What’s The Difference Between Fermented and Non-Fermented Raw Cacao?

A bowl of fermented cacao with cacao beans beside it

Fermented vs. Non-Fermented Cacao

Are you confused by the array of marketing terms used to sell cacao products?

First of all, there's the difference between cocoa and cacao (hint: the highly processed version is the former). Furthermore, you need to decide if you want raw, organic, fair trade, non-GMO, sustainably harvested, or blessed by fairies. (Ok, not really.) Finally, there's the difference between fermented and non-fermented raw cacao to consider. You're probably thinking to yourself at this point — I just want a high-quality cacao product that's healthy for my family! One thing to be clear on — they are not all created equal. Rest easy, you can have your cacao and know that you've found a product that's healthy for your family. You just need to know a few things about the different processes first. To help you understand some of this terminology, I'm going to dig a little deeper into the difference between fermented raw cacao and non-fermented raw cacao.

Fermented Raw Cacao

Traditional cultures used fermentation on cacao beans to increase the chocolate flavor. Chocolate fermentation also helps to reduce cacao's naturally occurring bitterness and the phytic acid present in cacao while increasing the cacao flavor and aroma.

Phytic acid is a protective substance present in all nuts, beans, grains, and seeds. It prevents the body from absorbing the minerals from these foods by binding to the minerals. Hence reducing phytic acid is essential for easier digestion and more efficient mineral absorption from these foods. Soaking, sprouting, and fermentation of chocolate cacao beans are the traditional methods by which phytic acid is reduced.

If not properly fermented and dried, mold and undesirable pathogens may develop. Hence, many store-bought cocoa products are treated with high temperatures, Dutch (alkali) processed, or irradiated to kill off bacteria. Consequently, this negates many of the potential health benefits of consuming raw cacao (source). A study found that the best temperatures for drying and fermentation of chocolate cacao beans were between 112°F - 122°F (source). The closer to 122°F that the chocolate fermentation temperature reaches, the better the quality of the dried cacao is. Correct fermentation of chocolate cacao beans is important to maintain its nutritional qualities. No exposure to high heat treatment should be necessary to kill off pathogens if fermented correctly. Hence this enables a producer to maintain a truly raw cacao product. What if you prefer the mild, less bitter taste of natural cacao? This is why some may wish to consume non-fermented raw cacao.

Non-Fermented Raw Cacao

Not all cacao and chocolate products undergo a fermentation process. Because of its distinct mild flavor, some taste buds may prefer a non-fermented cacao powder. One of the greatest benefits of consuming a non-fermented cacao product is the higher antioxidant flavonoids. We use an ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) score to measure flavonoids. The non-fermented form of cacao has an ORAC score of 1549 μmol TE/g. This is over 3 times the ORAC score of another familiar superfood: goji berries (learn more here)! Studies have also revealed that the antioxidant capacity and flavanol content of certain non-fermented cacao beans have a significantly higher antioxidant capacity and flavanol content than their fermented counterparts (source).

So, Which One Should You Use?

I, personally, use both! If a recipe will benefit from a stronger cacao flavor, I opt for the fermented. If I'm making a smoothie with other naturally sweet ingredients to balance the bitterness, I opt for the non-fermented. It's worth experimenting as to whether you prefer the taste of either fermented or non-fermented cacao as taste buds differ. Wildly Organic stocks both fermented raw cacao and non-fermented raw cacao. These beans are USDA certified organic and raw. They are sourced from small family farms in the Dominican Republic that have been practicing sustainable farming methods for generations.

Did you know the difference between fermented and non-fermented raw cacao? Which one do you prefer?

Previous article Chicken and Biscuits {Gluten-Free}

Wildly Organic is an independent source for wholesome, organic foods and natural, raw foods and ingredients, the building blocks of a healthy life.