Written by: Pastryitems.com (copyright 2014)
Chocolate is one of the great culinary delights. However, few people seem to know anything about the history of chocolate or how it is processed into some of the world's most popular ingredients today. We will explore both in this article. Providing this perspective is helpful in understanding the different types of chocolate available today. These are also listed and described below.
Although we often use the vernacular terms, "cocoa beans" or "chocolate beans," chocolate is actually derived from the cacao seeds of a pod-shaped fruit of the Theobroma cacao tree, a tropical evergreen. Within its native range of Central and South America, archaeological evidence proves that chocolate has been widely consumed for about four thousand years! The Mayans were the first to systematically cultivate the Theobroma cacao tree and it was an important part of their diet. After fermenting the pods (sometimes done with vanilla beans), the Mayans brewed a hot thick frothy drink from the cacao seeds. Although the Mayans usually mixed in other spices such as vanilla and chiles, it is thought by most archeologists that they consumed their chocolate drinks mostly unsweetened, although maize was sometimes added and this probably sweetened the rich brew a bit. Also, it is known that the Mayans used honey and agave syrup in some of their drinks. The frothiness of the drink came from the carbon dioxide produced during fermentation. A wooden whisk quickly rotated between the palm of the hands was also used to froth it even more. Cacao seeds were so highly prized by the Aztecs, they could be used as currency to obtain other goods. For example, a fresh avocado could be purchased for three cacao seeds.
In 1502, Christopher Columbus presented the Spanish royalty with cacao beans from Central America. However, it was the traveling Catholic friars who spread the use of chocolate far and wide and into the kitchens of everyday people. It is interesting to note that the native people of Central and South American only consumed chocolate in beverage form. Popular dishes like Mole Poblano, a spicy chocolate sauce served over meat, was a Creole invention, a blending of the Aztec and Spanish culinary traditions. Chocolate has been "re-invented" this way many times over as it was incorporated into different cuisines and cultures around different parts of the world.Let's fast forward to the 1800s. Like the Mayans, the Europeans used fermented cacao to prepare their chocolate. This was usually done by the farmers on the chocolate plantations where bananas were also grown. Banana leaves were often used to cover the cacoa to trap in the heat caused by fermentation and to speed the process up. Fermentation brings out the chocolaty flavor and it decreases the bitter tones. However, fermentation also produces vinegar which can produce sour notes in the chocolate. Thus, fermentation of chocolate is as much of an art form as fermenting grapes for wine. Many people don't realize this, but even to this day, the fermentation process is one of the most important factors in producing quality chocolate. It is also partially responsible for the different tastes between different brands of chocolate. This is why some chocolatiers guard their proprietary fermentation process very closely.
Also like the Mayans, starting with fermented cacao, the Europeans roasted the seeds before they removed the outer bitter layer and ground the remaining "cacao nibs." Keep in mind that just like in roasting coffee beans, the artisan skill used in roasting chocolate beans can make a world of difference in the final product. The temperature and duration of roasting time are two of the most important factors. Roasting chocolate beans in small batches monitored closely by a person can produce far better results than mass roasting using industrial economies of size.Once the beans are roasted, they are ground. This produces a thick liquid often referred to as "chocolate liqueur." This name may be misleading as there is no alcohol content in chocolate liquor. This liquid, or the solid substance it becomes when cooled, is also often called "chocolate mass." This mass is approximately 53 percent cocoa butter and 47 percent cocoa solids, although may vary a bit between cultivars. It is at this stage that the processing of chocolate in Europe, and now in other parts of the world, differs dramatically from what the Mayans and other Mesoamerican cultures did.
By the early 1800s, there were enough chocolate plantations in Africa, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America that the price for chocolate had dropped tremendously, as had the sugar that most people like to pair it with. This made scientists, inventors, and food manufacturers highly motivated to develop techniques to process the cocoa mass into marketable products. To do so, the cocoa butter, had to be separated from the cocoa solids using an hydraulic chocolate press. This process was invented around 1828 and initiated rapid changes/improvements in chocolate processing in Europe.
In 1839, the first chocolate bars were produced using cocoa, sugar, and goat's milk. In 1865, the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company developed a new and improved method of separating cocoa butter from the cocoa solids called the Broma process. This method extracted more of the cocoa butter than the hydraulic presses did, yielding a cocoa powder that could be more easily mixed into liquids. Another method of processing chocolate called "Dutch processing" was also invented. This method washed the cocoa solids in a potassium solution to make it even more dissolvable in liquids. It also mellowed out the bitter taste of the chocolate, made it darker in color, and less acidic. In 1875, Rodolphe Lindt invented a process called conching which involved grinding cocoa very finely and then heating it to high temperatures. This made it possible to produce very smooth chocolate bars and syrup, unlike the gritty predecessors. This was the start of the mass production of chocolate confections and far more home use of chocolate for something other than making hot chocolate drinks.
Let's take a look at the different types of modern chocolate available to bakers, confectioners, and home cooks:
Baker's chocolate is also called "unsweetened chocolate" or "bitter chocolate." It contains no sugar and no milk. It is the solid mass that you get after the chocolate liquor, produced by roasting fermented cacao seeds, has cooled. It contains cocoa butter and cocoa solids in their natural proportions and does not have other fats added. Many bakers prefer this type of chocolate because it gives them precise control on how much sugar and the type of fat they add to a recipe. Be careful though, "bittersweet baker's chocolate" is not the same as it does have sugar and will likely have other fats substituted for the cocoa butter. It can be tempting to buy because it is so much cheaper that unsweetened baker's chocolate with the full amount of cocoa butter still added.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), any chocolate labeled as "bittersweet chocolate," must contain at least 35 percent chocolate liquor and no more than 12 percent milk solids. Some of the cocoa butter will likely be replaced by another form of fat, often including unhealthy hydrogenated vegetable oils. Some chocolates in the U.S. also add polyglycerol polyricinoleate (PGPR), a fat emulsifier, so they don't have to add in as much fat. Therefore, if you do use bittersweet chocolate, be sure to read your ingredient label carefully because quality varies a lot between brands.
Technically, "dark chocolate" can be the same as "bittersweet chocolate" or "semisweet" chocolate because the FDA has the same minimum requirements for products labeled with all three of these terms. Keep in mind too that the Food and Drug Regulations (FDR) in Canada and the European Union has different minimum requirements for labeling chocolate.
Sweet chocolate has more sugar and about 4 percent less cocoa solids than dark chocolate. It may or may not contain milk solids so sweet chocolate can vary a lot in flavor. You really never know what you're getting unless you happen to be familiar with a specific brand, although the manufacturer could radically change their recipe at any time and still fall within the FDA requirements for labeling. If sweet chocolate does have milk solids, it must contain less than 12 percent. If it contained 12 or more percent milk solids, it would become more like milk chocolate.
Milk chocolate contains milk and less cocoa solids than dark chocolate or sweet chocolate. According to the FDA, products labeled as "milk chocolate" must have at least 15 percent cocoa butter, 12 percent milk solids, and 3.39 percent milk fat. Keep in mind too that the FDA does not dictate how much sugar to add so it can vary all over the board.
White chocolate is made with cocoa butter but does not contain any of the cocoa solids. Therefore, it is an off-white to yellow color. The FDA requires that products labeled as "white chocolate" contain at least 20 percent cocoa butter, 14 percent milk solids, and 3.5 percent milk fat. While cocoa butter does not contain the intense chocolaty flavor as cocoa solids, it does have a subtle and pleasant chocolaty flavor that can be detected by those with a discerning palette. Therefore, white chocolate containing more than the minimum 20 percent cocoa butter, and no low quality fats, are preferred by many bakers. While many white chocolates contain vanilla or vanilla bean, they don't all contain it and the taste is quite different. Cheaper white chocolates will sometimes add more vanilla to disguise the fact they contain less cocoa butter and cheaper oils added.
Couverture is chocolate with extra cocoa butter. Generally, it contains around 35-45 percent cocoa butter fat. Recipes calling for Couverture do not usually add more fat of any kind. It makes excellent chocolate covered candies and truffles. It pours more easily and has a nice crisp snap when it dries as well as a glossy sheen. Couverture is more popular in Europe than in the United States except with professional bakers and some gourmet home bakers who truly appreciate the good stuff!
Natural Cocoa Powder:
Cocoa powder imparts a much more intense chocolate flavor than does Dutch cocoa power. This makes it an excellent choice for brownies and any baked good where you want a really rich taste. Natural cocoa powder also retains all of the antioxidants found in the cacao seed. It does not need baking powder to leaven since its acidity will react with baking soda. Most modern cocoa powder contains about 10-20 percent cocoa butter fat but the rest has been removed. However, some cocoa powders will contain more fat.
Dutch Cocoa Powder:
Dutch cocoa powder has a milder taste than natural cocoa powder. The dutching process strips away 50-90 percent of the antioxidants contained in natural cocoa powder so it is not considered the healthiest choice. The darker the Dutch cocoa powder, the more dutched it is and the more the antioxidants have been removed. Really dark Dutch chocolate is sometimes referred to as "black chocolate." Oreo cookies are a good example of black cocoa. You will need to use baking powder because the dutching transforms the natural acidic nature of cocoa to a neutral pH. Therefore, it cannot react with baking soda to leaven baked goods.
While you may not think of chocolate as a health food, most types of chocolate are rich in minerals and antioxidants. Chocolate also raises one's serotonin levels, making it an excellent mood lifter. However, it is important to keep our chocolaty goodies away from pets. Chocolate contains high levels of theobromide and a significant amount of caffeine. While these substances will not hurt most humans if eaten in moderation, both are highly toxic to both dogs and cats.