The Secrets of Chocolate
With Valentine’s just around the corner, you will soon start seeing #chocolate EVERYWHERE. It will be dressed up and decorated to catch your eye, so you will want to gift a special someone in your life with its delicious decadence.
But what exactly is chocolate? And where does it come from? It seems there are too many styles and types to keep up with these days.
At Sweetbriar Rose, we love all things chocolate. From the darkest, bitter end to the creamy, milky goodness on the other extreme, we think chocolate is a must. We put it in much of our baking, as you know, if you have visited the store.
Check us out Thursday through Sundays and see what chocolate items our chef is cooking up this week!
What is Chocolate?
Chocolate is, far and away, the most popular sweet in the world. It is estimated that around three million tons of cocoa beans are consumed annually. The majority of this amount is accounted for in Europe and America.
So many of our holidays and customs revolve around this treat. Nothing says, “I love you,” “I’m sorry,” or “Happy Valentine’s Day” like a box of chocolates. Plus, is there anything more comforting than a warm plate of chocolate chip cookies (check out our recipe here).
Chocolate comes from the fruit of the Theobroma cacao tree. This tropical tree means as the “food of the gods” in Greek. I can’t think of a more fitting name.
These trees are native to the Amazon and Orinoco river basins in South America and can be found as far north as Mexico. Theobroma cacao trees do best in hot and humid areas near the equator. Because of the popularity of chocolate, these trees are now grown throughout the world. They are found near the equator on other continents, including Africa and Asia.
Because the trees are fragile, cacao seeds are hand-harvested. A harvester will remove the orange, ripe pod and open it with a machete. This pod is generally the size of a papaya and can have up to 50 seeds.
After the seed is removed, it is placed on a tray. The seed is then covered with banana leaves for close to a week to start fermenting. This process creates the chocolate flavor we all know and love, as well as the aroma. It also prevents germination.
After the week of fermenting, the seeds are laid out to dry in the sun. Harvesters will turn them multiple times a day for around four days to ensure complete drying.
Now, the good stuff happens. Beans are shipped to a chocolate factory where they are cleaned and roasted in large ovens. The roasting process creates the unique flavor of chocolate and removes the hulls. A winnowing machine cracks the beans; what is left is a nib.
While some people enjoy nibs, there is still more work to be done before the melt-in-your-mouth chocolate arrives. Workers ground nibs into a thick paste called chocolate liquor, non-alcoholic. Now is when the chocolate maker decides what type of chocolate they are making as what ingredients are added determines how fine the chocolate is.
Fun fact: it is CACAO prior to roasting and cocoa after. So, cacao bean but cocoa powder. Now you know.
Types of Chocolate
Fine chocolate can only contain cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, sugar, lecithin, vanilla, and milk fats or solids. Things like nuts can be added later, however. Whether or not it is designated as fine, though, there are three types of chocolate.
Dark Chocolate--contains cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, lecithin, sugar, and vanilla.
Milk Chocolate--contains cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, lecithin, sugar, and vanilla as well as milk fats and solids.
White Chocolate--contains cocoa butter, lecithin, sugar, vanilla, and milk fats and solids.
Outside of these distinctions, chocolate can be unsweetened, bittersweet, semisweet, and dark milk chocolate. The classification depends on the percentage of cocoa.
The Great White Chocolate Debate
There has long been a debate in the chocolate and culinary world as to whether or not white chocolate qualified as chocolate, as it has no cacao liquor. The FDA in America didn’t recognize white chocolate as chocolate until 2002. Before then, it was referred to as a confectionery item.
Health Benefits of Chocolate
People have long claimed chocolate is good for you. But is this true? The answer is yes, and no. Many studies have examined this claim and found that some types of chocolate do have some health benefits. To get the biggest bang for your buck, that is the most substantial impact on your health, stick with the darker chocolates. Milk chocolate is diluted with milk (duh) and sugar.
However, everything in moderation...
Good for your heart
Cacao beans have phytonutrients, which are antioxidants. Antioxidants are good for your body and play a pivotal role in your health. Cacao beans also have iron, copper, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorous.
Good for your brain
Not only can chocolate be good for your heart, but it can also help your brain function better, as well. Eating chocolate might help your cognitive function as you age.
Good for your mood
It’s not just in your head; you really do feel better after eating chocolate. While it is up for debate just how and why chocolate makes you feel good, it seems evident that it does. Chocolate has been found to stimulate your brain in a similar way to cannabis. Furthermore, chocolate has an impact on areas of your brain responsible for appetite, reward and mood regulation, and hormones like dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins.
History of Chocolate
While no one knows exactly how long humans have been enjoying this delicious treat, we know it has been for 2,000 years, at least, though it could be for as long as 4,000 years.
Aztecs used the word xocoatl to refer to a drink made from the cacao bean. This bean has also been used as currency in Latin America. Both the Mayans and the Aztecs believed this bean had magical or mystical properties and utilized them in rituals.
Legend holds that the Aztec ruler Montezuma gave Cortes this bitter chocolate drink. The Spaniards did not like it until adding sugar and honey, creating a trendy drink in the process.
Chocolate was a sign of wealth and prestige in Europe through the 1700s. With the Industrial Revolution, chocolate was able to be mass-produced and distributed. The rest they say is history.
It wasn’t until the early 1800s that cacao butter and liquor were removed from the bean, leading to cacao powder and chocolate bars.
In 1847, an English chocolate company, Fry’s, added more cacao butter to chocolate to create a moldable paste. Henri Nestlé helped invent milk chocolate and developed the now-famous brand. Lindt and Cadbury came into being around the same time, as well.
Chocolate hysteria came to America in the late 1800s when Milton S. Hershey started to sell chocolate-covered caramels. He came up with his own recipe for milk chocolate and built a factory to distribute cars and the much loved Hershey’s Kiss at the turn of the century.
Mars came along in 1923 with the Milky Way and added a nougat inside a chocolate bar. The same year saw the introduction of the Reese’s Peanut Cup by a former Hershey employee.
Chocolate is ever-changing and developing. Recently, we saw the advent of Ruby Chocolates. This unique treat is created by isolating specific parts of the cacao bean and using a different processing technique. The result is a rose-pink color with a sweet and sour taste that does not resemble chocolate.
Stop by Sweetbriar Rose
So, what’s your favorite chocolate? Are you a purist who prefers dark and bitter? Or do you love the creaminess of milk chocolate? Or are you on team white, whether or not it's truly chocolate?
Whatever you love, you can trust we love it, too. In fact, our chocolate chip cookies have dark, milk, and white chocolate chips. We use fine and very high-quality chocolate to ensure you love every bite.
Stop in and see us at Sweetbriar Rose!