Montezuma knew it well – chocolate has the power to seduce. And Montezuma made good use of this force of chocolate. The Aztec ruler introduced European conquistadors to this aphrodisiac over 500 years ago, and it is said to have consumed 50 thimbleful cups daily to enhance his libido.
Montezuma’s chocolate was liquid (called xocolatl) and contained anise as well as chillies. Aztecs were unfamiliar with sugar and/or other sweetening agents. Even today in the Caribbean chocolate is served semi-sweet or bitter. It is frothy, light and refreshing, never sugar-laden and cloying.
Europeans have changed both the taste and texture of chocolate over the years. Manufacturers literally created a new market for this highly refined confection.
Chocolate today is highly sophisticated and infinitely more versatile food that is combined to create completely different taste and texture sensations. Chocolate bars may contain nuts, milk, cream, liquor, liqueur, raisins, and chopped to be included into cookies. Melted chocolate is used to cover cakes, as an ingredient in tortes. Mexicans use it in sauces, and have poultry recipes containing bitter chocolate.
Chocolate consists of cocoa butter, cocoa mass and other ingredients to enhance and/or alter its taste or texture. Like all agricultural products, the taste of the cocoa bean depends on a combination of soil and climate and each region yields a different prime ingredient.
There are two important cocoa bean species – criollo and forastero. Of both, criollo tastes much better and possesses a deeper more pleasant flavour. High-quality chocolate brands contain a large proportion of criollo beans. Some manufacturers even market site-specific chocolates, like single-vineyard wines. Examples of these are the Caribbean bean, manjuri, which grows near the Indian Ocean, and Guanaja from Venezuela.
The processing of cocoa is a long, complicated and labour-intensive process, requiring considerable capital. Once at the factory the beans are cleaned, roasted and crushed, producing equal amounts of cocoa butter and cocoa mass. A number of ingredients are then added to the cocoa mass and butter. After mixing, the “raw” chocolate enters the conching machines, which beat the mass thus refining its texture. Sugar and milk, if used, are added just prior to conching.
Spanish confectioners were the first to think of producing a solid chocolate in the 1800’s. Italians discovered a technique to extract cocoa butter, and the Dutch invented the process of cocoa powder manufacture. To this day Dutch cocoa has a more concentrated and distinct taste that those of other countries. It was the Swiss, however, who invented many processes to produce bars, including the technique of milk chocolate production. Here, necessity of invention played a very important role – it was a profitable way to use up surplus milk.
A fine chocolate possesses a crunchy texture, and melts gradually at body temperature. Bargain basement chocolate is waxy, and sticks to the palate, it melts poorly and has a gummy taste.
In Europe, the medicinal properties of chocolate are well documented and widely known. Chocolate contains antioxidants, and some researchers even claim that it prevents cavities. Dark chocolate enjoyed in moderation, may help prevent cancer and heart diseases. It may also boost seratonin, the chemical in the brain responsible for mood.
Chocoholics at least seem happier and more content.
Then an imaginative chocolatier invented truffles, the richest creamiest and most seductive of all chocolates. Basically truffles are rich, flavoured soft chocolate confections created by chocolate artists such as Callebaut, Eitelbach, Teuscher, Chocolaterie du Rhone, Simone Marie, the Belgian Chocolate Shop just to name a few.
Canadian per capita chocolate consumption has been increasing steadily since 1990. Eitlebach and Callebaut and the Belgian Chocolate Shop operate stores in Toronto. Callebaut, a Belgian, also operates a shop in Calgary. Splendid (a kosher chocolate manufacturer) operates out of Montreal and caters to the kosher market. Rogers in Victoria is well known for its exquisite bars and filled chocolates.
The following chocolate manufacturers have been in business for a long time and are known for their outstanding, consistent quality: Nestle, Suchard, Lindt, Cailler (Switzerland), Neuhaus, Godiva, Simone Marie, Guylian ( Belgium), Valrhona, Chocolaterie le Notre (France), Ghrirardelli, Godiva, Joseph Schmidt (USA).
Always buy chocolates from specialized stores with high turnover of merchandise.
It is best to ascertain the location of manufacturer direct stores to ensure freshness.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu