Luisa, with arms outstretched, on a Colombia cacao farm

July 9, 2019, by Lexi Earl

Future Food Collaborators: Luisa’s Vegan Chocolates

Luisa Vicinanza-Bedi is a chocolate maker based in Sneinton Market in Nottingham. Her company, Luisa’s Vegan Chocolates, makes bean to bar chocolates using cocoa beans sourced directly from farmer’s around the world. Luisa is collaborating with the Future Food Beacon on an Innovate UK project in Colombia.

Luisa spoke to Lexi Earl about her company, the chocolate making process, and the Colombia project.

Tell us about your journey into the world of chocolate making?

I started learning how to make ‘bean-to bar’ chocolate in 2017 on a laboratory scale cocoa processing and chocolate manufacturing line at a chocolate plant at the Science Park. This was after a year or two of making healthier chocolate treats from my kitchen and selling them to friends and at local small producer markets. At the time I was a teacher of Textiles, Art and Food, and I’d always had a love and appreciation of chocolate. My colleges could always be sure I’d have a supply of high percentage chocolate in my work bag.

A cacao pod, sliced in half, showing white cacao beans and pulp

A cacao pod, opened to show beans pre-fermentation

After becoming an apprentice, I embarked on a journey of chocolate discovery. The whole experience of making chocolate from the raw cocoa bean to chocolate was captivating. It was fascinating to learn that each cacao bean has a completely different taste profile dependent on the terroir (soil, temperature, humidity, flora & fauna) and good farming practices. All these conditions plus the way the cacao bean is fermented plays an integral part in the end taste of the chocolate we eat and enjoy. Creating super premium chocolate is ‘all about the bean’. Without super premium beans to start, we can’t do our magic.

My emphasis is on producing delicious high quality dark chocolate using directly sourced beans, and the exceptional tasting experience of my chocolate was confirmed upon receiving an array of awards; a great taste award, and three 2019 Academy of Chocolate awards this year, including a prestigious gold award for my Philippines chocolate.

Luisa, wearing hat and shirt, has her hand in the fermenting cacao beans

Luisa getting to grips with the fermentation of cacao beans

How do you ensure you get premium beans for your chocolate?

We work directly with our farmers and monitor the crop to ensure quality. All our farmers look after their cacao by well-spaced planting, multi-cropping with high canopy coconut trees to give partial shade to the delicate cocoa trees, and kitchen garden crops for their own use, thus ensuring an excellent long term sustainable environment that is full of diversity.

We also pay them a direct trade price more than two and a half times the average farm gate price, which we believe reflects the true value of the cocoa beans and is a better than fair deal for the farmers.

A view of mountains with lush green scenery in the foreground

Colombia cocoa farms are located in rural areas

How do you go about testing the quality of the beans?

We conduct a “cut test” of all our cacao beans and check the moisture levels before we start roasting the raw whole cacao beans. Mass market chocolate usually involves only roasting the nib (fractured cocoa bean kernel) by first removing the outer shell of the cacao bean. This method results in a significant loss of flavour. It is critical that the fermentation process has been carried out correctly by the farmer if we are to create sublime taste notes in our end chocolate products. That, along with the correct roasting profile and other processes will aid or enhance the flavours already present in high quality cacao. It is the skill of the chocolate maker to work with the magic on superb quality beans.

Cacao beans in a green holder, having been cut in half, showing the inside

Cut test to examine the quality of the cacao beans

How do you go about making chocolate?

The process we follow involves roasting the raw cacao bean, winnowing to remove the outer shell of the cacao bean and then slowly conching in a stone grinding machine for days to release the flavours. This turns the cacao nibs into a chocolate liquid know in the trade as a chocolate ‘liquor’. With the addition of a little cocoa butter and unrefined sugar the whole mix refines (ultra-fine small particle size for smoothness) and melds the flavours into the finished unique flavour of that single estate farm chocolate.

We use our winnower mix in teas to ensure there is zero waste generated from the excellent cacao beans. We hope to expand the uses of the ‘cacao shell’ and work to create some really exciting developments in the future.

Could you tell us about your experiences in Colombia?

Luisa’s Vegan Chocolates is the commercial partner on an Innovate UK project to understand the importance of fermentation in the chocolate process, and to identify the microbes present during that fermentation. The project runs over three different crop cycles, and this enables us to identify any improvements in the taste of chocolate arising from the scientific data and the related changes in the fermentation process. We travelled to Colombia in May to meet with our three female farmers. We are building a solid partnership with the farmers, and this will allow us to promote the Colombian cacao alongside the single-origin chocolates we already make.

Building a close rapport with the female farmers has enriched my practical knowledge of the fermentation process, and seeing the vital positive change farming cacao, and being paid a better-than-fair price for their beans, has made to the lives of each farmer, was the chance of a lifetime. Here at Luisa’s Vegan Chocolates, we place an emphasis on ethical, direct trade of the beans, with each chocolate you purchase traceable back to the farm it was cultivated on.

Luisa, wearing a hat, sunglasses and t-shirt, holding a cacao pod, on a farm in Colombia

Luisa in Colombia, on a cacao farm

 

What an amazing project to be part of, especially with the emphasis on female equality! A female run business in Nottingham working directly with female farmers helping to improve the prospects for these women and their families, and communities and making wonderful chocolate! What a match made in heaven.

More about the Colombian cocoa project can be found here.

Photographs: All supplied by Luisa Vicinanza-Bedi and Martin O’Dare, except photograph 3 which is supplied by Dr Christopher Moore

Posted in Food ResearchInterviewsMeet the Beacon