Monday, September 30, 2019

Kit Kat’s

People here in the United States typically think of Kit Kat's to be something we alone eat and that it's only one of the many chocolate bars at your local convenience store.

This is much further from the truth than you might think.  We had known about the Japanese craze over Kit Kat's and just had to go see one of the stores for ourselves.  We found ourselves in Ginza for a little shopping and of course where we wanted to see the Kit Kat store.

We were a little overwhelmed, not because there was a great variety of products, but because the cost of getting Kit Kat's.  This isn't a convenience store.  This is Japanese people going nuts over a chocolate bar.

One of the things I realized much later and should have realized when I went in there in the first place is that most of the Kit Kat's were not milk or dark chocolate but white chocolate with flavorings. Lavender, Matcha, Lemon, Apple, and several others.  The reason I started thinking about this is because Ruby Chocolate (raw cacao bean flavored chcolate) was first sold as a Kit Kat bar.  Probably right along all these other flavored white chocolate bars.  It was the perfect starting ground.  They should rebrand matcha chocolate as Emerald Chocolate.  It would probably make just as big of a wave.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Ruby Chocolate

So what is this craze people are talking about?  I recently attended the 10th Dallas Chocolate Festival and more than one person asked me about this.  Fortunately I've had a little experience trying some of this elusive chocolate specifically at one of the book readings my wife had in Minneapolis at Maggers & Quinn this year as produced by Sweets Engineer.

My response was a less than glowing review.  It tastes ok but not really my thing.  The flavors really haven't been developed.  This is mostly because the beans haven't been fermented.  The red color comes from the natural color of the bean which is a darker form of the color you see.  The cocoa butter, sugar, and other ingredients that might be added to it lighten it to this reddish pink color you see in the picture or probably it's more accurate to say the cacao colors the other ingredients.  Really what you have is a colored white chocolate.  It would be interesting to know if the cocoa butter comes from the same beans.  I would be shocked if they were since the ruby beans are supposed to be so special.  Typically you add extra cocoa butter to chocolates.  So in this case that's a lot of extra cocoa butter.  Callebaut is claiming 47.3% cocoa content.  Looking further into it's ingredients shows 2.5% fat-free cocoa.  This would be your red cocoa bean with cocoa butter removed. So total cocoa butter would be (doing the math) 44.8% and still sugar is the #1 ingredient.

At the Dallas Chocolate Festival we took a chocolate making class where ruby chocolate was discussed briefly.  The consensus was that it wasn't necessarily bad but also wasn't real exciting to those giving the class or any of the participants who had tried it beforehand.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Cacao Survivors

So not all of the beans that sprouted are doing well.  I resorted the cups into probability of survival.  That would seem a little heartless if these weren't plants but in the world of plants it's normal.  Often you will plant multiple seeds in a single location and remove the plants that are weaker and merely throw them away.  This is especially true with flowers and vegetable plants.

So in the bottom left (which is the bottom right usually but I'm tried to make sure all the trees were visible in this shot) you have the obvious dud.  He's already dead and starting to rot.

The front 8 I really have very little hope for.  As you go down the line though you can easily see many of the trees are doing well.  Over half have leaves forming although none of them are really "set" yet.  By that I mean they are still in the formation stage where it's still easy for them to get shocked and fall off.  My revised estimate is that from 10-12 of these 40 plants will not make it.  That still leaves 28-30 viable trees though.  Not bad for putting seeds in dirt and remembering to water them.  Of course soon the'll need a lot more dirt and bigger pots and better locations for growth.  Fortunately I work in a large enough office that there are plenty of places for that to happen.  My current hope is to have enough trees to have a small crop in a few years and be the first person to go from planting the trees to bonbons, at least in Texas.  There are already some in Hawaii and some in other countries that do this, like Che'il Mayan Products, Nina Chocolates, and Loiza Dark.  But here trees have to be grown indoors making it a bit more difficult to keep them healthy and productive.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

UTZ Certified Cocoa (What is it?)

It's another in a long list of companies and organizations that are all trying to make you feel better about the chocolate you are eating.

If you were told that your chocolate was grown by an aging man who can barely get by.  A man who uses old tools that should have been replaced years ago and who works twelve hours a day for barely enough to buy some of the things he can't get locally or make on his own.  Who's children work along side him and at the end of the day still have never even tasted the final product we know as chocolate, a substance that often gets thrown away by those who don't know any better when they see a white dusting look on the outside (still perfectly good chocolate).  A family sleeping in conditions that we wouldn't force our dog to sleep in.  Then you might be a bit outraged and demand someone do something about it.

What you get is these companies that will tout all they have done to improve the industry and the relationships from farmer to product.  How much does this really affect the product in the end. Almost none.  In the end what you get is to feel better about eating a product even if you have no real proof of any tangible improvement overall.  Not saying these people are evil or taking advantage of anyone.  They may well be trying their best to improve conditions of the farmers and the methods they use for producing and harvesting.

UTZ does not just deal with cacao farmers though.  They do coffee, tea, cacao, and even nut production.  That's pretty thin to spread any company.

What about companies that aren't part of this UTZ certification?  Are they necessarily bad companies? If you look at some of the bean to bar makers I don't find any of them that have this certification but they're doing much of the same things on a much more manageable scale.  They many times go personally to the farmers and not only help them produce better cacao crops but know the people that are working for these plantations.  Is this any better of a guarantee that everything is on the up and up. Maybe a little but really after they leave there's still no micromanaging of these places.  You really can't tell what goes on after visitors leave.  They do claim to pay better than the bigger chocolate companies though and if so that at least would be a big boost to their ability to live better.  Note that these certifications also only cover one single ingredient of the chocolate which can easily have a dozen or more ingredients from various sources, none of which might be certified in any way.

I have to say that I don't think my little forest will ever be certified by anyone. Many much larger farms and plantations also don't get certifications such as organic, not because they don't or couldn't, but because the cost of certification isn't worth it.  So don't knock a company just because there isn't a certification since all that really means is that at some point (hopefully regularly) someone who was given authority went there and checked certain aspects of the company/place being certified.

Another note.  The wording of certifications and claims might not be what you expect.  The names of these certifications usually sound better than what actually happens.  If you want food just like it came naturally then you would have all sorts of blemishes, bugs, and smaller crops.  Everyone uses some form of chemical on their crops if they have any real scale to their operations, even organic.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Struggling Sprout

One of the seeds was having a bit of a problem getting out of the ground.  On more thing the testa does apparently is prevent the seed from sending roots into itself before coming out of the ground.

When I checked it I found that it had sent little roots into the seed holding it under the dirt while at the same time trying to get out of the dirt with this loop of a stem. I cut around the seed to free it from the roots and as you can see it is already coming up out of the dirt.  It had been completely covered before.  Just hoping it's not too late for it to develop properly or if this might be some odd way of twisting the trunk.

We'll see how it comes out in the next few days.  I'll try to make sure no new roots try to grab hold of it in the mean time.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Full Sprouting (40 of 40)

AS of yesterday we seem to have a full sprouting of all forty seeds!  One of them you can see in the picture is just a green stem loop and hasn't really popped up yet but it is definitely growing.

Part of this I attribute to peeling the testa (seed coat) away from the seeds before planting.  The seeds didn't have to wait for the testa to determine if the conditions were right for sprouting and so just did their thing.  Since the seeds were planted in good potting soil there is little worry about fungus, bugs, or other problems you typically find in the wild.

In this way they are very different from things like butterflies who need the process also of breaking out of the chrysalis to develop properly. If you see a butterfly emerging it's best to leave it alone so it can come out and develop properly. Unless you're skilled (properly trained) you are more likely to injure it than help it survive.  Cacao seeds can be nicked pretty good and still grow just fine. I nicked a few of these while peeling them (wet) and they've sprouted just fine.  The part of the seed that was injured is merely a food source and there's still plenty of it left.

For those of you who might be wondering, yes this might be termed growing cocoa. Cocoa and cacao are often used interchangeably although they are technically different.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Cacao Seedlings (35 of 40)

Looked this evening to see how these fellas were doing and to give them a little water, because of course the'll need regular watering, and did a quick head count.

So far at least 35 of them can easily be seen sprouting out of 40.  A couple of them might be moving a little but I couldn't really tell unless I dug around a little in the dirt.  At this phase I don't really want to disturb them and accidentally cause any damage.  So happy they're growing well though and so far no real issues.

Unfortunately I didn't score any new pods to ferment or grow but the Dallas Chocolate Festival was still pretty fun and got to talk to lots of folks we knew and some new ones we didn't.  Looking forward to next year.  Who knows what will happen then.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Cacao Seed Peaking Up

You can just see this one peaking up over the rim of the cup it's in. There are a good dozen who are growing now.  Tomorrow we're going to take some video that we're putting together for how the process works.  From planting to potting and possibly repotting.

I already have a few people who want to take one of these babies home with them.  I cant blame them they're a neat plant to have especially if you are a fan of tropical, unusual, or merely uncommon plants grown in your area.

I have to keep them watered regularly though since the cups they're in are so small.  Moisture regulation is a much narrower window.  Leave them alone for more than a day and they can easily dry out and die.  Not what you want in tender shoots.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Cacao to the Festival

In two days we're going to the VIP party for the Dallas Chocolate Festival!  It's a fun place with more chocolate than you should reasonably eat in the few hours we'll be there.

Sander has suggested I can see if the Fine Chocolate Industry Association might want it at their table as a conversation starter.  I'm thinking they might.  Of course it's only to baby sit it for a little while.

Currently she's nearly 28-inches tall and growing pretty fast these days.  There are two new leaves forming up top and that usually prompts another growth spurt.  In the wild these will easily get 30-feet tall if not 40 or 50.  Of course inside the max height I can let her get is 7 feet (plus 1-foot for the pot).

Little sister is coming along too since I still haven't had the opportunity to repot them yet.  It will give a good example of needing to space them out if you want them to grow well.