Working With Sugar

I get it, sugar is not healthy. It is harmful. It is toxic. A slow acting poison. Can cause variety of diseases especially the ever popular diabetes. However, we can’t help ourselves. We eat it and keep craving for more. If we go back to the statement, too much of everything is bad. Then anything we eat in excess is bad. Alcohol in moderation is recommended, as well as coffee. Too much is discourage though. Sugar can make almost anything taste great and it is a good energy source. The bad side manifest when we start to consume to much. Ultimately, sugar is not to blame. It is the one who consume it in excess.

Why do producers add sugar? First, it is an essential component. Ice cream is not it is without. Candy, marshmallows, fudge, toffee and caramel are sugar based. Most fruit extract are sweet and sour by nature. Processors role is to keep or improve its taste. More often than not, sugar is added for the sake of consumer preference and standardization.

Sugar is a natural preservative, like salt. The two act by holding water in food rendering it unavailable for microbial use. This action can be observed by scrubbing fish with salt, or placing a fruit slice in plate of sugar. After few minutes, water can be seen oozing out.

The sugar itself and its product rarely need preservative.

Sugar is not bad at all. Let us free ourselves from guilt and start learning sugar science. The teacher is not me, but you. There is no better learning experience than doing it yourself.

Lately, I got interested in brittle making. The flat variegated shape sweet filled with nuts. I noted down several recipes and watched couple of YouTube videos. Gathered all the ingredients and tools. Failed about three times before finally got a good result. Few days later, I repeated what I did, but again, failed several times before getting a good result.

It brings me back to time when I was learning the art and science of chocolate tempering and molding. It took me about three months before getting my body to work with it comfortably. Then, more than a year to fix most of the loopholes. Sugar craft is no different. I have to master both art and science. Temperature is the key and what you do after reaching that temperature point will dictate the result.

Marvin is the lead chocolate maker of Ben and Lyn Chocolate Inc. Has strong background in food research and development. Occasionally conducts training and lectures. Lecturer of Cocoa Foundation of the Philippines. Do coaching and consultancy services on his free time.

Cashew, Pieces of Information

It was our second time in Palawan. Hello again kasuy!

Other than its main commodity, cacao is becoming popular crop in the province. Government authorities, NGOs and some big private sectors are joining together to populate Palawan and the whole country with the in-demand cacao tree.

cashew seeds

We did lecture and demo of cacao processing on the first day and participated in cashew processing on the second day.

When we said cashew, we often refer to nuts. The cashew apple is often neglected and it is indeed neglected in reality. Farmers harvest the seed (containing the nut) and leave the apple to rot. Mature cashew apple only last for few days. It is not a regular eat. It is edible but only few bother. In case, those can only consume a few. The seed on the other hand is longer lasting and commands a high price.

I was wrong. The seed is indeed longer lasting, but, the nut inside may not if improperly stored. Ants can pierce through a soft seed part and haul away the nut. The storage trick is not shared though. There was a story about this rich merchant who hauled a lot of seed during fruiting season. Off season came when he planned selling. All of his haul was infested.

The idea about seed broiling fumes being bad to native chicken is true. I thought it was superstition. The thick seed coat has toxic sap causing skin burns. I think, during broiling, this toxic substance evaporates and the chickens are very sensitive to it.

The seeds are steamed before nut extraction. Not sure why. The lecture and demo were focused on use of cashew apple. I got more information by asking them. Steaming may have something to do with removal of toxin.

Cashew nuts are divided to two categories. The halves and the whole kernel. The first is extracted by means of the traditional tool “kalukati”. It is basically a knife which the end is fixed to a fulcrum. A more appropriate description is a nut cracker which one lever is a wedge. It breaks the seeds to halves including the nut. Then it is force off the seed with a pointed tool.

The whole kernel need a different tool. The contraption compose of two wedges just enough to cut through the seed coat without damaging the nut. One wedge is then twisted to break it open revealing the whole nut. Another operation follows. The removal of hard testa covering.

The cashew nuts maybe sold as raw, roasted or fried. Others are preparing cashew brittle, panutsa and butter spread.

Cashew apple, which was the highlight of lecture and demo, can be processed to wine, vinegar, jams, prunes and cookies. They are promoting such to help increase farmer’s income.

Marvin is the lead chocolate maker of Ben and Lyn Chocolate Inc. Has strong background in food research and development. Occasionally conducts training and lectures. Lecturer of Cocoa Foundation of the Philippines. Do coaching and consultancy services on his free time.

Daing, Danggit : Removing Too Much Saltiness

There are two known popular pasalubong from Palawan. The cashew nuts (and other cashew products) and the danggit.

Danggit is a dried salted fish. Quite similar to daing. Split open to halves, salted and dried. The difference is the fish species used. It is round and thin. I never know the exact species though. Again, I forgot to ask.

The danggit we bought and brought home are good. No doubt about it. I find it too salty though. Yours might taste different because there are various fish processors there.

I said it was too salty. We already know that salt is not a volatile compound. Apprentice cooks often make mistake by finalizing salty taste to soupy veggies and boiling it further. It often result to too salty dish. Water evaporates leaving the salt to concentrate. Yes, this is how sea salt is made.

When a soupy dish is too salty. Water can be added to dilute. When a salted egg is too salty, there is noting we can do about it, I guess. When danggit is too salty, we can do a trick to make it less. That is soaking in water before frying. Then dry over low pan heat before frying. The fish salt content will diffuse to water making the fish less salty. Degree of removal depend on amount of water and soaking time. However, do not soak it up to point it become saggy.


Marvin is the lead chocolate maker of Ben and Lyn Chocolate Inc. Has strong background in food research and development. Occasionally conducts training and lectures. Lecturer of Cocoa Foundation of the Philippines. Do coaching and consultancy services on his free time.

Continuing Cocoa Husk Tea Experiment

I am opening the door again to cocoa husk tea testing. Before, I immediately turned it down after one test. I simply never liked it and stopped. Fueled by side of chocolate community that was also against the idea. From the time of harvest to pod breaking, fermentation, drying, storage, transport up to point it reaches the hands of chocolate makers. The husk is the most exposed to environmental contamination. After fermentation and before drying, if the process has significant gap. Ochratoxin may be produced by molds. It may also contain heavy metals, especially if the crop was grown near volcanic area. We are talking here of three hurdles; microbes, ochratoxin and heavy metals, most of which reside on husks. They claim, its removal takes away 90 percent of the problem.

While others say no to the idea, some still continue to venture with it. One chocolatier I know was against it before, but, they changed their mind and began serving husk base drinks. They experimented with it, their customers liked it and keep asking for more. What else can they do? Giving what customers want is essential to business. To battle the fear of danger, they are sending every husk batch for safety analysis.

For the start. I used ten grams husk to 150 ml recently boiled water. Steeped it for five minutes and filtered off. Adding sugar could make it better but I want the pure untainted flavor.

Husk is part of bean. I was expecting strong chocolate flavor but the experience was on a completely different level. It has faint brownie flavor with a sharp citrus kick. It has tarty aftertaste. Tartness gets stronger as the beverage gets colder. The citrus fades while the brownie flavor stays the same.

The flavor I described was specific to the cocoa beans on hand. Beans of different variety, location, and cultural practice may taste different.

Husk has other uses other than drinks. The global standard for cocoa mass husk content is about one percent. The lesser the better. However, husk, as I said is part of cacao bean. One may intentionally add more without label declaration. For the purpose of increasing yield in exchange for lower quality. It may be ground together with cocoa cake to produce a lower quality cocoa powder.

cocoa husk on top of hot water

cocoa tea version 2

I tried another, but not husk, cocoa nibs instead. I was curious which taste better given the same set of preparation. Same recently boiled water, same steeping time and same weight.

The resulting tea was light colored. The overall flavor was also light. This might not be the right preparation mode. Bigger nib sizes and low surface area were hindering factors of flavor diffusion. Husks on the other hand are thin and have large surface areas.

This might be a good starting point for those who want healthier beverage but cannot take the strong kick of pure coffee or cacao.

I never filtered off the nibs. I was chewing it once in a while, while enjoying the light tea. This brought  back the memories of a friend who was adding cocoa nibs in his hot coffee.

cocoa nibs tea

Repeated the nibs tea. Same set of ingredients. Instead of steeping, I set it to running boil for about two minutes.  The resulting tea was cloudy brown. Might be due to some powdery nibs suspended in liquid by boiling.  The chocolate aroma was strong while boiling but became light after. The overall flavor was also light.

Marvin is the lead chocolate maker of Ben and Lyn Chocolate Inc. Has strong background in food research and development. Occasionally conducts training and lectures. Lecturer of Cocoa Foundation of the Philippines. Do coaching and consultancy services on his free time.

Cocoa Butter

I am not a fan. A client insisted on making milk chocolate. I have no choice but include it in recipe list. Addition of milk and sugar at certain point needs a balance of extra butter. Maker may extract his own, buy from other source or use a suitable replacement. They insist on a sweeter blend so extra cocoa butter is necessary.

cocoa butter

It has a weird smell not inherent to cocao. The flavor is bland. Not suggestive of cacao either. I haven’t produced cocoa butter yet. I occasionally gather and taste floating cocoa butter on stored cocoa mass. That is how I can compare.

I make chocolates. The one and two ingredients variants. Pure refined cacao bar and 70% plus sugar. I am considering the idea of extracting cocoa butter in-house. Add extra butter to products. Then what about the left over cake. Sell it as cocoa powder? I haven’t convinced myself that it is high quality product worth selling.

Note : In cocoa industry, the leftover of cocoa pressing is called “cake”. It is dry and crumbly. Easier to pulverize than nibs with intact butter.

Cacao has typical acidity of 5 to 6. True and evident for fermented beans. Anyone can tell it easily by eating raw and roasted beans. No need for high precision equipment and technical know how. Even the acidity levels can be estimated thru taste buds and score sheet.

A pH meter can be purchase for relatively cheap cost though. No need to do the guess work if your senses are not keen enough. Or, you are deligating the task to someone else. We have different levels of sensitivity. Standard mode of measurement is still necessary for long term.

Cacao bean, by nature, is not acidic. I have been working on fermented and unfermented for years. I can confidently assure that the latter is by no means acidic. It taste bitter, astringent and unpleasant. Roasting and subsequent processing changes flavor but I cannot say it is toward the better. It is bad before and after. Addition of sugar and milk only mask, not improve.

Fermented on the other hand, taste good in its raw form. It improves dramatically during processing. It can stand on its own without the addition of any. Small percentage of sugar usually suffice to those who cannot appreciate.

They say Criollo possesses great flavor. No need fermentation to unleashed its potential. However, it is low producer and susceptible to pests and diseases. Unattractive to farmers. Hybrid varities are resistant and high yielding. Their flavor profiles are not great as tradeoffs. Fermentation helps combat this weakness. It improves flavor but contributes acidity as well.

Another problem but there are always solutions. Roasting, refining and conching tame acidity but I guessed not enough. The products we are selling are still sour even after long hours of processing times. We learnt to live by it and many customers followed. Others who cannot, opt for unfermented produce and highly processed products with lots of ingredients. Too many that cacao itself became a small portion of the whole. That is not chocolate .. imo.

There exist a basic chemistry for neutralizing acidity. Addition of enough alkaline compound turns the pH level to 7. As for cacao, they use potassium carbonate for the so called dutch processing. It has pH 11. Highly corrosive substance. It is safe? Maybe not!

If you are getting butter from external source. The chances of it coming from dutch processing is very high. The manufacturer wants the by-product to be accepted by majority. They can sell it with ease. Alkalization also maximize cocoa butter yield. With a very expensive product, every drop counts. They are extracting every ounce they can press. Cocoa butter has high demand because of pharmaceutical and beauty industry. Perhaps your favorite lipstick has cocoa butter as base.

Here is the scenario. Large chocolate companies extract butter from cacao beans. Sell the butter to other companies or make their own beauty products line. For the left-over, the cocoa cake. They are pulverized and sent to baking industry. Some are clever enough to add butter replacement, sugar, milk and other additives. Sold it as if it is the real chocolate in the end.

There are another bad things. With pH above 7, phytonutrients mostly breaks down in high temperature environment. Chocolate is healthy, but too much processing void this claim. Sugar is poison and milk is found binding cacao phytonutrients.

Marvin is the lead chocolate maker of Ben and Lyn Chocolate Inc. Has strong background in food research and development. Occasionally conducts training and lectures. Lecturer of Cocoa Foundation of the Philippines. Do coaching and consultancy services on his free time.