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The sudden surge of chocolate consumption in Canada explains how addictive it can be. Addiction, however, is linked to quality, ability to pay and wisdom to separate good from inferior.
Theobroma cacao (the cocoa tree) is indigenous to Central- and South America. Mayans and Aztecs are known to have used cocoa beans during religious ceremonies. Before human sacrifices were made to gods, those to be sacrificed received their last worldly food in form of a cup of cocoa. Even conquered tribes paid a tribute in cocoa beans, which were used as currency.
Montezuma, and Aztec king, believed cocoa to be aphrodisiac and source of strength. Reportedly, he consumed 50 small cups of it daily. Aztecs prepared cocoa differently than we do today. Theirs was mixed with chilli peppers, spices, and water. Aztec chocolate tasted bitter.
The Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes acquired a plantation and brought the first cocoa beans to Spain in 1524. Confectioners started experimenting with the new ingredient in an attempt to make it more palatable to the European palate. They soon found out that sugar instead of chilli peppers made the drink taste much better. Spaniard’s sensed that cocoa beans had great commercial potential and managed to keep it and its supply secret for 100 years. Processing was strictly under the supervision of monks in remote monasteries and they never divulged their secret techniques of roasting and pulverizing.
Eventually, other European countries managed to uncover all the secrets. By 1657, the first chocolate café opened in London serving the rich and nobility. During the industrial revolution, chocolate manufacturing evolved to an industry in England, but the big breakthrough occurred when Van Houten, a Dutch inventor, discovered a technique to extract cocoa fat from the bean. More importantly, he also discovered that when the drink was a t room temperature the addition of cocoa fat (butter) made it solid and delectable.
Today chocolate is brewed by mixing cocoa powder with water or milk and sugar. To this day, the Dutch produce the best cocoa, but Belgians and Swiss excel in producing chocolate. French claim their chocolate to be superior. It is true that Chocolaterie du Rhone, in Tain Hermitage (Rhone Valley) produces an excellent bitter chocolate (Valrhona), but on the average Swiss and Belgian manufacturers excel particularly when it comes to truffles.
Mexicans use bitter chocolate in a number of turkey recipes and Italians have their agridulce (sweet and sour) composed of wine, peanuts, vinegar, raisins and bitter chocolate.
Scientists regard chocolate as a perfect food, albeit expensive, as it contains carbohydrates, oils, proteins, calcium, iron and phosphorus. In fact, during both World Wars standard rations of American soldiers contained a chocolate bar and American soldiers are responsible to introducing the culture of eating chocolate to the Japanese after World War II during their occupation.
Chocolate is an ideal source of energy and mountain climbers include it in their rations all the time.
The cocoa tree can grow up to 15 meters tall, but generally is trimmed to six to eight meters for easy harvesting The tree thrives in hot and humid climates with a good balance of sunshine and shade. It is possible to find ripe and unripe fruit at the same time and harvesting is continuous throughout the year.
The tree is susceptible to a number of diseases. It takes six years for a tree to produce the first crop, with a life expectancy of 30 – 40 years. The production of each tree amounts to a little more than two kilograms per annum. Cocoa beans measure two – three centimetres in length and one centimetre in width.
After harvest the shell is opened, beans extracted, and fermented to develop their aroma. They are then washed, dried and sorted according to size. Cocoa beans contain 55 percent cocoa butter, 1.5 theobromin, a caffeine-like stimulant, starch, minerals and albumen.
Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, Ghana, Gabon, Cameroon, Uganda, Malagasy, Republic of Congo, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Mexico and Indonesia are the main suppliers.
The largest suppliers are African countries, although the best (Criollo) cocoa beans originate in Ecuador. Forastero beans are flat and mostly used for chocolate drinks, violet-coloured Amelonado is bitter and of superior taste.
Some markets classify beans geographically:
Central American cocoa (Mexico, Nicaragua and Costa Rica) South American cocoa (Ecuador, Brazil, Venezuela) West Indian Cocoa (Trinidad and Tobago), Jamaica) West African cocoa (Gold Coast countries, Togo, Cameroon, San Tome) East African cocoa (Malagasy) Asian cocoa (Sri Lanka, Java, Indonesia) Australia (Samoa)
Another classification is by processing stage:
Raw, dried or roasted. Dried, roasted and cleaned. Broken. Cocoa mass. Chemically treated and processed cocoa mass. Broken beans containing up to 10 percent extraneous material. Beans particles obtained during processing. Cocoa shells.
Some chocolate manufacturers prefer to buy beans; others opt for chocolate mass. The beans are heated to 70 C and pressed to extract the cocoa butter (48-51 percent), which is clarified, becoming yellow and clear. At this stage, lecithin is added to make the mass malleable. This is followed by addition of sugar and vanilla. The amount of sugar helps determine the level of sweetness or bitterness.
For milk chocolate, whole and/or milk powder, nuts (hazelnuts or almonds); dried fruits, chocolate creams or liqueurs are added to achieve a range of flavour dimensions.
The starting point of quality chocolate is fine ingredients, followed by good processing technology, which involves putting the mass through stainless rollers. The longer this process lasts, the finer the texture of the chocolate becomes.
The finest chocolates are further processed by coching – a process that requires melting the mass and churning it at low speed or agitating by means of paddles back and forth. Conched chocolates develop a refined and strong aroma. The mass is cooled and then heated to 30 C to from bars weighing – 25, 50, 75, 85, 100, 200, 300, 400 and 500 grams. Blocks of 1 – 10 Kilograms are produced for pastry shops and commercial kitchens.
Chocolate must contain a minimum of 40 percent cocoa butter (cooking chocolate 50 percent) and milk chocolate a minimum of 32.
Truffles are chocolate confections containing butter, liquors, liqueurs, cream and nuts. They are highly perishable, but highly prized by aficionados.
Chocolate chips, bits, wafers and vermicelli are available for decorations.
Many countries produce chocolate, the most famous of which are Belgium and Switzerland, followed by the Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, Austria, the U K , Spain, Israel, the U S A, Canada and Australia.
Lindt, Cailler, Nestle, Suchard, Tobler are famous Swiss manufacturers with a wide range of products. Teuscher, Zurich and Chocolatier du Rhone, Geneva are two Swiss truffle producers with a world wide distribution.
Famous Belgian manufacturers are Godiva, Simone Marie, Guylian, Neuhaus just to name a few.
In Canada Callebaut, Eitelbach, Splendid (kosher), Laura Secord, Ganong, Cadbury, Rowntree, Belgian Chocolate Shop, Rogers enjoy a good reputation.
Wissol, Stollwerk and Hachez are three famous German manufacturers.
Chocolate should be stored in a cool 12 C, dry, odour-free environment.
Chocolate is addictive and aficionados are known to go to great lengths to indulge in their favourite chocolate brands.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu