Photo by Jackie Donnelly via Spice & Ink
Single-origin what? Indeed, single-origin chocolate is a thing. A lovely, beautiful, noteworthy thing. But what does that mean exactly?
The short answer is that single-origin chocolates are made from cacao mass (cacao beans and cocoa butter) sourced from a single country or region. There are chocolate makers out there who will even go so far as to list the single plantation where the beans were grown and harvested.
Why all the fuss over whether beans come from a single region?
The long answer is that cacao beans—much like tea leaves, coffee beans, and wine grapes—are a terroir product. This means they take on the flavor profile and characteristics of the region they grow in—flavors unique to that soil, climate, and environment. Much like wine, cacao beans from the same plantation can vary slightly from year to year, depending on that year’s climate.
Some regions have very specific flavor profiles. For example, beans from Venezuela and Peru tend to have nutty, buttery flavors, whereas beans from Madagascar tend to have a very distinctly fruity, bold taste. Chocolate made from beans from a single region allows the flavors of the chocolate to truly shine. When cacao is blended, or mixed with a lot of non-essential ingredients or flavor inclusions, the unique flavors of the terroir are lost.
Does blended chocolate mean the chocolate is bad? Not at all. It just means that you won’t be able to pick up the fine subtleties of any specific regional bean. It also means that it may be more difficult to trace the origin of the beans, which can serve to determine whether they are Fair Trade certified, and from farms using organic and sustainable farming practices. But blends are fantastic for chocolate candies and truffles, milk chocolate, and chocolate with flavor inclusions that would typically mask any identifying features of the cacao anyway. Single-origin chocolate is probably best enjoyed with few ingredients outside of cane sugar and cacao mass to appreciate the full flavor of the region.