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Information, Origin and History of Chocolate plus Large Chocolate Recipe Collection


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August  2001



See Also:    Tempering Chocolate |  Chocolate Ganache  |   National Chocolate Week  |  Chocolate Recipes


The common cacao tree is classified as Theobroma cacao and belongs to the family Sterculiaceae. They are very delicate and need much protection in their first four years of growth. With careful cultivation, the trees of most strains will begin bearing fruit in the fifth year. The fruit containing the seeds are about the size of a small pineapple when harvested.                      



How chocolate is made

The processing of the cacao seeds (cocoa beans) is not a simple task. Firstly the fruit is fermented which takes 3 to 9 days, during which the heat dries the seeds and turns them brown. The beans are then dried in the sun and cleaned in special machines before they are roasted. This loosens the outer shell which separates the shell from its center or "nib" which is further processed into Chocolate Liquor by grinding it to a smooth, liquid state. Further processing takes place for the various types of “eating” chocolate as follows:-


Dark Chocolate  is chocolate liquor with additional sweeteners and cocoa butter.


Milk Chocolate  is chocolate liquor with additional cocoa butter, milk, sweeteners and flavorings.


White Chocolate has no formal definition. White chocolate contains sugar, cocoa butter, milk solids and flavorings such as vanilla but does not contain non-fat cocoa solids,  so is mostly used as a coating.


Couverture is a term describing professional-quality coating chocolate that is extremely glossy. It usually contains a minimum of 32% cocoa butter, which enables it to form a much thinner shell than ordinary confectionary coating.


Ganache is a thick, extremely rich chocolate spread. It is made by pouring hot cream over chopped up chocolate and whipping the mixture until the chocolate melts and the mixture becomes thick and stiff. See Chocolate Ganache.

Cocoa contains as much as 20% protein, 40% carbohydrate, and 40% fat. It is also mildly stimulating because of the presence of Theobromine, an alkaloid  closely related to caffeine.


A Brief History of Chocolate

1502 - Christopher Columbus introduces chocolate to Spain from his fourth voyage to the New World in 1502 but not as the product we know today. It was only consumed as a drink. The word "chocolate" was derived from the Aztec word xocolatl which means bitter water.
1615 – Anne of Austria (wife of Louis XIII) declares chocolate as the drink of the French Court , although this was only after much skepticism, as initially it was considered a "barbarous product and noxious drug".

1640 – chocolate finds its way to England, among other European countries.

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1657-  the drink becomes a best seller in England and excessive duties are imposed on chocolate. It takes almost 200 years before the duty is dropped.
1828 - Dutch chocolate maker Conrad J. Van Houten created the hydraulic cocoa press. The press enabled chocolate makers to crush the "nibs," or centers, of roasted cacao beans into a paste (Chocolate Liquor). After crushing, some of the cocoa butter was extracted.

1848 - English chocolate maker Joseph Storrs Fry created the first eating chocolate by further refining the cocoa, adding sugar, and mixing the cocoa butter back in. 

1875  -  Swiss Daniel Peter added condensed milk  to  chocolate and marketed the first solid milk chocolate bar.


Chocolate in cooking

When using chocolate for culinary purposes, use as  high a quality as you can afford - i.e. containing  higher proportions of cocoa solids,  preferably a minimum of 40% for milk chocolate and 70% for dark chocolate. This information can usually be found in the ingredients section on the label.


Be very careful when melting chocolate as too high a heat can make it split. Therefore always melt in a heatproof bowl over very hot water in a small saucepan. It can also be successfully melted in the microwave using a medium setting.  Always store chocolate well wrapped in a cool, dry, dark cupboard.



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