If you’re like many people, chocolate isn’t a luxury; it is a necessity. Often thought of as the fifth food group, chocolate has inspired one of people’s most widespread and passionate love affairs with food. While the taste is nothing short of amazing, since its discovery over 2000 years ago, our fascination with chocolate has brought other benefits as well. Chocolate is considered an aphrodisiac, a natural remedy for depression, a part of cardiovascular health (more recently), and even currency. With its rich history and special health and social importance, we at Recipe4Living felt it right to include a guide to chocolate. Satisfy your curiosity about chocolate’s past, how it’s made, and how to select, store, and prepare chocolate in the comfort of your own home.
A Brief History of Chocolate
Our obsession with chocolate actually began many, many centuries ago with the Mayan civilization of Mexico and Central America (AD 250-900). But the Mayan form of chocolate bore little resemblance to what we enjoy today. Most Mayans grew the cacao tree, the source of chocolate, in their backyards and harvested the seeds, which they then fermented, roasted, and ground. Combined with water and hot chili spices, the ground paste became an unsweetened, frothy beverage that was regularly enjoyed as a part of Mayan life.
Aztecs and the Sacred Brew
The Aztecs adapted this bitter drink and even considered it the food of the gods. The word chocolate comes from the Aztec word ” xocoatl ” which means bitter drink. While most Mayans could enjoy the drink, chocolate was reserved for kings, priests, and other members of the highest social class in Aztec culture. Chocolate was such an important part of Aztec society that cacao seeds became a form of currency.
Travel to Europe
When the Spanish, led by Hernando Cortez, conquered Mexico in 1521, they quickly recognized the importance of chocolate to the Aztecs and began shipping it home. Adding cinnamon, sugar and other spices to the very expensive import, the Spanish kept their chocolate drink secret for almost 300 years, only enjoyed by the Spanish nobility. When Spanish royalty began marrying other Europeans, the word spread quickly and was soon popular across Europe, but only among the wealthy. It was not until the 18th and 19th centuries, when maritime trade expanded and chocolate was mass-produced, that the majority of the middle class could afford chocolate. In the late 18th century, chocolate houses were as popular as coffee houses across England.
Unlike many crops, the pods of the delicate cacao tree must be picked by hand, making chocolate a laborious affair. The pods are opened individually and the pulp-covered seeds are extracted. To reduce bitterness, cacao seeds are fermented for several days (like grapes) and then dried. At this point, farmers are selling sacks of cocoa seeds to corporate buyers, where industrial machinery is taking over. On the factory floor, large machines roast the seeds to release flavor and aroma. The roasted seeds are broken open to reach the top or heart, which is then ground into chocolate liqueur (not liquor). This thick liquid of cocoa butter and cocoa solids is manipulated to create the different types of chocolate.
Cocoa – Often used in baking, this powdered form of chocolate is made from powdered cocoa solids that have had the cocoa butter removed.
Unsweetened Chocolate (Bitter/Baking Chocolate ) – This is a pure, unaltered chocolate liquor made from 45% cocoa solids and 55% cocoa butter.
(semi-sweet ) – Sugar, cocoa butter, lecithin, and vanilla are added to the chocolate liquid to create this type of chocolate, which contains at least 35% chocolate liquid. Bittersweet chocolate and sweeter semisweet chocolate are used interchangeably in baking.
Couverture – This term is used for the highest quality bittersweet and semisweet types of chocolate. Couverture pralines contain a higher percentage of chocolate liquor (even 70%).
Dark chocolate (also referred to as sweet chocolate by the US government ) – No milk is added to this form of chocolate, which contains between 15% and 35% chocolate liquor. Dark chocolate actually has a lighter chocolate flavor than bittersweet and semisweet, despite being dark in color.
Milk Chocolate – This popular form of chocolate contains milk or milk solids and 10% to 25% chocolate liquor. Milk chocolate is smoother, sweeter, and less bitter than darker varieties.
White Chocolate – Since white chocolate contains no cocoa solids , it is not chocolate at all. White “chocolate” is made from cocoa butter, vanilla, milk, and sugar. It may not be chocolate, but it’s still delicious.
Chocolate is good for you !…….. Honestly!
- Mood enhancer – Chocolate contains phenylethylamine , which is a mild mood enhancer/antidepressant, and also happens to be the same chemical our brains produce when we’re feeling love or happiness. Chocolate contains other stimulants to “elevate” your mood, like caffeine, in very small amounts. In fact , an ounce of milk chocolate contains about as much caffeine as a cup of decaffeinated coffee. Because these chemicals are so mild, chocolate isn’t considered physically addictive (although many people think so).
- Want to make the ultimate aphrodisiac? Like chocolate, chili peppers are considered an aphrodisiac for their intense flavor and ability to increase heart rate. The Mayans and Aztecs understood this great pairing, and many chocolatiers today add different types of chilies to their sweets. Try it out with your significant other. Try these great recipes:
- Chocolate Chili Bites
- Chocolate Chili Ice Cream
- Spicy chocolate cake
- Spicy Chocolate Truffles
- Mayan Hot Chocolate
- Spicy chocolate cake with a bowl
- Cardiovascular Health – Like red wine, tea, fruits and vegetables, cacao seeds contain important antioxidants called flavonoids . Antioxidants help reduce certain types of damage to the body’s cells and tissues over time. Recent studies have found that the flavonoids in chocolate regulate certain hormones essential to cardiovascular health and may even have other immune-regulating effects. Dark chocolate, which contains the highest concentration of cacao liquor, is considered the best for your health. Dark chocolate contains about twice as many antioxidants as a bar of milk chocolate.
- Cholesterol – Just because it tastes good doesn’t mean it has to be bad for you. Unlike many convenience foods, eating chocolate doesn’t raise your cholesterol levels. Chocolate and cocoa butter contain both saturated and unsaturated fats. But unlike many saturated fats, the stearic acid in chocolate is a neutral fat and doesn’t raise bad (LDL) cholesterol. The unsaturated fat in chocolate, oleic acid , is the same type of fat found in olive oil that can actually help raise good cholesterol (HDL).
- Storage – Chocolate should be stored in a cool, dry place at around 65-70 degrees F. It should not be refrigerated as moisture changes the texture and appearance of the chocolate. High temperatures cause a “bloom” or “cloud” on the surface of the chocolate. This flower does not affect the taste or freshness of the chocolate, only its appearance. It is caused when the cocoa butter crystals melt and migrate to the surface of the chocolate.
- Insulation – Chocolate tends to absorb the odors of food around it, which is another reason not to store chocolate in the fridge. For example, don’t keep chocolate in the same cupboard as onions, as this will affect the taste of the chocolate. Make sure the storage container and all preparation utensils are clean and free of odors.
- Shelf Life – Most chocolates have a shelf life of around a year when stored properly, and the darker varieties last longer. Filled chocolates should only keep for about a month.
- Moisture – Unless your recipe specifically calls for it, don’t add water to the chocolate. Water hardens the texture and consistency of chocolate. Keep this principle in mind when melting chocolate. Do not cover melting chocolate with a lid as steam will collect on the lid and fall into the chocolate. If necessary, you can use a light fabric cover.
- Melting Chocolate – Because chocolate is very sensitive to heat, you must melt chocolate slowly and well away from the heat. Always heat chocolate on a low heat, otherwise it quickly becomes an unappetizing mass. Use a double boiler or place the pot of chocolate on top of another pot of simmering water on the stove. Remember that chocolate will continue to melt even after removing it from a heat source, so be careful not to overcook it.
- Unsweetened chocolate liquefies easily when melted, but sweetened chocolate requires constant stirring.
- Chocolate flavored coating contains cocoa and vegetable oil rather than cocoa butter. Coverings are popular because they are easier to use, for example for dipping, but the taste and quality are nowhere near real chocolate.
- Cooking with Chocolate – Avoid diluting Buy Bounty chocolate box online with butter. Instead, look for chocolate with a higher percentage of cocoa butter to maintain the quality of your product. When mixing different types of chocolate, such as milk and dark chocolate, use the same brand. Ingredients and preparation can vary greatly from company to company, creating distinct flavors that often don’t blend smoothly together.
More great chocolate recipes:
- Chicken in mole sauce
- Turkey mole
- Chocolate Biscotti
- Chocolate Orange Swirl Muffins
- flourless chocolate cake
- Diabetic Friendly Chocolate Cheesecake
- The Ritz Carlton Chocolate Chip Cookie
- Chocolate Dream Bar
- Best Chocolate Brownies
- Chocolate espresso cake
- Chocolate Mint Dreams
- Molten Lava Chocolate Cake