Hotel Chocolat Group plc

06/30/2022 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 06/30/2022 17:10

Beyond chocolate: essential cacao know-how


A juvenile trio of cacao pods

Cacao. Cocoa. Whatever you call it, a plant that has given us so much over the years. The Mayans named it 'Theobroma Cacao', which translates as 'Food of The Gods'. They could march all day and fight a battle with nothing to eat but a little bag of cocoa beans. They'd win, too.

Yet today, so much Mayan cacao know-how has been lost or forgotten.

Most people know that cacao, or cocoa if you prefer that spelling, is what gives chocolate its gloriously complex and satisfying flavour profile.

But are as many of us aware of the savoury potential that cacao offers? It's not a new-fangled fad or tenuous trend. Humans and cacao go back together 3,000 years in a rich, intertwined history. Only the last 500 years have been about sweet chocolate; the previous 2,500 were focused on the savoury. And for good reason - cacao is a fabulously tasty ingredient.

We've spent over 20 years dedicated to premium, ethical chocolate-making. We're intensely passionate about cacao's journey from bean to bar. But why stop there?

We've made it our life's work to unlock the full potential of this marvellous plant.

As cacao growers, with our own organic, sustainable farm, we've learned how to take care of farmers and the environment, while cultivating the best possible cacao. As restauranteurs, with a restaurant in St Lucia and another in London's Borough Market, we've dedicated ourselves to unlocking the full flavour potential of cacao. As a hotelier, with our own 'paradise hotel' in St Lucia, we've explored every possible way to use and celebrate the cacao plant. And we haven't even mentioned our award-winning chocolates.

Cacao is more than an ingredient to us. It's the bedrock of all our endeavours.


What's in a name?

We like to use the classic Mayan spelling 'cacao', but many others stick to the modernised 'cocoa'. This nomenclature is further obscured. Many Americans use the term 'cocoa' to describe what the rest of the world calls 'hot chocolate'.

And the word 'cocoa' has become the standardised prefix for products such as 'cocoa butter' and 'cocoa nibs'. You can call them that. Whether you prefer to say cacao or cocoa, we'll know what you mean.


Unpicking the pod

Once picked, the cacao pod has several parts. Most chocolatiers take the beans for chocolate-making and throw the rest away. But that would not align with our dedication to sustainability: our respect for the planet and the plant.


Surrounding every bean inside the cacao pod is a sticky, translucent white liquid called the pulp. It's absolutely delicious. We've long been using it in our Cacao Bars as a signature cocktail ingredient and in sorbets and ceviches. Our Cacao Bellini is a must-try if you ever visit.


The cacao nib is a secret weapon at our restaurants. With a tangy, spicy and complex flavour profile, it brings depth and character. Nibs help us reimagine traditional dishes with a cacao twist. Many people think cacao cuisine means chocolate in every dish. They're pleasantly surprised when they try our menu. Nibs are savoury and have a crunchy, satisfying texture when ground.

Essential cacao nib know-how

Knowing how to extract the best flavours from your cocoa nibs is essential to many of our recipes. It's easy to buy cocoa nibs these days, but they can be of variable quality. Follow our tips below to make sure you get the most flavour possible from your nibs.

Awakening your Nibs

Often your nibs will have a silver-grey hue to them as they have oxidised around the outside. This is harmless, but we recommend you grind them vigorously in a pestle and mortar for 30 seconds. You'll see the nibs turn a gorgeous mahogany brown, their amazing flavour and aroma awoken at the same time.

Soak them in Water

After awakening, the nibs may still be hard and flinty. Soak them in a little hot water (just enough to cover them) for about 20 minutes which will soften them, the soaking liquid can be set aside as a flavoursome stock.

Storing your Nibs

Just like coffee, roasted nibs should be kept in an airtight container. If you are able to source 'just-roasted' nibs or have made your own, you can freeze them in an airtight container until needed, retaining maximum flavour.


Around every bean is a hard shell. Most chocolatiers discard them. But, among other things, shells are a rich, complex infusion for teas and beverages. We use them to make our Cocoa Gin, Cocoa Beer and Cocoa Tea Infusions.


The hard outer shell of the pod. You'd imagine there isn't much you can do with such an ingredient. We discovered it makes wonderful, nutrient-rich compost, which help us grow more cacao on our farm. We encourage our farming partners to do the same.


Cacao & Coconut Hand Cream, made from cacao butter


The natural vegetable fat within a cocoa bean. The butter is extracted by grinding and pressing the bean. Cocoa butter melts at body temperature, giving chocolate its famously sensuous texture. About 50% of a bean is made up of cocoa butter.

While present in chocolate, it can also be delicious in beverages and creamy dishes. You may also be familiar with it in beauty products. It's incredibly good for your skin, so we use it in products like our Honey and Chocolate Lip Balm and Cacao and Coconut Soap.


The dark brown part of a cacao bean - what remains when the butter has been pressed out. The powder is separated from the bean through grinding and pressing and has all of cacao's flavour and antioxidants. Make sure to avoid 'Dutched' or alkalised powdered cacao. Alkalising is a process that darkens the colour and smooths the flavour, often to hide the use of poor-quality ingredients. Alkalising also destroys 60-90% of the antioxidants present in chocolate.


The bean is the poster-boy of the pod. Fermented, roasted and conched, it's the staple ingredient in most chocolate. Of course, many chocolatiers skimp on this more expensive ingredient and rely on higher sugar or filler concentrations. But that isn't our way. We are firmly committed to making the best possible chocolate with the best possible ingredients. And, we pay our farmers well above market-rate for every bean they can grow.