For millennia chocolate has been a beloved commodity either as a beverage, a candy, an expression of love and even as a form of currency. The word "chocolate" derives from the Mayan "xocoatl" and the word cocoa from the Aztec "cacahuatl." The Mexican Indian word "chocolate" comes from a combination of the terms "choco" (foam) and "atl" (water).
The originof cocoa beans from whence chocolate comes, is the tree Cacao theobroma, a native of tropical America. Most of the modern world's supply of cocoa beans comes from West Africa. The Aztec people called it the "food of the Gods" and emperor Montezuma is reported to have drunk as many as 50 cups of hot chocolate a day. His was not the sweet version of today, but a thick, dark red elixir flavored withchili peppers. When Hernando Cortez pillaged the Aztec people and their culture, he took back to Spain not only their gold, but chocolate as well. There, the drink was altered and sweetened with sugar and spices. Chocolate's reputation spread throughout Europe and a new source of wealth was created for the Spanish empire. It was in the 1800's that chocolate "came of age" through the reduction ofexcise duties, improvements in transportation facilities and manufacturing methods which allowed people to eat it instead of just drink it.
From bitter bean to sweet delight.
Workers cut the fruit (or pods) of the cacao tree open and scoop out the beans. These beans are allowed to ferment and then dry, then they are cleaned, roasted and hulled. The hulled beans or nibs, are blended much likecoffee beans, to produce different colors and flavors. Next they are ground up and the cocoa butter is separated out. A mixture of cocoa butter and finely ground nibs forms a free-flowing substance known as "chocolate liquor" (nonalcoholic, by the way). From there different varieties of chocolate are produced as described below. Raw unprocessed chocolate is gritty, grainy and really not suitable foreating. Swiss chocolate manufacturer Rudolph Lindt (as in Lindt Bar) invented a mechanized process called "conching", rolling and kneading chocolate to give it the smooth and creamy quality that chocolate is known for today.
Health food or junk food, that is the question!
What starts as a relatively healthful, if stimulating, food becomes quite the opposite with the addition of large amountsof sugar, milk and fat. Recent studies indicate that chocolate is rich in phenylethylamine, a substance our brain manufactures when we fall in love. Thus chocolate is handy as an enticement to love as well as a balm for the loss, thereof. Cocoa also contains caffeine and theobromine, both brain and body stimulants. There are about 30 milligrams of caffeine in your average chocolate bar (a cup ofbrewed coffee contains around 100 to 150 milligrams). Occasional use of chocolate can be a pleasant, stimulating experience, but don't go overboard. Although chocolate is very rich in magnesium, it is high in oxalic acid which in excess can inhibit calcium and other mineral absorption by the body.
In the end, chocolate appears to be neither devil nor saint. At Sundance we carry severalchocolate bars with a conscience: Endangered Species Bars made here in Oregon; Tropical Source bars, a non-dairy alternative; and Rapunzel bars made with organic chocolate & organic nuts. As in all matters, dosage is critical, and moderation is the key.
What kinds of chocolate are there? It depends on what is added to (or removed from) the chocolate liquor. Each kind of chocolate reacts differentlyto heat and moisture and the differences are not solely in the taste.
Unsweetened or Baking chocolate: the cooled, hardened version of chocolate liquor; used primarily as an ingredient in recipes, or as a garnish.
Semi-sweet chocolate: it has extra cocoa butter and sugar added; also used primarily in recipes.
Milk chocolate: chocolate liquor with extra cocoa butter, sugar, milk and...