Chocolates of all types are produced from the seed of the cacao tree, which is indigenous to the Americas and has been cultivated for at least the past three thousand years. The seeds of the tree are very bitter and must be fermented and processed in order to develop the characteristic sweet chocolatey taste with which we are today familiar. However, chocolate as we know it now is very different than how it was traditionally served; actually, the Mayan people originally made the cacao beans into a frothy, bitter drink that was often flavoured with vanilla, chile pepper and annatto. This drink was consumed not only in every day life, but also for ceremonial purposes. The reverence for chocolate probably relates to its medicinal qualities: it was purported to fight fatigue and soothe upset stomachs. In fact, cacao beans were so prized that they were even traded as currency.
When explorers reached the New World in the 1500s, chocolate was soon a chief export to Europe. The drink quickly became a favourite of the Spanish royal court, and in 1657, the first chocolate house opened in London. However, it was not until the Industrial Revolution that processing changed: mills began to use the cacao seeds to extract the cocoa butter, which could then be turned into solid chocolate. It was in this form that the treat became affordable and universally loved, and today it remains one of the world's tastiest treats.
Types of Chocolate
To make chocolate, cacao seeds are fermented, then dried, cleaned and roasted. The shell is removed to produce cacao nibs , which are quite tasty on their own (try them as an ice cream topping!), but are generally ground and liquified. The result is chocolate liquor - pure liquid chocolate - and that can be further processed to produce cocoa solids, a nonfat byproduct which is commonly known as cocoa powder ; and cocoa butter, the resulting vegetable fat. These different ingredients are combined in different ways to make chocolate bars ,drinking chocolate ,chocolate truffles and so on.
Milk chocolate is arguably the most popular type. It normally contains at least 10% chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, sugar, and at least 12% milk.
Because of its high milk content, this type of chocolate is not very suitable for cooking or baking as it tends to overheat and clump.
Green & Blacks
Dark chocolate is usually used for baking. It is sweetened with sugar, very high in cocoa solids, and contains little to no milk.
- Unsweetened - This is pure chocolate liquor that has been allowed to harden. Very bitter, only for baking.
- Bittersweet or semi-sweet - Contains at least 35% chocolate liquor. Rich and intense; the classic chocolate used in baking.
- Sweet - Contains at least 15% chocolate liquor. It is not always possible to distinguish between this and semi-sweet chocolate.
Though not technically chocolate since it does not contain any chocolate liquor, it gets its name from the cocoa butter it contains. There is not a distinguishable chocolate taste and it usually tastes like vanilla.
White chocolate must contain at least 20% cocoa butter, 14% milk solids, and no more than 55% sugar.
Nestlé Milky Bar
Greens & Blacks
When tasting chocolate, it is best to start with samples of lower cacao percentage and then work your way to higher percentages. Always taste within a related group of chocolates; for example, taste within a region, at a certain cacao percentage, single origin beans from different producers, etc. This can be a great social activity, so invite some friends to join in!
- Appearance: Chocolate should be even in texture and have a glossy sheen. if there is discoloration or bloom (a powdery-looking film), the fats and sugars have separated. This usually happens when the chocolate is too old or has been exposed to temperature changes.
- Color is not indicative of quality or cacao content. Don't get hung up on this.
- Snap: Break a piece of the chocolate from the bar; this is referred to as the snap. There should be no crumbling or bending.
- Note that milk and white chocolates are quite soft and therefore will not have the same clean snap as dark chocolates. The higher the cacao content (dark chocolate has the most), the harder the chocolate and the better the snap.
- Aroma: The aroma of chocolate is similar to the aroma of a fine wine: it should be quite complex and will vary between producing regions. For example, Venezuelan chocolates will smell of strawberry, cream or butter, while Malagasy chocolates can smell spicy, woody, or even winey.
- See TheNibble.com's handy guide to aroma and regional descriptors.
- Mouthfeel: Mouthfeel quite simply describes how the chocolate feels in the mouth. Place a small piece on your tongue and let it melt. Then try another piece and chew it. Is it smooth, grainy or gritty? Velvety or greasy?
- Taste: A good chocolate's taste should be as complex as its aroma; however, notes that are smelled cannot be always tasted (and vice versa), so pay attention! Again, break off a piece of chocolate and let it melt on your tongue. Take note of the flavours that reveal themselves at mid-palate and in the aftertaste.