Dutched cocoa alkalization

chocolate because … Dutched cocoa …

What's the difference between natural cocoa and

Dutched cocoa? well, dutch cocoa has been chemically treated with caustic alkaline.

What does that actually look like and

Why do people do it? i'm going to show you.

In fact, I dutched this cocoa myself. I actually think I dutched it a little too hard. To understand the historical origins of this practice, you have to go back to the original chocolate. These are raw cocoa beans, which are the oily seeds from the fruit of. Theobroma cacao, a tropical evergreen indigenous to Central and South America. Apparently, the seeds taste like raw potatoes until you allow them to ferment for about a week, and then you dry them. Now they smell and taste very strongly of bitter chocolate.

However, the beans are encased in a papery husk that we have to get off, not least because it usually comes coated in this red clay that the processors put on to keep the beans from molding. The way you get that husk off is you just smash the beans. They're very brittle, just smack them a few times and they fall apart into little chunks called cocoa nibs, which have been the hipster dessert topping of choice for a few years now. I don't know why. I think they're pretty gross to eat whole. But now that we've knocked those papery skins loose, we can winnow them out pretty easily, and that's generally done with air. I'm just going to pour these from one bowl to another in front of a fan, and the husks will simply blow away, because they are light little sails. The nibs themselves are heavy oil bombs, so they fall straight down into the other bowl.

You can do this in the wind, and it's the basic way that rice and wheat and other grains have been separated from their husks for thousands of years. Not surprising, because grains are seeds, just as cocoa beans are seeds. People mainly eat seeds. Now, either before or after cracking and winnowing, you have to roast the beans, and that is a whole art in itself, just like roasting coffee beans is. We're not going to get into the details now. The roasting is generally more gentle with chocolate than it is with coffee, but the objective is the same. Heat the beans until you have driven away all of the grassy green flavor notes, but before you developed many burned flavors. Those taste okay.


Anyway, after you've been grinding your roasted cocoa nibs for an ungodly length of time, you start to squeeze the oils out of the particles and the powder gets kind of wet and it cakes together into a substance called cocoa mass. You can take that mass, dissolve it in hot water, maybe flavor it with some spices, maybe thicken it with some corn starch, and you've got something like the original chocolate product enjoyed by indigenous Central Americans for centuries. It was generally a drink, and it must have been an acquired taste. When Aztec Emperor Montezuma II first served chocolate to the Spanish conquistadors, they were pretty grossed out by it. They still brought it back to Europe with them, because they knew that it was the drink of kings in the Americas. It was a luxury good from an exotic land far, far away. So of course, European aristocrats thought chocolate was cool and fashionable, and they wanted to try it. They just had a real hard time enjoying it, because it is so bitter and gritty and greasy and sour.

The pH is five, which is reasonably acidic. Seven is neutral. So, Europeans tried all kinds of things to make chocolate more palatable to them. They tried mixing it in milk instead of water. They tried mixing in sugar. And then as the Industrial Revolution blossomed, they tried applying new technologies to chocolate. Enter the Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes van Houten, whose father, Casparus, owned a chocolate mill in Amsterdam. It was actually the father who patented a hydraulic press for milling chocolate.

I'm simulating the effect with a cheap oil press that I bought off the internet. It's got an auger in a shaft for grinding and pressing, and it's got an alcohol lamp you can light underneath the shaft. Heat is important. Whether you achieve heat with fire or with friction, you melt the cocoa mass, allowing you to grind it into a super smooth pace called chocolate liquor. This dissolves much more evenly and smoothly in a drink, or you can just let it sit at room temperature and it solidifies into solid chocolate. Easy to imagine how they figured that out by accident. They just left it out and it set up solid like that and there you go. That's the original chocolate or eating chocolate, solid chocolate, they might call it.

It tastes really disgusting, because I didn't put any sugar in it, but that's real chocolate, came straight from the bean. What the elder van Houten also discovered is that if you press the chocolate liquor really tight, as I am doing with my auger, the oil squeezes out. Cocoa is about half fat, called cocoa butter, and there it is. If you squeeze it out, you're left with a dry cake you can break up into a powder, and that's cocoa powder. It has incredible shelf life.

It dissolves really easily in water, and

You don't get a grease layer forming at the top of the drink, so cocoa powder became the dominant chocolate product in europe.

But it still tasted very bitter and

A little astringent and a little acidic, just super intense.

So the younger van Houten, the chemist, he thought to himself, what if we soaked the beans in lye?

I made some weak lye water by soaking fireplace ashes, and then. I tried soaking some coco nibs in that ash water. It noticeably darkened them and made them smell and taste a little different, but now let's try the real hardcore stuff. Sodium hydroxide lye. 19th century Europeans had access to this and several other alkaline salts. You can mine them. I'm honestly not sure how much to dissolve in this water with the roasted cocoa nibs in there. Wow.

The color immediately changes from red to a brownish green and the pH, yikes, 12.5. That's enough to cause a chemical burn, so I will don some gloves. After just an hour of soaking, I'm getting a really familiar smell. The kitchen smells like Oreo cookies and bleach. I've got to drain and rinse off the bleach. Now I got to dry these in the oven and then roast them. Check the difference next to the natural nibs. Wow.

Grind them into cocoa mass as before, dissolve in some hot water as before. I think I overdid it on the lye. The pH of this drink is 11, but I can still taste what Coenraad van Houten must have tasted. It's much less bitter than the natural cocoa product. You would need less sugar to kind of round off the rough edges. It's sort of smoother, rounder, softer, and it's just different. In my cultural context, it smells and tastes like Oreos, because Oreos are made with very heavily dutched dark cocoa. The alkaline treatment changes a lot of the flavor molecules in here, and you just get a very different product.

It also disperses better in water. Compare it to the natural cocoa drink. Look at how badly that one is separating. Of course, you can also use heat to grind that dutched cocoa into chocolate liquor as before, and you can let that solidify into solid chocolate as before. But the alkalized chocolate liquor is not quite as nice in its solid form. It's a little softer. It doesn't work as well as a crisp coating on things. And it tastes kind of gross.

This is because we didn't just alkalize the cocoa solids.

We also alkalized the cocoa fat, and

That results in soaps.

That's literally how you make soap, boil fat in lye water. The soaps taste gross and they mess with the structural matrix of the solid chocolate. So check out this paper written by Arlen Moser at Blommer Chocolate, a giant chocolate supplier to commercial operations here in the U.S. He writes that nib alkalization, like I did, has its place, it's still really popular, but instead, you might want to press out the butter first to preserve its quality, and then you alkalize the cocoa solids by themselves. And there are wet methods for doing that, like I did. There are dry methods, all kinds of alkalizing salts you can use in different quantities, different times, and temperatures for different flavor and color and texture effects.

But that's the basic process developed by Coenraad van Houten some 150 years ago. Neutralize the acids in cocoa with some alkaline salts, and you get a product that I would not call superior, it's just different, and I like it. And this is why natural cocoa and Dutch cocoa both remain on the market to this day. Use them both. It's all chocolate. It's all good...