Week 37: Chocolate

The t-shirt I wear to the gym says “Will Exercise for Chocolate,” and it exposes one of my indulgences. Who can resist the rich, velvety taste of a bite of chocolate? With Valentine’s Day fast approaching (believe it or not, Valentine’s cards are already on sale), it’s time to learn more about chocolate.

cocoa pods

Chocolate comes from the fruit of the cacao tree. The fruit of the tree grows as a pod, similar in size to a deflated football, off the main trunk of the tree. The trees can grow anywhere from 25 to 50 feet tall. Once harvested, each pod is cut open to reveal a milky white or pastel-hued pulp with 25-50 beans per pod embedded within. The majority of cacao trees grow within rain forests where the climate is very warm and humid and the fragile younger trees are sheltered from the strong, direct sunshine of the tropics. Once the trees are 5 to 8 years old, they can handle the direct sunlight without a problem, but seedlings often have to be shaded with banana leaves in areas of deforestation until they are older.

History

Historians agree that the earliest evidence of chocolate can be traced back to Indian tribes in Mexico and Central America around 1900 B.C. At first only the milky pulp surrounding the beans from the cacao pod was used as a drink called “cupuacu.” Later they discovered that roasting the beans over an open fire created a delicious treat. Roasted cacao beans began to be traded as legal currency – a pumpkin was 4 cacao beans, a rabbit was 10 cacao beans, a turkey was 100 beans, an avocado was 3 beans, and a slave could be purchased for 10 cacao beans! The Aztecs and pulverized cacao into a drink which they blended with water using a tool called a “molinillo” which is a wooden staff with decorated mixing rings. This blending tool is still used today in nearly every Latin American country. Cortes discovered the drink the Indians called “xocolatl” which was often spiced with chile, nuts or other spices and brought it back to Spain with him. This popular drink soon spread from Spain throughout Europe. The first full-scale, relatively modern chocolate factory was set up in Britain in 1728. The Dutch are credited with the method for separating the cacao mass from cacao butter, producing what we know as cocoa powder, and the Swiss developed the first modern bar of chocolate in 1819. In the mid-1870s they incorporated dry milk powder into chocolate creating the first milk chocolate. A Belgian manufacturer developed a technique for making pralines, or dipped and filled chocolates, in 1912. Just a few years later, in the United States, the Milky Way bar was developed by the Mars Corporation and thin quickly followed by the Mars Bar. Milton Hershey was the first person to put nuts in candy bars and added vegetable fats so combat troops could take chocolate bars into warm climates without having them melt. The Hershey factory is the largest chocolate manufacturing plant in the world, and the Hershey Bar is the best-selling chocolate bar in the world today.

Cocoa-Beans1

Harvesting and Processing

There are three main varieties of cacao: forestero, criollo and trinitario. Forestero is the most common and prolific due to its hardiness and resistance to diseases and pests. They are grown primarily in Africa, which accounts for about 70 percent of the world’s production of cacao. Stout and tannic forester beans are fermented for about a week to mello them.

Criollo beans are considered the highest grade and are used for top-quality chocolate blends and for many single-bean chocolates. The criollo has a more elongated pod which is low yielding and vulnerable to disease. They are low in astringency and require less fermentation, only about 3 days. Criollo beans account for only about 5 percent of the world’s cacao production.

Trinitario cacao is a hybrid of forester and criollo and was created on the island of Trinidad. The best trinitario beans are from Trinidad, of course, or Java.

I had the opportunity to visit Belize many years ago and see the cacao beans harvested and fermented. Cacao trees are too fragile for workers to climb, so harvesting cacao beans is done from the ground using “tumadores” or special, machete like blades on long handles. Then the pods are sliced open and fermented. The cacao beans and their gluey pulp are placed in pits dug in the earth or in wooden crates, covered with banana leaves and left to ferment. Fermentation turns the sugars into acids and changes the color of the beans from a pale color to a deep, rich brown. Once fermented, the beans are sun dried or dried using heater to prevent mold growth. They are manually raked and turned daily to dry out the moisture content. This takes about a week and then they are packed into canvas or plastic woven sacks for shipping.

At their various factory destinations, they are unloaded and sorted for leaves and foreign matter. Next they are roasted to a temperature between 210 to 290 degrees F. Quickly cooled, they are passed through a winnower which cracks the dusky outer shells and blows them away. The inner bean is crushed into smaller pieces called “nibs” to be made into chocolate. The nibs, about 50 percent fat) are crushed into a paste called “chocolate liquor” although it contains no alcohol. This process is called “conching.” Unsweetend or bitter chocolate is referred to as pure chocolate liquor and is usually sold in bars for baking. As the cacao paste is kneaded smooth, cocoa butter and coarse sugar are blended to make bittersweet or semisweet chocolate. Milk chocolate is made by kneading in dried milk solids or milk powder. “White chocolate” contains cocoa butter, sugar, and milk, but no cocoa solids.

The percentage of cacao or cocoa listed on a label – for example in baking chocolate – refers to the combined percentage of cacao solids and cacao butter in the product, not just cacao solids.

What is “tempering?”

Chocolate is composed of cocoa fat and sugar crystals. Before melted chocolate is cooled and solidified, the fat needs to be emulsified, otherwise the fat will rise to the surface and cause gray streaks. Tempering is a process which raises the temperature at which chocolate melts and also gives it a “snap” when it is broken. Tempered chocolate shrinks slightly, allowing chocolatiers to remove chocolate from molds.

Health Benefits

Centuries ago, cacao was used as a disinfectant, to alleviate apathy and the milky white pulp was used to facilitate birth. Chocolate is high in antioxidants and is an excellent source of calcium, magnesium and iron. Studies have shown that chocolate contains serotonin and some chemicals, like phenylethylamine (PEA), that are similar to components found in the drugs ecstasy and marijuana. People with depression tend to consume more chocolate than others, perhaps due to these chemicals. PEA has a similar effect on the chemistry of the brain to what we experience when we fall in love.

A 3.5 ounce serving of milk chocolate, however, contains 540 calories, 29.7 grams of fat, and 51.5 grams of sugar.

Storing Chocolate

Chocolate is very sensitive to temperature and humidity and thus should be stored around 60oF with a relative humidity of less than 50 percent. It should also be stored away from other foods, as it can absorb different aromas. “Blooming” can occur if chocolate is stored or served improperly. Fat bloom is caused by storage temperature fluctuating or exceeding 75.2oF, while sugar bloom is caused by temperature below 59 °F or excess humidity. To distinguish between different types of bloom, one can rub the surface of the chocolate lightly, and if the bloom disappears, it is fat bloom. Although visually unappealing, chocolate exhibiting bloom is perfectly safe to eat.

Resources

Desaulniers, Marcel. Death by Chocolate.

Lebovitz, David. The Great Book of Chocolate.

http://www.wikipedia.com

 

 

 

 

 

History

Historians agree that the earliest evidence of chocolate can be traced back to Indian tribes in Mexico and Central America around 1900 B.C. At first only the milky pulp surrounding the beans from the cacao pod was used as a drink called “cupuacu.” Later they discovered that roasting the beans over an open fire created a delicious treat. Roasted cacao beans began to be traded as legal currency – a pumpkin was 4 cacao beans, a rabbit was 10 cacao beans, a turkey was 100 beans, an avocado was 3 beans, and a slave could be purchased for 10 cacao beans! The Aztecs and pulverized cacao into a drink which they blended with water using a tool called a “molinillo” which is a wooden staff with decorated mixing rings. This blending tool is still used today in nearly every Latin American country. Cortes discovered the drink the Indians called “xocolatl” which was often spiced with chile, nuts or other spices and brought it back to Spain with him. This popular drink soon spread from Spain throughout Europe. The first full-scale, relatively modern chocolate factory was set up in Britain in 1728. The Dutch are credited with the method for separating the cacao mass from cacao butter, producing what we know as cocoa powder, and the Swiss developed the first modern bar of chocolate in 1819. In the mid-1870s they incorporated dry milk powder into chocolate creating the first milk chocolate. A Belgian manufacturer developed a technique for making pralines, or dipped and filled chocolates, in 1912. Just a few years later, in the United States, the Milky Way bar was developed by the Mars Corporation and thin quickly followed by the Mars Bar. Milton Hershey was the first person to put nuts in candy bars and added vegetable fats so combat troops could take chocolate bars into warm climates without having them melt. The Hershey factory is the largest chocolate manufacturing plant in the world, and the Hershey Bar is the best-selling chocolate bar in the world today.

 

Harvesting and Processing

 

Chocolate comes from the fruit of the cacao tree. The fruit of the tree grows as a pod, similar in size to a deflated football, off the main trunk of the tree. The trees can grow anywhere from 25 to 50 feet tall. Once harvested, each pod is cut open to reveal a milky white or pastel-hued pulp with 25-50 beans per pod embedded within. The majority of cacao trees grow within rain forests where the climate is very warm and humid and the fragile younger trees are sheltered from the strong, direct sunshine of the tropics. Once the trees are 5 to 8 years old, they can handle the direct sunlight without a problem, but seedlings often have to be shaded with banana leaves in areas of deforestation until they are older. I had the opportunity to visit a chocolate factory in Belize many years ago, although it was less “factory” per se and more a collection of huts where the cacao beans were processed.

 

There are three main varieties of cacao: forestero, criollo and trinitario. Forestero is the most common and prolific due to its hardiness and resistance to diseases and pests. They are grown primarily in Africa, which accounts for about 70 percent of the world’s production of cacao. Stout and tannic forester beans are fermented for about a week to mello them.

 

Criollo beans are considered the highest grade and are used for top-quality chocolate blends and for many single-bean chocolates. The criollo has a more elongated pod which is low yielding and vulnerable to disease. They are low in astringency and require less fermentation, only about 3 days. Criollo beans account for only about 5 percent of the world’s cacao production.

 

Trinitario cacao is a hybrid of forester and criollo and was created on the island of Trinidad. The best trinitario beans are from Trinidad, of course, or Java.

 

Cacao trees are too fragile for workers to climb, so harvesting cacao beans is done from the ground using “tumadores” or special, machete like blades on long handles. Then the pods are sliced open and fermented. The cacao beans and their gluey pulp are placed in pits dug in the earth or in wooden crates, covered with banana leaves and left to ferment. Fermentation turns the sugars into acids and changes the color of the beans from a pale color to a deep, rich brown. Once fermented, the beans are sun dried or dried using heater to prevent mold growth. They are manually raked and turned daily to dry out the moisture content. This takes about a week and then they are packed into canvas or plastic woven sacks for shipping.

 

At their various factory destinations, they are unloaded and sorted for leaves and foreign matter. Next they are roasted to a temperature between 210 to 290 degrees F. Quickly cooled, they are passed through a winnower which cracks the dusky outer shells and blows them away. The inner bean is crushed into smaller pieces called “nibs” to be made into chocolate. The nibs, about 50 percent fat) are crushed into a paste called “chocolate liquor” although it contains no alcohol. This process is called “conching.” Unsweetend or bitter chocolate is referred to as pure chocolate liquor and is usually sold in bars for baking. As the cacao paste is kneaded smooth, cocoa butter and coarse sugar are blended to make bittersweet or semisweet chocolate. Milk chocolate is made by kneading in dried milk solids or milk powder. “White chocolate” contains cocoa butter, sugar, and milk, but no cocoa solids.

 

The percentage of cacao or cocoa listed on a label – for example in baking chocolate – refers to the combined percentage of cacao solids and cacao butter in the product, not just cacao solids.

 

What is “tempering?”

 

Chocolate is composed of cocoa fat and sugar crystals. Before melted chocolate is cooled and solidified, the fat needs to be emulsified, otherwise the fat will rise to the surface and cause gray streaks. Tempering is a process which raises the temperature at which chocolate melts and also gives it a “snap” when it is broken. Tempered chocolate shrinks slightly, allowing chocolatiers to remove chocolate from molds.

 

Health Benefits

 

Centuries ago, cacao was used as a disinfectant, to alleviate apathy and the milky white pulp was used to facilitate birth. Chocolate is high in antioxidants and is an excellent source of calcium, magnesium and iron. Studies have shown that chocolate contains serotonin and some chemicals, like phenylethylamine (PEA), that are similar to components found in the drugs ecstasy and marijuana. People with depression tend to consume more chocolate than others, perhaps due to these chemicals. PEA has a similar effect on the chemistry of the brain to what we experience when we fall in love.

 

A 3.5 ounce serving of milk chocolate, however, contains 540 calories, 29.7 grams of fat, and 51.5 grams of sugar.

 

Storing Chocolate

Chocolate is very sensitive to temperature and humidity and thus should be stored around 60oF with a relative humidity of less than 50 percent. It should also be stored away from other foods, as it can absorb different aromas. “Blooming” can occur if chocolate is stored or served improperly. Fat bloom is caused by storage temperature fluctuating or exceeding 75.2oF, while sugar bloom is caused by temperature below 59 °F or excess humidity. To distinguish between different types of bloom, one can rub the surface of the chocolate lightly, and if the bloom disappears, it is fat bloom. Although visually unappealing, chocolate exhibiting bloom is perfectly safe to eat.

 

 

Resources

 

Desaulniers, Marcel. Death by Chocolate.

Lebovitz, David. The Great Book of Chocolate.

http://www.wikipedia.com

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s