying practices are of great importance for the formation of aroma precursors, chocolate flavour, and specific floral, fruit, nut, malt, and sweet flavours and aromas. These precursors then develop or become defined when roasting the cocoa nibs or beans.
Drying systems in Colombia
However, there are cocoa production areas where there is no standardisation to ensure consistency of grain quality over time. It is in our processing plant where adequate selection, categorisation, and identification take on great importance, prior to transforming the cocoa beans into a single origin chocolate.
Process standards are established for the manufacturing stages to guarantee the sensory profile defined for the single origin chocolate. Automated and systematised roasting processes, guarantee that roasting is the same from batch to batch. This is followed by efficient refining of the different components (sugar, cocoa liquor, and cocoa butter) to achieve the desired smoothness that provides a delicate texture in the mouth. Once the granulometry has been defined, the conching process begins. This process is important in providing that final touch, imprinting a delicate flavour, by eliminating moisture and organic acids(2) present in the cocoa that develop naturally during fermentation.
Finally, this tour ends with the injection or moulding process in which one of the most important processes is that of tempering or pre-crystallisation. It is this process that ensures good brightness, snap, and appearance in the final product and provides it with adequate thermal stability or resistance (shelf life).
(2) Especially acetic acid.
Now let’s get down to business. Here’s a 5-step guide to creating a single origin chocolate:
1. This process begins with the purchase of cocoa from farmers in different cocoa areas (Antioquia, Arauca, Huila, Santander and Nariño, among others). Once the cocoa enters our warehouses, the cocoa lots are exhaustively monitored and analysed, and a physical, chemical and sensory characterisation is performed. This information is of great importance in developing a cocoa with excellent sensory characteristics. The analyses implemented are the following:
Physical: Moisture, grain size and level or degree of fermentation.
Chemicals: Fat content, fibber, theobromine content, caffeine, among other components.
Sensory: Cocoa flavour, acidity, astringency, nut, fruit, floral and sweet.
2. Once the cocoa has been analysed, a more precise process begins to follow the production areas responsible for the best sensory characteristics or qualities, a better flavour profile or greater intensity of cocoa, fruit, floral, citrus, sweet, and nutty flavours and with low astringency and green tones. These characteristics are then subjected to chromatographic analyses to determine or evaluate which aromatic chemical compounds(1) make the cocoa different from cocoa from other production areas.
3. Although the country has many areas in which excellent fine flavour cocoa is grown, the Agricultural Development area also reviews the production potential of the study area, to ensure there is enough cocoa and growth potential to justify a commercial effort for a single origin chocolate. This information -giving greater importance to sensory descriptors- is used for prototyping or product development. With the support of judges or panellists specialised in sensory analysis, the cocoa content or percentage is determined.
(1) L-Linalool, pyrazines and furans, among others.
Origin Colombian cacao – Uruba Region/ Huila Region
4. Once the origin of the cocoa has been selected, given its relevance or imposing fruit, floral, citrus and nutty flavours, the profile of the chocolate to be developed is defined, and then the formula or recipe is designed in order to prepare the prototype at pilot plant level. This gives a product, which we can fully characterise through physicochemical, sensory, and bromatological analyses. Based on these results, the product is redesigned, and, if need be, adjusted or improved in terms of its sensory characteristics. This new single origin chocolate can then be offered on international markets.
5. Once we have a good organoleptic profile of the chocolate, we begin our performance evaluation and product acceptance process with customers from different markets. When we decided, in 2011, to sell our chocolate internationally, we developed three single origin chocolates: Santander, Tumaco, and Huila, with equal cocoa contents for all of them: 53%, 65%, 75% and 85%. Over time we learned that not all percentages adequately express the special flavours in single origin chocolate. Therefore, some of the initial references evolved to other percentages and our newly developed single origin chocolates have cocoa contents that have been designed to bring out their best flavour.
What’s special about Luker Chocolate origins?
In Colombia, the different harvesting, fermentation, and drying methods, our mountainous areas, our seas, microclimates and genetics (terroir), give us a diverse variety of cocoa aromas and flavours. Trinitarian cocoa, recognised, as Fino de Aroma by the International Cocoa Organisation (ICCO) is a blend of fruity, floral, vanilla, sweet, spicy, and nutty flavours, reflected in a delicate product with unique flavours made-to-measure for chocolate lovers.
However, what most identifies our single origin chocolates is the passion, tradition, and DNA imprinted on them by Luker Chocolate. Beyond the 5 steps mentioned above, behind each flavour and each sensory profile, there is a story that can only be told thanks to the hands that tirelessly work the Colombian countryside. Through their work, they transform an entire country and make every region as authentic as each bar of chocolate that reaches the hands of our customers around the world.
Chocolate makes the world a better place.