Resources on Chocolate
Here are a few resources on chocolate:
The History of Chocolate
Nearly everyone loves chocolate and many people joke that they would readily give up other things for chocolate. A glimpse, a sniff, a remembrance of pleasures past, and all resistance melts — we reach for another chocolate. Dark or light, solid or filled with fruits, creams, caramel, nuts or liqueurs, chocolate caresses the taste buds with its wonderful flavors. It’s no surprise that chocolate’s scientific name, Theobroma cacao, means food of the gods.
Chocolate starts with the cacao tree. And the origins of cacao tree cultivation are in the Central America of the Mayans and Aztecs. The beans of the tree were so highly valued by the Mayans and Aztecs that the beans were used as currency when they were not being made into a drink, which the Aztecs called xocoatl (xoco means better, and atl means water). The Aztec leader Montezuma drank xocoatl from golden goblets that he then threw into the lake.
In the 1500s, the Spanish conqueror of Mexico, Hernan Cortes, brought the beans back to Spain; by the next century, chocolate had become the fashionable drink of Europe’s wealthy. Maria Theresa, who married Louis XIV in 1660, had one servant whose sole function was to prepare her favorite chocolate drink. The English diarist Samuel Pepys, having spent the day and night celebrating the crowning of Charles II, headed to his favorite chocolate house, where the proprietor “did give me a chocolate to settle my stomach.” As more cacao beans were imported, taxes, and then prices, fell until chocolate was no longer limited to the well-to-do. By the mid-1800s, the first chocolate bar was made. Ever since, chocolate has found its way in our lives and continues to tempt and tantalize.
To make chocolate, the beans of the cacao tree are roasted, shelled, ground and heated until they become a thick, dark liquid called “chocolate liquor” (despite its name, it is non-alcoholic). Chocolate liquor is the base of all chocolate and it is separated into cocoa butter and cocoa powder. The resulting fat-free powder makes cocoa.
Dark chocolate is chocolate liquor combined with cocoa butter, vanilla, lecithin as an emulsifier and varying amounts of sugar. Milk chocolate is a combination of the same ingredients in different proportions, plus powdered milk solids. White chocolate, a blend of cocoa butter, sugar, vanilla, milk solids and lecithin, is not really considered chocolate because it contains no chocolate liquor. Two additional definitions are couverture (covering, in French), chocolate made with a high percentage of additional cocoa butter and used primarily to form a thin, smooth, shiny coating on dipped candies; and ganache, a velvety blend of chocolate and cream, often with butter added, that is usually dipped in chocolate and occasionally rolled in cocoa powder and sugar to make a basic truffle.
How Chocolate Is Made
- The scientific name for chocolate is “Theobroma Cacao.” Cacao trees, from which cocao beans come, grow around the world in a band spreading 20 degrees north and south of the Equator.
- Cacao trees produce flowers that become pods that grow on the trunk and branches. There is a mid-crop and main harvest followed by continuous picking.
- Opened pods show about 42 beans covered by a white coating. Depending on variety, pods can be bright yellow to orange, various shades of green to red.
- The beans are laid out on screen racks in the sun and covered with banana leaves where they ferment. Fermentation removes the white coating, affecting the inner and outer parts of the bean, creating its characteristic flavor. Larger operations use a heat controlled rotating process to ferment the beans. When this is completed, the beans are ready for shipment.
- Cacao beans arrive from many countries on four continents: Africa, Asia, Central and South America. They are tested dockside and if accepted are shipped to factories where they are cleaned and sifted for size, and roasted in large ovens.
- After roasting, the beans are sent through a machine that removes the shells in a process called winnowing. This reveals the nibs, which are pressed between heated rollers making a thick mixture called chocolate liquor. Under hydraulic pressure cocoa butter is drawn off leaving cocoa cake.
- Milk plus chocolate liquor forms a substance called chocolate crumb. This mixed with cocoa butter and other ingredients go through a refiner to produce fine thin flakes. Next they are conched, a process that takes a set number of days and removes moisture and any remaining harsh flavor. This churning action not only mixes the chocolate but also ventilates it to ensure perfect flavor components.
- Warmed chocolate is made slightly cooler by adding additional chocolate – a process called seeding – and then the temperature is raised up again. This process is called tempering and it produces a finished piece of chocolate which is non-grainy, has a high sheen, and snaps when cooled and broken. Properly made, nothing replaces the taste of real chocolate!
Additional information on chocolate can be found at:
Peter’s Chocolate – http://www.peterschocolate.com/pages/allaboutchocolate.html
Retail Confectioners International – http://www.retailconfectioners.org/
National Confectioners Association – http://www.candyusa.com/
Some people prefer to just eat up their chocolates rather than store them. However, if you need to store your chocolates, here are a few pointers:
- It’s best not to refrigerate the chocolate. Chocolates absorb odors very easily. Also, excessive moisture in the fridge can cause sugar bloom, meaning the sugar rises to the surface, causing discoloration.
- Chocolates should be kept in a cool, dry place away from sunlight and strong odors. When chocolates are stored at a consistent temperature less than 70°F with humidity less than 55%, the cocoa solids and cocoa butter emulsion will stay stable for months. Solid milk chocolates will last nine months and dark chocolates will last for a year. Filled chocolates, such as traditional truffles, will last about four months. Cubze will last for about six months.
- If you need to keep chocolates for a longer period of time, we recommend freezing them in an airtight container. When you’re ready to eat them, allow them to thaw inside the container before enjoying. Opening the container before they thaw will expose them to the air and cause them to bloom and/or perspire.
- For maximum enjoyment, always eat chocolate at room temperature, especially traditional truffles and Cubze.