Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Great Guatemalan Pataxte Experiment

I spent five weeks this summer in Guatemala, moving from cacao farm to cacao farm, and spending the requisite downtime in my old hometown of Antigua. Martin Christy of also blogged about his adventures in Central American cacao this summer (we crossed paths), and he does a good job of sticking to the facts, rather then moving into the kind of "esoteric and quasi-philosophical" writing (as one of my family members put it last night) that I tend to do. But I do have one story worthy of some fairly straight-forward news reporting: Pataxte.

"Pataxte" is a local name for theobroma bicolor, a largely uncultivated cousin of cacao, whose oddly textured pale green pods could be props for alien brains in a B movie. Guatemalan chocolate makers sometimes replace some of their cacao with pataxte to bring down their costs. The stuff doesn't have a very glamorous profile locally, but international chocolate makers have been buzzing about the possibility of making candy with theobroma bicolor, since the seeds are pure white. When I drove to the coastal department of Retalhuleu with my friend Fernando (who was buying hand-peeled cacao beans for a new confection he's making at his Fernando's Kaffee in Antigua), cacao farmer Genaro Maldonado (a man with a careful hand at grafting cacao trees, knowledge of fermentation that he picked up in Honduras, and a generally phenomenal sense of how to lay out an orchard) cut down a couple of pataxte pods for us to experiment with. Back at Fernando's place, I enlisted the help of Josh Sermos, an American transplant who's whispering rather loudly about starting a bean-to-bar chocolate company in Guatemala, to process the stuff. Josh's plan was to churn out a pataxte bar, a project that was (arguably) so novel that it was worthy of a video:

A few days later, our foray into pataxte processing had yielded a couple of handfuls of semi-fermented, slightly burnt white beans. Josh wasn't confident that he was the man to grind, conch, and mold our microbatch of pataxte after all. I popped a roasted, peeled, pataxte bean into my mouth. It tasted vaguely like Passover matzo, which is to say that it didn't taste like much. Fernando and I had to come up with something creative.

Well, it turns out that, with a little salt, pataxte makes a decent mid-afternoon snack.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neat! Thanks for sharing this... most interesting. So you don't think pataxte has a future in confectionery after all?

4:37 PM GMT-5  
Blogger wabby said...

I was there at Fernando's when you were making this video. Thanks for posting!!!!

10:22 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Danta Chocolate Blog said...

Hi Emily,

I'm in Guatemala and read with interest your pataxte blog entry. Funnily, a gentleman that makes cocoa butter for me had mentioned pataxte a couple of days before your blog post which piqued my interest. He was curious about the results of a pataxte "chocolate."
It is my opinion that possibly the reason you were not able to get any sort of flavor from the pataxte was because of incomplete fermentation.
For that purpose, I have enlisted the help of a friend who owns a cacao farm (Finca Los Ujuxtes in San Antonio Suchitepequez) to search his farm for pataxte trees, and then ferment a decent amount (at least 3-4 lbs) together with a larger batch of cacao. I believe the increased bulk of the added cacao will allow the pataxte to reach the desired temperatures to properly ferment the pulp and initiate the chemical changes within the beans.
I thank you for providing the initial impetus to get this experiment started.

I'll post within this blog entry if and when I get any results.


Carlos Eichenberger

8:37 AM GMT-5  
Blogger c said...

ChocoSol, a Toronto-based learning community centred around chocolate, makes a Jaguar Chocolate bar that's part Theobroma cacao and part Theobroma bicolor. They also make one just from the T. bicolor on occasion, and it's all soooo tasty :D

12:42 PM GMT-5  

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