We’ve already established that raw chocolate is amazing, offering health benefits that you couldn’t possibly get from the mass produced alternatives. Have you ever wondered how Ombar raw chocolate is made, though?
Right from the very beginning, the Ombar philosophy has always been to create a healthier chocolate bar, so naturally the process had to be a bit different.
Standard chocolate is created using a roasting process, where the cacao beans are heated to dehydrate them. Raw chocolate is not. In basic terms, it is uncooked – so the lovely cacao beans can retain their rich flavour and nutrients. The beans are spread out to dry lazily, under the sun. What could be more romantic than that?
When we’re popping that square of delicious chocolate into our mouths, luxuriating as it melts so indulgently on our tongues, we’re often not thinking about how it came to be. How that bar or button or bonbon was formed, and the thought that went into it. Yet the chocolate-making process – in particular, the raw chocolate-making process - is fascinating.
Starting on the other side of the world, in Ecuador, the cacao beans are grown and harvested, then fermented. Fermentation is essential, being responsible for the development of lots of the chocolatey flavour.
Next, the beans are dried and this is where the raw and standard chocolate manufacturing processes differ. Standard beans are roasted to help remove the husks and to mask any unpleasant flavour in low-quality chocolate. The raw process sees the beans dry out naturally, with all the flavour and nutrients remaining intact.
The next stage involves the removal of the cacao bean husks, after which the dried bean crumbles into nibs (the cacao nibs you find in some of our products). The nibs are then ground into a paste called cocoa mass, to which some cocoa butter is usually added to reduce the thickness.
The paste must next be refined, transforming it into the silky texture that we know and love. Together with any chosen sweeteners, etc. it is processed at a low temperature and ground right down into a very, very smooth consistency – so smooth that the tongue can’t detect the tiny, individual particles.
It is at this point that non-raw chocolate would then be ‘conched’, where it is heated at up to 70-80 degrees for 24-48 hours. At the same time, it’s aerated to get rid of some of the bitter compounds naturally found in cacao. This severely reduces the health benefits, as these compounds are what’s good for you.
However, we find that our ‘unconched’ product doesn’t taste bitter at all. In fact, when using good quality cacao, there’s nothing to mask in the first place. As our founder, Richard says: “We prefer to let the cacao speak for itself.”
Back to post-refining, then, the liquid form raw chocolate can then be moulded into bars, packaged and sold into the guilt-free Ombar treats that you enjoy!
Our manufacturing process might ensure that the finished product is packed to the brim with nutrients, but it’s not without its difficulties. One such problem is the removal of the husks. This is a tricky business; roasting makes the husks fall away easily, but without that step, what do we do?
“There is a technique,” Richard explains. “It’s just a matter of dehydrating the cacao beans to a greater degree of ‘dryness’, taking it down to three or four per cent humidity. Then the husks will come away fairly easily.”
Another consideration is safety. One other reason why the big manufacturers roast their beans is to kill off any bacteria. As raw beans dry outside naturally, they never reach the same high temperatures. We address this by ensuring that the supply chain is fully trustworthy and robust. When the cacao is drying outside, it’s in a clean environment, under cover and with controls in place. Plus, several tests are carried out to check that the bacteria isn’t present.
Lastly, there’s the issue of water. A decent raw product needs to be water-free; that’s why you’ll commonly see ingredients like creamed coconut in the Ombar range. Wetter ingredients require the addition of more fat to prevent the mass from congealing – and adding more fat is not something that we want to do. Dry sweeteners are also common, as their inclusion means that the amount of fat required can be reduced, resulting in a top quality product. We use coconut sugar, an unrefined product which comes from the coconut blossom and real fruit, which is dried and powdered.
Ombar was created by people with a passion, who wanted to share the incredible benefits of raw cacao with everyone and to redesign chocolate as a healthy food. In that spirit of positivity, we ensure our entire supply chain reflects our ideals. The beans are grown in conditions which the Soil Association has certified as organic, too.