So I bought a cacao fruit. Why? Because I’m in Brazil and I can. For the past month outside of the Santa Cruz Shopping, I’ve spotted a man selling this red and orange wonder along with jaca and cupuaçu. I’ve seen jaca (jackfruit) grow on trees here at Parque da Luz, but cupuaçu and cacao are pretty much northern Brazilian fruits. When I finally stopped to get one, I found they were absurdly priced. But I had been scoping them out for weeks now, so dammit, I was getting my cacao. I bought the small one, about the size of an acorn squash, and carried it around in my purse for the rest of the day.
I’ve had cacao juice blended with milk years ago when I was in Salvador. (Note: It is not chocolatey in the least, but rather citric and tart.) I wanted to figure out how to get the juice and of course use the precious cacao beans. Surprisingly (or maybe not), it was rather difficult to find information on how to handle the cacao fruit, whether I searched in Portuguese, English or Spanish. I found videos on how to slice it, which was easy enough, and there was some information on how to use the beans, but it was extremely hard to find anything on how to extract the juice.
I sliced it open and to my delight, it looked like a monster out of a science fiction film from the fifties.
It had about two dozen beans covered in a slightly sticky pulp. The fruit also had a white fleshy matter inside. From what I had read, the beans needed to be dried, and the process of “sweating,” or pulp evaporating from the beans, helps to reduce the beans’ bitterness. As for the juice, I tried scooping out the flesh of the cacao and blending it with water and sugar but it tasted a bit strange. Oh well.
While it’s currently cacao season in Brazil, São Paulo does not care. It started to pour (and hail) the same day I set the beans out to dry, after weeks of no rain. This did not bode well for the beans. Sure enough, after a few days I spotted mold on a few. I took them away from the window and tried to salvage the rest. I wasn’t convinced the beans were fully dried, especially since they didn’t look exactly like the photos I saw online, but with the weather, they weren’t going to get any drier.
The next step, according to The Internet, is to toast them, which makes them easier to peel. Peeling them was tedious but exciting, like unwrapping nature’s chocolate Easter eggs.
Most of the beans were an espresso brown, nearly black, but I got a few that were a more chestnut color, like a cockroach. Again, the Internet failed to tell me whether this was okay or not. (All I could find was “Discard any bad ones” without any indication of what a bad one looked like.) The chestnut ones did not smell as intensely as the darker ones, but they didn’t smell bad either, so after much deliberation I decided it would be okay to blend the two. Maybe the chestnut ones would balance the flavor out, I figured. I stored the beans in a glass container until I could figure out what to do with them. After all, it was my first experience with raw cacao — I needed to make something good.
This is where my story comes to an anti-climactic, bitter end. Despite the beans being stored in a sealed container, they were no match for São Paulo’s weather. I opened the container later to find mold growing on them.
Still, it’s not a complete loss. I was the enthusiastic owner of a cacao fruit for a few days and had a ridiculous time trying to figure it out.