Sunday, January 25, 2009


Chocolate is a symbol of temptation and of satisfaction, it can be rich and bitter, or sweet and silky. However we like it, when we consider which foods truly ignite the senses and give us pleasure, chocolate surely tops the list.

From its origins as a spicy drink enjoyed by Mayan Indians to its current status as a ready and affordable sweet treat, chocolate has always carried connotations of comfort and indulgence.
The taste and quality of chocolate can vary wildly according to the ingredients used and the method of preparation. The key ingredient is the cocoa bean, which is the fruit of a tree grown in equatorial regions. The cocoa bean is processed, then combined with milk, butter and sugar to make chocolate.

The two main components of the processed bean are cocoa butter and cocoa solids. Cocoa solids are responsible for the dark, rich flavour. Cocoa butter is partly responsible for the smooth texture of chocolate, and it melts just below body temperature, which is why chocolate melts in the mouth.

Dark chocolate

Dark (or plain) chocolate is the richest variety. Due to the relatively high percentage of cocoa solids and small amount of sugar, the flavour can be bitter. The quantity of cocoa solids differs between varieties – some are ideal for eating just as they are. Others have a higher percentage and are better suited for cooking.

Milk chocolate
Milk chocolate is a popular eating chocolate. It contains less cocoa solids than dark chocolate and has added milk solids, which makes it sweeter and creamier than dark varieties. However, it is also less easy to melt than dark chocolate.

White chocolate
White chocolate is made from cocoa butter, milk and sugar. It doesn’t contain any cocoa solids, therefore it is not strictly a chocolate, but the flavour is light and sweet. When purchasing white chocolate be sure to check the ingredients as some brands substitute vegetable oil for cocoa butter, which results in an inferior product.

Couverture chocolate
Couverture chocolate is a high quality chocolate intended primarily for coating or dipping. It has a higher percentage of cocoa butter than dark chocolate, so it must be tempered before use. Tempering is a specific method used to melt and cool chocolate which results in a crisp and smooth chocolate with a glossy finish.

Good-quality cooking chocolate
Good-quality cooking chocolate replaces a small amount of the cocoa butter with vegetable oil, making it easier to melt.

Compound chocolate
Compound chocolate entirely replaces the cocoa butter with vegetable oils. This diminishes the quality and flavour but makes it easier to melt and set without tempering.

Mexican chocolate
Mexican chocolate is dark chocolate mixed with spices such as cinnamon. It also sometimes contains nuts. Mexican chocolate is used primarily as an ingredient in hot chocolate. A plain, spice-free version is used as an ingredient in the traditional red mole sauce, which is served with poultry.

Cocoa powder
Cocoa powder is essentially cocoa solids in powdered form. It has an intense, bitter flavour and is commonly used in baking.

Drinking chocolate
Drinking chocolate contains chocolate powder, as well as sugar and milk powder. It dissolves easily and is used to make hot and cold drinks.

Chocolate bits
Chocolate bits (or chips) contain a balance of ingredients that allow the bits to be baked in biscuits and cakes, yet retain their shape.

Organic chocolate
Organic chocolate is made from produce harvested in a manner that maintains the sustainability of the land. In order for a product to be certified organic it must adhere to strict guidelines. Because the production of organic chocolate avoids the use of artificial pesticides and fertilisers, the result is considered by many to be a higher quality chocolate with better flavour than other varieties.

Fair Trade chocolate
Fair Trade chocolate is produced by farmers and labourers who are paid a fair price for their products. Unfortunately, a high percentage of the cocoa beans used to make chocolate are produced by people, including child slaves, who are exploited for cheap labour. However, due to growing awareness, there is an increase of the number of products on the market that are certified and labelled Fair Trade.

Buying and storage
Chocolate is available from the supermarket, either in the confectionary or baking aisle. Store unopened chocolate in a cool, dark place for up to a year. Store opened chocolate in an airtight container in a cool, dark place, for up to 3 months. Chocolate can develop a ‘bloom’, when exposed to warm temperatures. It may still be fine for melting however it may also be an indicator of staleness. If the chocolate tastes dry and unpleasant, it should be discarded.

Taste January 2009

Francesca Percy


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