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Beyond chocolate: PH’s ‘cacao de bola’

By Abs A. Abando MANILA --- At the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Ministerial Meeting, guests and delegates were treated to a live demonstration of making “cacao de bola” which is chocolate in its purest form by tablea maker Racquel Choa otherwise known as the “Queen of Chocolate”. According to Edu Pantino, chairperson of the Philippine Cacao Industry Council (PCIC), if Europe has “queso de bola” the Philippines proudly introduces the “cacao de bola” to ASEAN nations and to the world as this is the first of its kind. “Cacao is a very interesting crop. It’s not endemic to the Philippines but it was introduced by the Spaniards courtesy of the Mexicans. Was it brought in 1521? Part of our brand is actually Cacao Filipinas 1521. It’s a significant year in Philippine-Spanish history but the cacao was only brought around 1617. Five years after the request was granted for cacao to be planted in the country and the first cacao was planted in San Jose, Batangas,” Pantino explained. In making cacao de bola, only cacao that is 50-70 percent ripe is used since a fully-ripened cacao fruit germinates and affects the taste of the chocolate, Pantino said. “This is a very labor intensive process since every step from selecting, sleeving, pruning, shelling, winnowing and pounding are all done by hand especially the shaping of the cacao ball are all done by hand,” Pantino explains. Pantino added: “Cacao de bola making is very woman friendly. It is not complicated but it benefits literally from a woman’s touch throughout the entire process. What we’re telling you is that you don’t have to invest in sophisticated machines to come up with the cacao de bola, a creation which showcases the savory side of chocolate.” The process begins in the selection of cacao nibs which are whole beans after which the nibs are placed in a mortar and pounded by hand using a pestle. Pantino says the cacao they use is propagated because of its high-fat content which is more than 58 percent from the average cacao fruit. As the nibs are crushed, the pounding produces heat and cocoa butter is released or volatilized, making them pasty and a chocolate aroma starts fill the air. Pantino says that cocoa butter is where the money is and that is what big companies extract to make the best lotions because cocoa butter melts at mere 34-37 degrees Celsius or human body temperature. Once the cacao nibs turn into a pasty dough, it is then rolled into a ball solely by hand after which it is cured at a cooler temperature for it to solidify and become the cacao de bola which can be grated over anything including rice, pasta, coffee or it can be taken as is. Aside from the cacao de bola, the chocolate painting was also introduced. Pantino’s son, JP demonstrated how chocolate paste can be used for monochromatic paintings. Pantino emphasized that chocolate is a difficult medium because temperature affects its viscosity and will solidify easily when used in cold climates or air-conditioned rooms. “JP is being trained to perfect the art of chocolate painting. When he masters it, we will also teach others about this wonderful art form,” Pantino said. Choa and Pantino were also expected at the First Philippine National Congress for Cacao held in Cebu on August 8-9.

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