Cut tests are one analyses that can be done at on the farm to evaluate fermentation, producers and buyers can examine the quality of the processing, from the fermentation box/pile to the completion of the drying,

using sensory methods smell, sight, sound and touch. (After drying, cacao samples are roasted and a taste profile test using cacao.) Cut tests can be used to evaluate cacao bean health.

A CUT TEST IS

“Cutting the beans into two to analyse the level of fermentation,” it is a way to evaluate “problems that might have occurred, like infestation or defects due to pests.”

Producers can also check that the beans’ germ and cotyledon (the white web in raw cacao beans) have died off, and look out for any evidence of mold. If the beans have germinated or have mold, they can’t be used for making chocolate.

CUT TESTS AND FINE CHOCOLATE?

The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) and the Federation of Cacao Commerce (FCC), have made it a requirement for large companies to use standardised cacao.

That is, cacao that is all fermented to the same point, that all tastes approximately the same. Buyers can easily measure that standard by checking the colour of the beans.

Beans that are at the correct level of fermentation will no longer be their natural purple or reddish colour, but a shade of brown. Inspectors use established guides to check the colour and aim for one uniform shade in the batch.

The standard specifies that cocoa beans shall be:

Free from any evidence of adulteration.

Virtually free from living insects and other infestation.

Virtually free from any foreign matter.

Reasonably free from broken beans, fragments and pieces of shell.

Fermented, then dried until their moisture content no longer exceeds 7.5% mass fraction.

Free from odour contamination.

Within the standard for violet or purple beans, typical of the specified grade or origin.

Reasonably uniform in size, fit for production of a foodstuff.

Reasonably free from bean clusters, flat beans, germinated beans, residue and sieving’s.

The Grade Standards lay down the following maximum limits for producing country internal classification for fermented beans: - ISO 2451 now also specifies bean size standards, defined by the bean count and usually expressed by the number of beans per 100g The specifications are currently:

Large beans: Bean count of less or equal to 100
Medium beans: Bean count of 101 to 120
Small beans: Bean count greater than 120

 

Grade

Mouldy

Slaty

Damaged, Flat, doubles, germinated
One 3% 3% 3%
Two 4% 8% 6%
       


HOW IS A CUT TEST PERFORMED?

Simply cut fermented cacao beans in half to expose their centres. They are usually performed on at least ten beans to have a representative sample of each batch. At least 70% of the beans must be fermented to the correct level to be considered successful.

Cut tests are performed throughout the fermentation process. Farmers will evaluate a small amount each day of fermentation to monitor the progress and to spot any health issues or infestation early.

Once the beans have been removed from their fermentation boxes and set out to dry, farmers might do some more cut tests. Often, they do a major cut test (sometimes done with a guillotine) of about 50 beans at the end of processing. This is done to check the overall fermentation level for each batch. Throughout the process, if a large number of samples in a batch have mold, are slaty (not grooved, but slick and greyish), or have germinated beans (the germ and/or cotyledon are still present), the batch is deemed useless and will be destroyed.

Farms that have mixed varieties of cacao can have a hard time reaching consistency in cut tests. Different varieties react to fermentation differently, so a batch with mixed varieties will rarely yield consistent cut tests. If a producer simply looks at a cut test, the batch may be dismissed as bad or under-fermented.

Most written guidelines have a standardised processing procedure. At the buyer level, cut test requirements have precluded the exploration of cacao flavour profiles. Compare this to the world of coffee, where dark roast was once the standard. Now, people enjoy a range of roast profiles, which are connected to variety and processing choices.

Cacao grading is moving towards a much more holistic approach, where cut tests are one consideration, rather than the whole analysis. Slowly, the industry is adopting more nuanced methods to evaluate quality and allow room for individual features and preferences.

Collaboration between fine chocolate-makers and producers could lead us to a point where buyers could order beans fermented to their preference, just as a customer in a restaurant can order their steak rare, medium, or well-done.

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