Putting flavor first: more about flavor bean cacao

IMG_3690Chocolate today is experiencing a strong renaissance (or naissance, if you will*). Over the past ten to 15 years, growers, bean-to-bar makers, and chocolatiers are focusing ever more closely on what is known as flavor bean, flavor-grade, or single-origin cacao.

Flavor-bean cacao, as the name implies, is bred for flavor (think of the depth of flavor and breadth of variety of heirloom tomatoes). As today’s food consumers become more and more discerning (especially in Portland), producers have responded by paying more attention to flavor-bean cacao.

Like heirloom vegetables, flavor-bean cacao varietals are harder to grow. They require more ideal growing conditions, and more maintenance than most bulk cacao. But the rewards are great.

Food scientists tell us that they’ve found about three times the flavor notes in cacao than in red wine (about 450-600 flavor notes in cacao, as opposed to150-200 flavor notes for red wine). And we all know how people are about red wine; I’ve known Pinot Noir fans that refuse to drink Merlot!

Bean-to-bar chocolate makers in Portland are all about flavor bean cacao. Each focuses on intentionally selected varietals, different production methods, and carefully developed products to tease out the flavor notes they’re looking for.

  • *naissance = French for “birth;” renaissance = “rebirth.” Chocolate use has continued to grow ever since Columbus and other European explorers first took note of how reverently the South American natives treated the bean. Once cacao traveled back across the Atlantic, the plant was very quickly industrialized, and selective breeding rapidly resulted in easier-to-grow commodity or bulk cacao. Flavor-bean cacao has only started to receive more attention from producers and consumers over the last 15 years or so.

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