In this photo story, Kuruvilla takes us through the cacao harvesting process at Kuruvinakunnel Tharavadu & shows us how each step of the process is a potential space for developing flavour of the bean.
Food Forward India
Jan 04, 2021 · 4 min read
At Kuruvinakunnel Tharavadu we primarily grow Forestero and Trinitario varieties here in our plantation, which is intercropped with jackfruit, nutmeg, mangosteen, rambutan and a few other citrus trees.
It takes about 3-5 years for a cacao seed to become a fruiting tree, 3 years if it's grafted.
While many of the world's flowers are pollinated by bees or butterflies/moths, Cacao flowers are pollinated by tiny flies (Midges). The flowers don’t sprout from branches as in many other trees. Instead, they emerge directly from the trunk. They burst into little pink-and-white constellations of five-pointed starry blooms.
Even after cocoa flowers are successfully pollinated and led to fruit set, not all young fruits will grow to mature cocoa fruits. Up to 80% of young fruits will shrivel, turn black, and become rapidly colonized by pathogens, while the pod remains on the tree.
It takes about 4-5 months for these cacao pods to be harvested, once pollinated successfully. Similar to coffee, cacao picking is a difficult task. And one of the biggest challenges lies in telling when the pods are ripe. Under-ripe cacao will not yet have developed all its wonderful flavors and aromas while over-ripe ones will start to germinate. However, unfortunately, cacao pods don’t always ripen at the same time – even when they’re on the same tree.
Knowing the right time to harvest the fruits is extremely important and takes a great deal of experience and knowledge. It is only when the cacao pods are fully ripe that the pulp surrounding the cacao seeds provides enough sugar for optimal fermentation. This is crucial for the later taste and physical properties of the chocolate.
Once the cacao pods are collected, they are carefully opened to remove the pulp with the undamaged seeds. This mixture of pulp and cacao seeds is then ready for fermentation.
The fermentation of cacao beans is crucial to the production of quality cocoa. Fermentation brings out the chocolate flavor that you’re familiar with. Before fermentation cacao beans have a very bitter taste and without fermentation, the rich chocolate flavor wouldn’t exist. The mixture of pulp and the beans is moved into wooden fermentation boxes, covered with banana leaf and rugs and then leave to ferment.
The pulp surrounding the cacao bean transforms into alcohol during fermentation. This conversion is caused by the yeasts in the air and by the heat produced by the pile and the alcohol is then turned into lactic or acetic acid. This liquid is then discharged through the perforations in these wooden boxes and are left with only the fermented beans.
The beans are then left for 4 to 6 days, depending on the flavor desired, and are mixed several times during the fermentation process to allow oxygen into the pile and for an even fermentation.
Once fermented, we do a cut test where we check if the beans have been properly fermented after which these fermented beans are then transferred to our solar dryer. It takes about 5-6 days for the beans to dry properly from about a moisture content of 70% to 7%. Once these beans are properly dried, we then sort these beans by hand removing flat beans and damaged beans and transfer these beans for storage into grain storage bags within jute bags for maintaining the moisture content.
Storing the cocoa beans in gas-tight and moisture-tight container locks in the aromatic, pleasantly bitter notes that make chocolate a highly sought after commodity. Fine quality is preserved by keeping the cocoa beans from being exposed to air and allowing oxidation to occur. We have very recently started experimenting on the fermentation process with some of the produce that we grow here at the estate and hopefully will be able to share in results in the coming weeks.
All photos and words by Kuruvilla Louis of Kuruvinakunnel Tharavadu on the growing and processing of cacao beans that adds flavour every step of the way.
Kuruvinakunnel Tharavadu is a 400 year old heritage homestay on an organic plantation in Meenachil Pala in the Kottayam district. The family also has pepper plantations in Murinaphuzha in the Idukki district.