Showing posts from November, 2013

Origin and History

From Fermented Drink to Smooth-textured Bars Our love of chocolate goes back at least 3000 years to South and Central America, where a fermented beer-like drink was made from the sweet, milky pulp surrounding the cacao beans. Later, the trees were grown by the Maya and then the Aztecs, who used the fire-roasted beans in a beverage that was considered an aphrodisiac. Cocoa beans were in such demand that they became a form of currency, and in the 1500s, one bean could buy a ripe avocado, 30 beans a small rabbit, and 100 beans a slave. When the Spanish Conquistador Cortés was served a cup of xocolatl (“bitter water”) in 1519 by the Aztec ruler Montezuma, it was nothing like today’s chocolate beverages. The dried, roasted cacao nibs were ground into a paste and mixed with hot peppers, spices and dried flowers. It was bitter, lumpy, typically served cold, and solely for men of high status. Although Columbus first introduced cocoa beans to Europe decades earlier, when Cortés brought the bean

The Styles of Chocolate

Dark Chocolate: Semisweet and Bittersweet Contains at least 35% cacao (aka chocolate liquor or ground cacao nibs) and no milk. If  labeled 60% cacao, it contains 40% other ingredients, mainly sugar. The terms are not standardized, so semisweet and bittersweet can be the same thing . Milk Chocolate Contains at least 12% milk solids and 10% cacao solids (chocolate liquor) in the US; mostly sugar, which explains the lack of much chocolate flavor. “Dark milk chocolate” has 30% or more cacao. Couverture (aka Coating Chocolate) Dark chocolate with a high cocoa butter content (at least 32% by the French definition), which improves texture and sheen, making it best for dipping, coating and molding. Unsweetened/Bitter/Baking Chocolate Created by grinding cacao beans (cocoa solids and cocoa butter) to a paste, which then hardens (aka solid chocolate liquor). No sugar or extra fat added. Unsweetened Cocoa Powder Created by sending cocoa liquor through a hydraulic press and separating the dark sol

Chocolate Ingredients

Only two raw materials go into making plain (dark) chocolate: cocoa beans (including additional cocoa butter from the beans) and sugar. In general, as cacao content goes up, sugar goes down, and usually the quality of the chocolate goes up as well, since that is what you should be tasting. The optimum range of cacao content is 55-75%. Anything lower will be too sweet to taste the chocolate; anything higher will be too bitter, regardless of the quality of the cacao. The key to good chocolate is not only good beans, but using the right amount of sugar for a particular bean. And since sugar is much cheaper than cacao, the proportions also will affect price. The two main varieties of beans are the fairly rare and less hardy criollo , with its more sought-after flavor profile, and the more vigorous, full-bodied forastero . The forastero is often roasted longer and hotter, resulting in a burnt flavor, which helps mask its flavor flaws. When blended together, as is common, the two beans compl

How Chocolate is Made (cacao to confection)

Chocolate Starts with the Cacao Tree The cacao tree grows only in tropical rainforests 20 degrees north and south of the equator. The fruits are pods shaped like a shriveled football and sprout directly off the trunk of the trees, which grow 20-50 feet tall. Inside the pod is a sweet pulp varying in color from white to purple holding 20-40 almond-sized beans. Of about twenty varieties of cacao, three are commercially important: Criollo : This low-yielding bean is native to Central America, northern South America and the Caribbean. Although difficult and expensive to grow, and producing less than 5% of all cacao, the beans are prized for their complex, delicate flavors and low astringency. High-end and single-bean chocolate often uses criollo. Forastero: This hardy, prolific tree is thought to be native to the Amazon basin, but is now grown primarily in West Africa. Due to its stronger flavors, the most common variety of this bean is used for “bulk chocolate” or blended with criollo an

The Chocolate-Love Connection

From long before Montezuma’s 50-cup-a-day habit in the 16th century to today’s obsession with varietal dark chocolate at any price, it’s obvious there’s something compelling and perhaps addictive about chocolate. Chocolate contains hundreds of chemical components, some of which are known stimulants and mood enhancers. While chocolate does contain a small amount of caffeine, its main stimulant is theobromine, which is related to caffeine but affects heart rate more than the nervous system. Both are 2-3 times higher in bittersweet chocolate than milk chocolate and both are addictive, although theobromine to a much lesser extent. Chocolate also contains phenylethylamine, which is related to amphetamines and has anti-depressive properties. It’s prevalent in our brains when we fall in love, but the amount that gets to the brain after eating chocolate is insignificant due to its deactivation after consumption. The same goes for compounds that either bind to cannabinoid receptors or increase

Tasting, Evaluating & Storing Chocolate

Chocolate is similar to wine – both have flavors that vary by source, growing conditions, proportions, blending, and processing of the raw ingredients – but as a solid, it requires different tasting strategies. First, make sure it is at room temperature. Notice the aroma – it should smell like chocolate and be free of artificial, chemical, coconut, dusty or overly sugary smells. Next, check for defects such as excessive cracking or white/grey spots or coloring (see “Bloom”). Dark chocolate can vary in color, but most chocolate is a blend of multiple bean varieties, so color generally won’t be a clue to the variety, although it often reflects the percentage of cacao. Sheen/finish is a factor of whether a chocolate has been molded (as with a bonbon), which results in a glossy finish; or dipped, which imparts a deep luster. Tasting Chocolate melts at around 93-100˚ F (depending on the amount of cocoa butter and other ingredients), which is in the range of human body temperature. This is w

Chocolate and Health

But there’s more to love about chocolate! Cacao beans are higher in antioxidants (by weight) than even green tea, red wine or prunes. Keep in mind that tea, fruit and wine all contain water, so a concentrated solid has an advantage. And it’s in the cocoa solids where antioxidants are found; hence, the higher the cacao content, the higher the antioxidant content. The antioxidants in dark chocolate (as well as tea, wine, etc.) are plant flavonoids called flavanols. They protect cells from damage and are thought to be beneficial to heart health and blood pressure. Dark chocolate also contains a fair amount of fiber and iron (almost 10% of the Daily Value of each per ounce), and cocoa butter’s main saturated fat is considered “neutral” to heart health (not damaging). Of course, when made into confections chocolate comes packed with calories (150 to 170 per ounce), so moderation is the key – a good reason to pick the best quality!

Chocolate Facts & Miscellany

The theobromine in chocolate is good for us, but not for our pets. It is toxic to dogs, cats, parrots and other domestic animals. Chocolate’s melting point – just below body temperature – is what makes it so irresistible when it slowly melts in the mouth (like a kiss!) and releases its flavors. This melting point is also why cocoa butter is used in body lotions, lipstick and other cosmetics. One cacao pod contains between 30-50 seeds. A one-ounce bar of milk chocolate requires 4 seeds; one ounce of dark chocolate requires 12 seeds. The quality of chocolate does not depend on the percentage of cacao but the quality of the beans used. Chocolate proverb: Nine out of ten people like chocolate, and the tenth is probably lying!  

The Story of St. Valentine

One legend of St. Valentine says he was a Roman priest killed on February 14, 270 for disobeying Emperor Claudius II’s prohibition of performing Christian marriages. Since then, the story goes, he became a saint for lovers. However, it is generally believed that the day commemorating him in the name of romantic love was invented in 14 th century England, or at least the tradition of sending printed romantic greetings on that day. England is also thought to be where giving boxed chocolate on Valentine’s Day began with Cadbury’s creation of elaborate boxes for its bonbons in the Victorian era.