We all love chocolate, how could you not?! Chocolates in all forms from chocolate bars, hot chocolate, chocolate sauce, chocolate milk, chocolate biscuits…there are just so many amazing things made with chocolate! However, not all of us know a great deal about this amazing thing that we eat so often. So, let’s get ready to learn a little bit about this amazing ingredient!
A Brief History of Chocolate
Chocolate itself comes from the cocoa tree that has been growing for over 3 million years. Records show that chocolate initially was used as a beverage around 1100BC in Mexico by the Aztecs and Maya. The cocoa beans were originally fermented and made into a type of alcoholic beverage. The Mayan’s were the first on record to serve cocoa warm mixed with chili peppers and corn meal- an original hot cocoa!
Cocoa beans were even as currency during the Aztec period and chocolate was considered to be a gift from the God’s. But something this good wouldn’t stay a secret for long and in the early 1600’s, the chocolate drink made its way to Spain and became extremely popular among royalty and the wealthy (the only people who could originally afford such a luxury item). From there, the evolution of chocolate continued to expand and when the industrial revolution came about, it became faster to roast and produce chocolate which made it far more affordable to everyday people.
Today, about three quarters of the worlds chocolate is produces in West Africa and cocoa is still, to this day, an amazingly popular and desired taste. Now that you know a little bit about how chocolate came to be, let’s look even more in depth into the world of cocoa!
Types of Chocolates
There are numerous types of chocolates found in the marketplace of today. Chocolate will vary based on many things from being produced from cheap cacao or being roasted from the highest quality specialty cacao beans. Its flavor and price may also vary with the kind of cacao has been used and the types and amount of additives that may have been added.
All chocolate is made by first fermenting and roasting cocoa beans. The shell is then removed and the cocoa nibs, the part remaining, is ground into a paste. The paste is then heated, this melted form is called chocolate liquor, and separated into cocoa solids and cocoa butter. These two parts of the chocolate are usually sold separately in mass production as the quantity of each will vary from brand to brand, and from type of chocolate to other type of chocolate.
Here are the most common types of chocolates:
White Chocolate is made by combining cocoa butter with sugar, milk solids and flavorings like vanilla. When processing chocolate, the dark colored solids of the cocoa bean are separated from the fatty parts of the bean. This cocoa fat is then used to make white chocolate and as most of the cocoa solids have been removed, white chocolate has an off-white, beige color.
Due to the fact that most of the cocoa solids have been removed, white chocolate lacks the antioxidant properties of darker chocolates and many do not consider white chocolate to really be “chocolate”. However the subtle, creamy flavors of white chocolate are still quite appealing!
Milk chocolate is simply made from cocoa solids, sugar and cocoa butter added to milk or milk powder. The U.S. government dictates that milk chocolate contains at least 10% pure cocoa solids while the European Union requires at least 25% cocoa solids. So Milk chocolate from a European country will be much darker than a milk chocolate bar from the United States. Milk chocolate is very common in candy bars as it has a less bitter taste than dark chocolate but is richer than white chocolate.
Dark Chocolate is a sweetened chocolate that contains high amounts of cocoa solids and small amounts of milk. Unlike milk chocolate, there are no regulations for what percentage of cocoa solids need to be used in dark chocolate. Because of that, based on the ratio of cocoa solids and sugars used dark chocolate my either be sweet, semi-sweet, bittersweet or unsweetened. Dark chocolate is usually labeled with a percentage right on the package which will tell you how much cocoa is in each type. 60% cocoa would be pretty dark chocolate but get up to 90% cocoa and you are about to try a very dark and bitter chocolate bar!
Dark chocolate is great for baking or eating. Dark chocolate is full of antioxidants and has much less sugar than milk chocolate or white chocolate and is deemed the healthier chocolate. Dark chocolate was recently declared a “super food” and this title has cause global demand to rise. Go dark chocolate!!
Subsets of dark chocolate are as follows:
Sweet Dark Chocolate – Contains 35 to 45% cocoa solids and has added sugar
Semi-sweet Chocolate – Contains approximately 40 to 62% of cocoa solids and is commonly used in cakes, cookies and brownies. It is considered as dark baking chocolate that is readily available in grocery stores.
Bittersweet Chocolate – Contains 60 to 85% of cocoa solids and is low in sugar giving the chocolate a rich and intense bittersweet flavor. Bittersweet chocolates are commonly used in baking and cooking.
Unsweetened Chocolate – Contains 100% of cocoa solids and half of it is fat. It is not suitable for eating because of its bitter taste. It is frequently used in baking.
How to Store Chocolates
Ideally chocolates should be stored away from other foods since they absorbs odors and aromas of other products. You don’t want your chocolate to taste like garlic, that’s for sure! Try to store chocolates in a cool, dry place at a consistent temperature of below 21 degrees C and a humidity of less than 55%. Sealing chocolate in an air-tight container is very helpful in keeping them fresh and flavorful and keeping chocolate away from light will also help preserve the flavor. Oxygen and artificial lights can cause unpleasant flavors and odors to chocolates.
Chocolate typically doesn’t contain additives and preservatives which is why they are better eaten fresh. If you have a significant supply of chocolates and you want to preserve them for an extended period of time you can refrigerate them to increase the shelf life. Furthermore, you can store chocolate for 6 to 12 months in the freezer. Before freezing chocolates, wrap them tightly to protect from odors and condensation. But always consume your chocolate at room temperature as that is the best for tasting the true essence of chocolate!
Cooking with Chocolate
Cooking with chocolate or making chocolate truffles themselves can sometimes be really tricky but it’s worth the effort to perfect the process. As we all know, chocolate desserts are the best desserts! Here are some tips for cooking with chocolate.
Add Shortening to Chocolate
When making chocolate truffles or candies, adding shortening to the melted chocolate can help create a smoother and manageable consistency as compare to melted chocolate only. With this trick, it is much easier to evenly coat a product that you are dipping in the melted chocolate. Using the ratio of ½ teaspoon of shortening to each 25 grams of chocolate will result in a beautiful consistency.
How to Melt Chocolate
Always melt your chocolate slowly over a low heat. Chocolates typically melts at 30 – 32 degrees C. Don’t over melt chocolate because it will become grainy and too thick. Chocolate can burn quickly and become very bitter if melted quickly over high heat. Be gentle to your chocolate!
Chocolate for Baking
Baking chocolates are typically the unsweetened and bitter kind of chocolate that contains about 50% to 58% of cocoa butter. Baking chocolates are usually used in making brownies, cakes and frostings. You may need extra sugar (which is usually in baked goods anyway!) to make your chocolate taste delectable rather than overly bitter.
So now you know a little bit more about the detailed world of chocolate. Did you also know that every second, American’s collectively consume 100 pounds of chocolate? So join the crowd and go grab yourself a delicious chocolate bar!
Chef Jason Galletti’s passion for exceptional and unique catering experiences inspired him to bring together G`Day Chef to life in 2005. For over ten years now, Jason and his team has provided Melbourne with catering and event services that use the very best Victorian Produce, delivered with consideration of the newest and most delicious culinary trends.