Almost everything you need to know about chocolate. From history to your shopping list
|A Short History of Chocolate
No one really knows when chocolate was discovered, but the earliest records of it are from approximately 2000BC.
Chocolate was very valuable to the Aztec people (in fact, the Aztec name for chocolate means "gift from the gods"), and the beans were used as currency and given as special gifts, as well as being made into drinks. The Aztec's chocolate drink was made with chili peppers and other spices, so it was not at all sweet.
Chocolate was "discovered" by the Spanish in the 1500s, however, they kept it secret for over one hundred years. The Spanish did not use chili peppers in their chocolate, preferring to drink it hot and sweetened.
When chocolate reached France and England in the 1700s, chocolate houses became very popular, much like today's coffeehouses. The English began adding milk to their chocolate drinks and enjoyed it as an after dinner beverage. The drink eventually traveled to the American colonies, and became very popular after the Boston tea party and the tea boycott.
Nearly a century later, solid chocolate treats were being perfected. In the early 1900s, a Dutchman invented the cocoa press. The cocoa press is used to press the cocoa butter out of cocoa beans. The beans can then be ground and sifted into cocoa powder. Further experimentation and refinement has led to the chocolate we know and love today.
Historical uses of chocolate:
-Wealthy Aztec and Mayan people (cocoa beans were used as currency) believed that they would gain wisdom and power by drinking chocolate.
-Montezuma, purportedly, drank nothing but chocolate, and believed it to be a powerful aphrodisiac.
-Supposedly, Napoleon carried chocolate with him and ate it when he needed quick energy.
-Europeans often drank chocolate to sooth or settle their stomachs.
How to Taste Chocolate
You didn't know you'd been doing it wrong, did you?
To taste and experience chocolate like a professional, follow these easy steps:
Look The piece of chocolate should have a nice, soft shine.
Listen Hold a square of chocolate up to your ear and break it in half. Darker chocolates will have a sharper snap, while white chocolate will be softer.
Smell Hold the chocolate under your nose and take several quick sniffs. White chocolate will smell more like vanilla, milk chocolate will have a delicate chocolate aroma, and dark chocolates will smell stronger.
Taste Finally. Put the chocolate in your mouth and let it melt a little before eating it. The lighter the chocolate, the faster it will melt. This is because lighter chocolates have more cocoa butter. Observe things like texture and other flavors.
Important Things and Terms to Know
Percentages Most chocolate bars indicate a percentage on them. Higher percentage = higher cocoa content. Cocoa butter is separated from the cocoa beans, and during the mixing of chocolate, both butter and cocoa powder made from the beans are mixed with other ingredients.
While you don't need to know exactly what the percentages mean, you should know:
White chocolate contains cocoa butter, but no cocoa powder.
The average milk chocolate is usually 30 – 40 percent cocoa.
Dark chocolate can come in many varieties. 50 – 56 percent is about average. 60 – 70 is quite dark. 70 and higher is very dark and is often bitter.
Chocolate Liquor – Chocolate, straight from the bean, ground into a liquid. There is no alcohol in it, despite the name.
Cocoa Butter – Natural fat extracted from chocolate liquor. It has little or no aroma.
Cocoa Powder – The solid that is left after the cocoa butter has been extracted from the chocolate liquor. This can also go through a Dutch Process.
Dutch Process – A process that reduces the natural acidity of cocoa powder. It makes the cocoa milder.
Myth vs. Fact
While chocolate does contain fat, there is no evidence that it raises cholesterol.
Chocolate does not cause or aggravate acne. In fact, professional dermatologists do not link acne with diet at all.
Chocolate can be lethal to dogs. Just two ounces of milk chocolate can be fatal for a 10-pound puppy.
While chocolate is not an aphrodisiac, it does contain a natural substance that may stimulate the same bodily reactions as falling in love.
Since chocolate comes from a natural source (Theobroma cacao tree) it contains many beneficial vitamins and minerals including, copper, magnesium, iron, and zinc.
One of the causes of PMS is a drop in pre-menstrual progesterone levels. The addition of magnesium to the diet increases progesterone and eases the symptoms.
Chocolate has the highest natural magnesium content. Magnesium deficiencies can result in: hypertension, heart disease, joint problems, diabetes, and PMS. Eating dark chocolate (with 60 - 70% cocoa) can be very beneficial.
The healthiest chocolate is dark chocolate with a high cocoa content (60 - 70 % or higher) because it is low in sugar and fat and high in nutrients.
Chocolate and You
Storing If chocolate is stored in a warm environment too long, it will develop what is called bloom. This is grayish blotches and streaks on the outside of the chocolate. This is simply the cocoa butter forming into crystals. It almost always happens on my chocolate chips, but it does not seem to have an adverse effect in baking.
Just store your chocolate some place cool and dry. It can be refrigerated or frozen (for about 6 months) but it probably isn't necessary.
Melting You should always melt your chocolate in a double boiler. If you do not have a double boiler, you can improvise by filling a medium sized pot with about 1/2 inch of water and placing a smaller pot on top of the larger pot. After your chocolate starts to melt, stir it constantly. I mean that. If you just let it sit there it will seize, meaning that it becomes separated, lumpy and dry. So just keep stirring.
My favorite recipe for fudge brownies. These are very easy to make, and they are delicious. http://www.sacofoods.com/Recipe_Files/R00191.html
Here are links to websites with lots of great recipes:
Chocolate Bar Reviews and What to Shop For
If you're looking for really fine chocolate bars expect to pay around $2.00 (US) more or less depending on size and quality.
When shopping for quality chocolate, read the labels carefully. Pay attention to percentages. Even if you like dark chocolate, you may not like one that's higher than 70% cocoa.
Something I enjoy doing is looking for bars with Single Bean Origin. This means that all the cocoa beans come from one country or region, rather than being a blend. For example African dark chocolate is more bitter and a little dryer than South American, which in turn is more bitter than Asian dark chocolate, even though they are the exact same percentage. It's just something interesting to try.
Most companies put a little description of the bar on the back. Just a little blurb about the flavor.
When shopping for cocoa powder for baking, I almost always use Saco brand
It is a wonderful blend and has excellent quality and flavor.
Another good brand is Penzey's
I get the natural cocoa powder because I think it has a better flavor and aroma than the Dutched cocoa.
Quality Chocolate Bars and My Comments
Here are a few reviews of some tasty (and not so tasty) chocolate bars. I'll list the company make a few comments, pick a favorite bar and comment on those. Then I will rate the company and the selected bar on a scale of 1 to 5 stars.
Scharffen Berger is a pretty good brand. I haven't had much of their stuff, but my favorite is something called a "Nibby Bar." It's a dark chocolate bar with bits (or 'nibs') of real cocoa beans in it. It has an interesting texture and very good flavor.
Company: Scharffen Berger:
Bar: Nibby Bar: .
One of my favorite brands ever is a Swiss company called Lindt. All of their bars are wonderful, but one of my favorites is from their Excellence line. It's extra fine white chocolate with coconut. Now, I'm pretty particular about white chocolate, and they do some of the very best. Very creamy and flavorful. The white chocolate has a strong vanilla flavor and the small bits of coconut add a nice texture to the smooth chocolate.
Also, if you're looking for really good straight up milk chocolate, try their Swiss milk chocolate, also from the Excellence line.
Bar: White Chocolate with Coconut:
Bar: Milk Chocolate:
A good American company is Lake Champlain Chocolates. It's based in Vermont and they make filled bars and bars with things blended in. A good bar is the dark chocolate with peppermint crunch, but my selected bar is the caramel filled milk chocolate. The caramel is very creamy as is the Belgian chocolate.
Company: Lake Champlain Chocolates:
Bar: Caramel Filled Milk Chocolate:
If you're looking for simple but good quality chocolate, you should try Rapunzel. It's Swiss chocolate, which is always good and they make mostly basic chocolate bars. My favorite bar is the plain milk chocolate. It's very smooth and creamy and has an excellent flavor.
Bar: Milk Chocolate:
I mentioned the single origin chocolate? El Rey is a very nice single origin company. They use beans from the north-central region of Venezuela. They make six flavors of plain bars from white, to milk, and four kinds of dark. One of my favorites is the Caoba (milk) bar. It is 41% cocoa, which (generally) is on the high end of milk chocolate, so it is slightly darker than most milk chocolate. It's very rich, flavorful and has an excellent fragrance and texture.
Company: El Rey:
Valrhona is another nice French company. They do tend to get a bit carried away when describing the bars though (Heartwarming?). My favorite bar is the le Lacte (milk) with 40% cocoa. It has a very nice fragrance and the flavor is truly delightful. Brown sugar, vanilla, and malt are subtly used to enhance and compliment the creamy flavor and texture of the chocolate. Highly recomended.
Bar: le Lacte:
Porta is a very...odd brand. The chocolate is acceptable, but they fill it with truly odd things like banana and 'forest fruits'. The only one I found that was really tolerable was lemon, but the filling was much too sweet and a bit grainy. Not recomended.
Bar: Lemon Filled:
Ritter Sport is a very good German company. They have a huge variety of filled chocolate bars. I'm estimating that they make upward of twenty different bars. My favorites are the marzipan filled dark chocolate, cocoa creme filled milk, coconut filled milk chocolate, and yogurt filled milk. The chocolate is very good quality. With the cocoa creme, the filling is almost the same flavor as the chocolate, but very light and smooth. The coconut filling blends well with the milk chocolate, but is not too sweet with the sweeter chocolate. Now, the yogurt filled milk chocolate is not something that everybody likes. I, personally, enjoy it, but someone that I recommended it to thought it was weird. I like it because I think the slightly sour flavor of the filling complements the sweet chocolate. Highly recomended.
Company: Ritter Sport:
Bar: Coconut Filled Milk Chocolate:
Bar: Yogurt filled Milk Chocolate:
Bar: Cocoa Creme Filled Milk Chocolate:
Lake Champlain Chocolates
El Rey Chocolate
UK Goods has a wide selection of tasty and different (from what we get in the US) candy bars and other products.
There you go! I hope that this has been helpful for you. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to write.
Thank you to haremprincess for the awesome ribbon and this badge: