January 29

What is Single-Origin Chocolate, and Why MUST You Try It?

Written by: Caitlin Clark

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These days, among the hundreds of chocolate bars on the market, the packaging is likely to have attention-grabbing labels and an array of new terminology.

“Single-origin” chocolate is experiencing a surge of popularity in the industry, and this term pops up on many chocolate bars, thanks to its association with quality and flavor.

But what does it tell you about the chocolate inside that colorful packaging? 

Keep reading for inside info on this particular type of chocolate and how to decipher some of this emerging vocabulary you might hear to describe it.

Enjoy!

Some Background on Chocolate


cocoa-plant

Chocolate is made from the seeds or “beans” of the football-shaped fruit pod that grows on the tropical Theobroma cacao tree. The beans and pulp are scooped from the pod into boxes or trays, where they ferment for about a week.

This fermentation step, carried out by microorganisms, develops most of the flavor of the resulting chocolate.

Next, the cacao beans go through extensive processes, including drying, transport, roasting, crushing, and refining, before they are ultimately mixed with sugar and sometimes other ingredients to become the product you are familiar with. 

What does "Single-Origin" Mean?


If you see the term “single-origin” on a package, it means that all of the cacao beans in a chocolate bar were sourced from the same place. Usually, the bar will show the name of the country, province, or even farm where the cacao beans were harvested.

Is Single-Origin Higher Quality?


chocolate-bar

There are many varieties of cacao beans in the world. Some are low-quality “bulk” cacao used to make large-scale commercial chocolate. Chocolate made with “bulk” cacao uses beans mixed from many locations, sourced for their low price rather than desirable flavor.

Blending these lower-quality beans can help disguise their flavor defects.

Other cacao beans are known as “premium” or “fine-flavor” varieties, and they have more appealing flavors and aroma characteristics.

These highly desirable “fine-flavor” kinds of cacao beans are used to produce single-origin chocolate bars because they highlight the special qualities of the beans in that region.  

Is Single-Origin Always Dark Chocolate?


dark-chocolate

Single-origin chocolate is typically (but not always) made as dark chocolate, containing only cacao beans and sugar. This is because producers want to highlight the flavor of the premium cacao without diluting or adjusting it.

If you are not a fan of dark chocolate because you have previously found it too bitter, it might be time to give single-origin dark chocolate a try!  

The cacao beans used to make single-origin dark chocolate bars are selected for their smooth, even flavor. They tend to be much lower in bitter compounds compared to the low-quality bulk commercial dark chocolate you may have tried in the past.

How is "Bean-to-Bar" different than "Single-Origin"?


chocolate

“Bean-to-bar” means that all the steps of making the chocolate have been performed by the same chocolate-maker, from sourcing the raw (fermented) cacao beans to producing the final result.

These chocolate makers take care of all the processing steps themselves, allowing them to process the chocolate minimally and coax out precisely the flavor they want.

Bean-to-bar chocolate makers do not always produce single-origin bars, but they often do, because working with a single-origin allows them greater control over their final product. 

Different Origins of Single-Origin Chocolate


cocoa-plant

Cacao originally grew in Central America, but it has spread to South America, Western and Central Africa, and recently to new regions like Indonesia, India, and Vietnam.

Anywhere that cacao grows, beans can be produced that eventually become single-origin chocolate. 

However, some areas have the climate and infrastructure to grow more fine-flavor premium cacao beans, so it is common to see more single-origin labels from these regions.

Why do Different Origins Taste Different?


Many people are familiar with the concept of “terroir” in wine. Terroir is the inherent flavor of a premium food product conferred by the environment in which that food is produced.

In the case of chocolate, the place where the cacao beans are fermented plays the most significant role in the terroir of the final chocolate because of the different microbes and climates that act on the beans as they ferment.

What does Single-Origin Chocolate Taste Like?


chocolate-bar

Like wine-producing regions, several of these regions are known for producing specific terroir characteristics in chocolate.

For example, Madagascar famously produces cacao beans that result in bright, fruity-tasting dark chocolate, leaving the impression it has been mixed with sweet raspberries. 

Guatemala and Peru are known for beans that result in floral, aromatic chocolate, while Vietnam produces beans with complex spiced-fruit flavor character.

Where to Buy Single-Origin Chocolate


BarandCocoa.com  and CocoaRunners.com are easy entry points for beginners to order popular single-origin bars.

You can use the website to search by place of origin. Read descriptions until you find a few that pique your curiosity, and have them shipped right to your home!

Fine chocolate-makers and purveyors of single-origin chocolate are common in many major cities. These chocolate-makers have brick-and-mortar locations, but many also sell their wares online to a broad audience.

Some stand-out examples include White Label Chocolate in Santa Cruz, California, Qantu Chocolate in Montreal, QC, Canada, Nuance Chocolate in Fort Collins, Colorado, Fu Wan Chocolate (no website) in Donggang Township, Taiwan, and Cacaosuyo near Lima, Peru.  

Frequently Asked Questions


Why is Single-Origin Chocolate Better?

Chocolate-making is an art and a science! Like any other art, it can be carried out well or poorly.

In general, the label “single-origin” indicates that a chocolate bar has a well-defined, complex, and interesting flavor profile that will stimulate your palate more than a standard grocery-store chocolate bar.

It also usually tells you that the makers have taken special care in selecting high-quality ingredients, such as premium beans, and cultivating a desirable flavor profile.

However, not every chocolate-maker is good at their job, and there may be single-origin chocolate bars on the market that are poorly made or which you simply don’t enjoy. If you have a curious palate, explore a few before deciding on the category as a whole. 

What is the Best Single-Origin Chocolate?

People may differ about what they like best in single-origin chocolate. However, it is worth mentioning the following bars and companies as good examples of the single-origin category (all the examples discussed below are also classified as bean-to-bar):

  • Cacaosuyo swept the 2021 World Chocolate Awards Gold and Silver medals in the single-origin category with several of their varietal-specific dark chocolate bars.  Shop Cacaosuyo at BarandCocoa.com or CocoaRunners.com.
  • Soma Bejofo Madagascar 70% smacks of red fruits. It is a very bright, smooth bar, a favorite for many newcomers to single-origin chocolate, and can be found at BarandCocoa.com.
  • Qantu Gran Blanco 70% is a fascinating bar that tastes of honey and stone fruits, found BarandCocoa.com.
  • If you’d like to try a single-origin bar that is a milk chocolate (quite a rarity!), you simply can’t do better than White Label’s single-origin brown-butter milk 48% bar.

Concluding


We hope you've learned something new about the ever-evolving world of chocolate, and what it takes for a bar to be labeled "single-origin."

Definitely get your hands on some of this stuff, because it could change the way you look at chocolate forever!

Cheers!

Caitlin


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About the author

Caitlin is a Ph.D student and chocolate researcher at Colorado State University. Her research in the Food Science program focuses on chocolate fermentation (that’s right, it’s a fermented food!) and small-batch post-harvest processing techniques. When she is not acting in her capacity as resident chocolate guru, she researches other fermented foods and beverages like beer, sausage, and natto. Caitlin was drawn to fermented foods while living in rural Spain for six years, where she was exposed to traditional, time-honored practices of food preservation. At home, she practices Bollywood dance for fun and is followed everywhere by two small pet rabbits.

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