Chocolate begins with the cocoa tree, which can only be found in the tropical heat of the equatorial forest. Today most cocoa is grown in a narrow belt around the equator in Latin America, Africa and Asia. The cocoa tree flowers in two cycles per year and produces cocoa pods. The pods begin as green, then when fully grown and ready to harvest change to yellow, orange or red. Each pod contains 40-50 cocoa beans. The outer peel of the pod is removed and the beans are left to ferment for 5-7 days. After fermentation, cocoa beans are spread out to dry for 6-7 days. After drying, the beans are brought to a collection center, go through several inspections and quality control procedures, and finally are packed for shipping to cocoa processing and chocolate producing sites around the world.
When cocoa beans arrive at their destination, they are cleaned, dried and shells removed – revealing cocoa nibs. The nibs are roasted and then ground to a fine, liquid – cocoa liquor. Cocoa liquor can be used as an ingredient in chocolate or further processed into two different components: cocoa butter and cocoa powder.
Cocoa liquor may have ingredients added such as sugar, milk powder and vanilla. These ingredients are then mixed into a chocolate dough which is refined between rollers to form a fine chocolate power. The powder is then put into a special mixing machine called a conch. A conch is a large tank with heavy rollers that plow back and forth through the chocolate mass. Through different degrees of agitation “conching” allows aeration in the development and modifying of chocolate flavors. This operation gives chocolate its velvety smoothness.
Liquid chocolate is then tempered and cooled, and is ready for molding,
packaging and shipping.
Chocolate was only a drink in its early history. Until the middle of the 19th century, it was mainly consumed from a pressed “cake” of chocolate powder that was dissolved in hot milk or water
70% of the world’s cocoa comes from Africa – Ivory Coast and Ghana are the leading producers
According to a 2004 New York Times article, raw cocoa contains flavonoids, plant-based compounds, with protective antioxidants like those found in red wine and green tea
In August 2003, The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that dark chocolate lowers blood pressure
According to the American Heart Association, small amounts of dark chocolate (about 6 grams) when taken daily for about 18 weeks can lower blood pressure, which in turn can help reduce the risk of stroke or death from coronary artery disease
As reported by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, research shows that, epicatechin, a chemical found in chocolate and one of a group of chemicals known as flavanols, is directly linked to improved circulation and other hallmarks of cardiovascular health
Milk and white chocolate contain vitamins A and B12, which, among other things, contribute to the growth of healthy teeth and bones, the absorption of calcium and phosphorous, the creation of red blood cells and the growth of muscles and tissues
Cocoa and dark chocolate also contain many B-complex vitamins, needed for releasing energy and creating the body's building blocks. Dark, milk and white chocolate all contain vitamins D and E. Cocoa and chocolate contain copper, magnesium, iron, phosphorous and calcium. Dark chocolate is particularly rich in magnesium, important for robust brain function. It also contains copper, iron, manganese and zinc for the promotion of cell growth, the repair of tissue and the absorption of nutrients.
100 grams of milk or white chocolate contains between 20 and 40% of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of calcium
How to taste Chocolate
Tasting fine chocolate should be in the late morning (11am) or late afternoon (6pm). Your senses are most receptive during these times of the day.
Chocolate will be enjoyed much more before sitting down to a meal
The ideal temperature for tasting chocolates is between 68-73 (F)
Use all of your senses to see, feel and smell the chocolates – not just taste
Begin with the mildest sample, with the lowest percentage of cocoa
Break off a small piece of chocolate and recognize the delicateness and structure of the chocolate. Look and listen for the “snap”.
Rub chocolate between thumb and index finger to warm and release the volatile aroma components – using your sense of smell
Biting the chocolate reveals its firmness and texture. A higher cocoa content is more solid, while the cream in milk and white chocolate feel more velvety.
Let the chocolate melt on your tongue and taken in the variety of aromas. Sense the diversity of flavors such as sweet, sour and bitter – and the cooling contact of the chocolate on the tongue.
Hold your breath for a short moment and exhale in phases through your nose. This will enhance the sense of aroma allowing you to experience the subtle nuances of chocolate. Nuances include sweet, such as caramel and vanilla; intense like macadamia nut; strong as espresso; fragrant like orange blossoms; fruity such as fresh berries or plums. Over 600 different natural aromas can be found hidden in a piece of chocolate!
Fine chocolate develops flavors slowly, but can remain pleasantly on the palate for awhile. A variety of notes may be distinguished, beginning with cocoa content, fruit, fruit acid, sweet and bitter.