Cacao Pulp 101: Where to Get Cacao Liquor Throughout the Globe

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I’ll never forget my first taste of fresh cacao, which was tart and fragrant and more sweeter than I expected. I almost spat it out because I was so stunned by the bitterness that spilled out as I bit down. I’d been evaluating bean-to-bar chocolates on my own for years, but I’d never tried raw cacao. It was almost seven years ago, during the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle. I was working on a cocoa plantation in Ecuador less than a year later, and now I’ve made it to a chocolate farm in Asia.

Yet I wasn’t completely pleased. I’d had this nagging curiosity for years about what happens to all the cocoa pulp on a large scale. While not all of the juice evaporates into thin air, when you get the beans, they should be (ideally) dried to a comfortable 7% moisture level. Where did all the wonderful liquid go?

So I set out to discover why the distinct taste of cacao pulp appears to be lost in the process, and how we may get it without having to visit a farm.

What exactly is Cacao Pulp?

If you’re reading this, you’re probably aware of how chocolate is made: cacao beans are roasted, peeled, and ground, and sugar is added to sweeten the mixture. Then, bang! Chocolate.

The cacao beans, however, originated from a tree before those key chocolate-making stages were carried out. They began as pods that grew in every direction off of this tropical tree. When the pods were picked, the seeds were extracted, fermented, and dried before being transported to a chocolate producer or immediately converted into chocolate.

But, this is not the whole tale. Cacao pods, like other fruits, have a high sugar content, which is kept in the delicious white pulp around the seeds. As the seeds are removed in preparation for fermentation, the majority of the white pulp is removed as well.

Cacao pulp is merely the juice and fruit solids of the tropical cacao fruit, while cacao liquor is pure fermented alcohol derived from cacao pulp.

Nevertheless, unlike other fruits, cacao plant seeds must be fermented in order to produce their distinctive chocolaty taste. Since the yeasts and bacteria that help in this fermentation feed on the sugars in the pulp, cacao pulp is both a vital component and a byproduct of chocolate production. Others may argue that replacing the pulp with other sugars for the yeast to feed on is not only needless labour, but also less natural.

Why tamper with a good thing when it comes to chocolate?

Curiosity is the solution. The general public has recently grown more interested in what fresh cacao tastes like, as well as sharing all of the flavors of cacao, as well as the uniqueness component of the cacao fruits flavor. The flavor is often attributed to a lychee and a plum, but I’ve also noticed flowery tones and strong acidity. Finally, growers have used fermented or fresh cocoa pulp in a variety of products throughout the years due to the distinctive tastes and high sugar percentage.

Until recently, these concoctions (the majority of which are alcoholic since alcohol is a byproduct of fermentation) were nearly entirely drunk on the farm. Cacao fermentation is carried out by wild yeasts and bacteria present in the places where it occurs, thus no particular strains can be isolated or named at this time. Most farms are still too small to provide enough goods for the market.

But, with the emergence of co-ops and cacao brands, cacao pulp products now have many more potential. So, what are they going to do about it?

Cacao Liquor Production

I’ve been wanting to make liquor out of cacao pulp for years. Vinegar, honey, and dried fruit leather have all been created. So why not booze? Cacao liquor is not the same as crème de cacao, a chocolate-flavored liquor, or chocolate liquor, an unsweetened liquid chocolate derived from cacao beans.

The latter is a commodity that is often purchased by chocolate makers and afterwards transformed into chocolate and chocolate-flavored items. The cacao liquor in question is prepared from cocoa pulp rather than cacao seeds. Nevertheless, as tasty as it is, it is also quite difficult to find. I’d heard of individuals making this cacao liquor, generally in tiny quantities, but I’d never seen it for sale in any of the cacao-producing nations I’d visited.

I questioned a half dozen farmers, and each one indicated it wasn’t feasible, but only a few gave reasons why. One claimed they tried, but their country’s legislation meant it couldn’t be marketed without heating. Nevertheless, the heating procedure ruined the taste, thus the cacao liquor wasn’t worth developing as a product.

I contacted a cocoa farmer in Taiwan last year about creating a liquor from the pulp of his beans, and he told it wasn’t feasible. Cacao pulp, like the shells of the pods and the husks of the beans, is a significant byproduct of cocoa processing. Even on the first day, a lot of pulp drops out, particularly with bigger quantities of fermenting cacao.

Therefore, similar to coffee flour, is it conceivable to create a tasty cacao liquor or wine, as we have with other high-sugar fruits? That was always a toss-up for me since, in my experience, the liquid that comes off the beans smells more like an off-chardonnay than a sweet liqueur served over ice after just a few days of fermentation.

The trick is to filter the juice immediately after harvest. Fermentation begins as soon as the pods are removed from the trees, when the seeds germinate and produce unpleasant odors, many of which are eradicated after good fermentation. Because of this quick chemical reaction, making really fresh cacao juice is very difficult. But, the combination of tastes produced after just a few days in the fermentation chambers indicates that there is undoubtedly a sweet spot.

yeast varieties and fermentation containers I can’t predict how long it will take you to create drinkable cacao liquor, but I can tell you that your cacao juice will need to be watched. The problem is that the liquid must be fermented separately from the beans, however I’m not sure whether this should happen before or after the cacao has been inoculated with the appropriate bacteria. According to one buddy, methanol levels during the distillation process must also be carefully managed in order to manufacture a safe whiskey. Bacteria thrive in environments with varying ambient temperatures and humidity.

However, owing to the varied sugar content of cacao varietals, the ABV (alcohol by volume) of this cacao liquor, liqueur, wine, mead, or whatever you want to name it will vary every batch, much like the tastes of the chocolate from which it is prepared. Isn’t it the beauty of micro-batch manufacturing?

Obtaining Cacao Liquor

Modern chocolate, like wine, sprang straight from people’s craving for booze. It is thought that cacao was originally fermented as part of an endeavour to make a new alcohol using cacao fruit. And it was effective. But, they discovered that the beans utilized tasted different after cooking, and they finally opted to prepare them with other dishes.

They included them into their cuisine, typically as a beverage or as a sauce eaten with meat. There were no portable bars or pieces like we have now, but chocolate was and is still vital, ultimately becoming cash. Yet, somewhere along the road, chocolate became so essential that we lost sight of the other goods created from cacao, much to how the popularity of chicken breast in the United States pulls most other parts of the bird out of the spotlight.

But, on many farms, cacao liquor is merely one of the few advantages of working in such a difficult sector. A few meters away, a group of guys sits around a big mound of pods, one hand holding the pods and the other hacking them open with a machete. A pleasant milky liquid is gathered as it flows off the beans. It becomes a liquor after a few days of distillation. It is the sole product directly consumed by cocoa producers from the crop. (From the BBC)

Some farmers seem to believe that the cacao is used to manufacture the imported wine that they see on store shelves, since what else could it be used for? Since cacao pulp is used on farms, as well as its scarcity and seasonality, getting cacao liquor may be difficult. You must eliminate any chocolate-flavored or infused items, as well as anything artificial. But I’ve made some progress.

Cacao liquor is a popular government-made liquor in Cuba, however while having a cacao pulp basis, it is at least partly boosted with pure alcohol to equal out the ABV. It’s part of a government-regulated liqueur line, so it’s more like a port or sherry than the small-batch liqueur you’d get on most cacao farms. It is only accessible in Cuba, but luckily for us, it is also inexpensive and abundantly distributed.

Other locations where cacao liquors or wines are being experimented with and marketed outside the farm include:

  • United States of America (Solbeso)
  • Mexico (Frucao, Ixcacau & El Toque de Aaron)
  • the Dominican Republic (Carloc Artesanal & Asociación de Mujures Esperanzas Unidas {sold in person in Vicentillo, El Seibo})
  • Nicaragua (Don Juan)
  • Ecuador (anywhere Solbeso is sold {see above})
  • Malaysia (Bar Trigona at Four Seasons Kuala Lumpur)
  • Vietnam (Trong Duc Cacao)
  • the Philippines (Alden Therese Wine)
  • Japan (Cacaoken)

Brazil needs its own piece on cacao liquor (licor de cacau), but I’ll recap the country’s contributions here briefly. If you want to experience cacao liquor, Brazil is the easiest location in the world to do so, and to obtain high-quality examples. Since the nation grows and processes so much cacao each year, there is enough of cacao pulp to go around.

Fortunately for us, several producers have transformed it into booze, albeit most of it is caseiro (homemade) and hence unsuitable for commercial sale. Cacauway Ceres, Nan, and Patiana are other brands to look out for. Cupua Liquor from Amaznia Cacau Macap as a bonus.

If you reside in a place where cacao is farmed, I strongly suggest contacting a local farmer or co-op about purchasing some of the liquor or pulp they create from their beans. Then please send some to me. Kidding! But truly, if you live anywhere near the source, going directly to the farmers is the greatest and cheapest method to get cacao liquor. This not only demonstrates that there is a market for this commodity, but also that selling cacao beans is not the only method to profit from it.

RTW Cacao Pulp Products

These or other items prepared from cocoa pulp (both the juice and the solids) might be a valuable source of extra revenue for farmers in cooperatives that conduct central fermentation of beans. They could gather all of the beans in one location and continue to create the tastes for which their brand is recognized. But, they might also create additional goods that the market is interested in, such as cacao honey, cacao vinegar, or even cacao sugar (think coconut sugar, but with different nutrients).

What about ruby chocolate? Try real chocolate, which is manufactured only from cacao from a single cooperative and cacao sugar from the same batch of beans. There are many small farms working on such a product all over the globe, but for the time being, the closest items I’ve discovered on the market are Callebaut’s WholeFruit Chocolate and the Blue Stripes Cacao line.

Ecuador and Brazil are the leading producers of cocoa pulp and cacao juice for export. Ecuadorian goods often include cacao juice (pasteurized) and other freshly harvested cacao pulp items. Brazilian cacao juice, on the other hand, seems to be marketed most often as a freshly frozen pulp, with much greater home consumption than in other nations. Since that Brazil is claimed to be the birthplace of Forastero cacao varietals, it’s no surprise that chocolate plays a significant part in local cuisines.

To continue my Brazilian cacao liquor blurb, what makes Brazil distinctive is that other fruits from the Theobromafamily are also eaten locally as food and drink goods (including liquors). This implies that cacao and other distilled fruit liquors from Brazil are more likely to be widely available and organically incorporated into food and cultural traditions. Hot cocoa sweetened with cacao juice, dried pulp added to chocolate bars, and faux-chocolate bars manufactured from other Theobroma fruits are recent goods created from cocoa pulp.

Vietnam Cacao Products

Vietnam is not an apparent center, yet it is one of the world’s fastest-growing chocolate sources. A half-dozen Vietnam-based chocolate companies have emerged in the previous decade. Apart from that, hundreds of other chocolatiers have begun to employ Vietnamese cacao to manufacture some or all of their chocolate, as the amount and quality of Vietnamese cacao has increased. I anticipate that this practice will continue to grow, and I hope that the amount of raw cacao products created will follow suit.

Other from fermenting, drying, and selling cocoa beans to produce chocolate, cocoa butter, and cocoa powder, Vietnamese cacao growers have come up with a variety of other applications for raw cacao. Although you can get chocolate and other cocoa goods all throughout Ho Chi Minh City, as well as tours of cacao farms, it is the cacao pulp items that you should look for. The most delicious goods I discovered during my tragically brief first visit were fresh cacao juice, cocoa wine, and cacao liquor. Check out my video of the experience to get a sense of how these beverages taste (linked below).

How Does Cacao Liquor Taste?

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Have you ever tasted anything other than chocolate made from cacao? Did you like it?

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