Thursday, 8 April 2010 | Tags: , , ,

One of the most popular flavours in the world, chocolate has a long history dating back over 4000 years. High on the treat list for many of us, chocolate is a popular ingredient in a lot of baked desserts, and a staple in Easter, Valentine, Christmas, and Halloween celebrations. Here are some tips we learned about this delicious, velvety treat.

The Basics

  • Chocolate is a rich source of magnesium. It has ten times more antioxidants than blueberries, and twenty times more than red wine. It’s also considered an appetite suppressant!

  • Cocoa (or cacao) beans contain several hundred flavor compounds that contribute to the flavour and aroma of chocolate.

  • Higher cocoa solids in a chocolate blend means there’s less sugar, which creates an intensely rich, yet somewhat bitter flavour.

  • There are 3 main kinds of chocolate:
    • White chocolate is very sweet, but doesn’t contain any cocoa solids (which means it lacks the health benefits of its darker cousins). It’s made using sugar, milk, and cocoa butter. The higher the cocoa butter content, the softer and more melt-in-your-mouth the chocolate.

    • Milk chocolate is also sweet and made by blending dark chocolate with milk powder or condensed milk. It’s most commonly used for chocolate bars.

    • Dark chocolate, the least sweet of the three and contains the highest concentration of cocoa solids. It’s the chocolate most often used in baked goods, and also has a range of sweetness levels. (See preparation tips.)

  • To choose good chocolate, look at these qualities:

    • The colour should appear even throughout and it should be smooth without cracks, air holes, streaks, or blemishes.

    • Chocolate should feel silky, not sticky or rubbery. Hold it in your fingers for a few seconds and it should start to melt, since cocoa butter has the same melting point as our body temperature. The more and better quality cocoa butter, the faster it will melt.

    • It should smell sweet and chocolatey, with hints of vanilla, caramel, and even berries.

    • When you break off a piece, it should break cleanly and crisply, which means there’s a high amount of cocoa butter. Avoid chocolate that crumbles or splinters, which means it was made with cheaper vegetable or other fats.

    • When it begins to melt, it should be smooth and buttery, rich and creamy. Don’t use it if it appears grainy or waxy, which again is linked to the amount and quality of cocoa butter.

    • Good quality chocolate tastes bitter-sweet, with sometimes subtle fruity or spicy undertones. The after-taste should be clean but lingering, like wine: spicy, floral, earthy, fruity, nutty, caramely, woody, berry, or citrus.

Preparation Tips

  • With its high cocoa solid content, dark chocolate is typically used for baking cakes, cookies, brownies, and other chocolate treats. It comes in a variety of sweetness levels:

    • Sweet

    • Semi-sweet is usually comprised of 40-62% cocoa solids and is the most common type used in baking.

    • Bittersweet contains very high amounts of cocoa solids (60-85%).

    • Unsweetened chocolate is very bitter. Suitable only for baking, don’t bother tasting it! It contains almost 100% cocoa solids.

  • If a recipe calls for dark chocolate without specifying sweetness, try semi-sweet, which is the most commonly used sweetness level for baking and is easy to find in the grocery store.

  • If a recipe calls for bittersweet or unsweetened chocolate, do not substitute or you could compromise the flavour outcome.

  • The more cocoa butter in the chocolate, the faster it melts.

  • Keep chocolate in a cool dry place, but don’t put it in the fridge or freezer, which causes it to turn white and lose texture. Also, don’t keep chocolate near any foods with strong odours, or it will absorb the smell and taste funny.

  • When melting chocolate, make sure all your tools are completely dry. It only takes a small amout of moisture to seize the chocolate and turn it from velvety goodness into a waxy, unworkable mass.

  • Avoid overheating chocolate, which may scorch it and cause it to separate, lose flavour, and turn coarse and grainy.

Be Aware

  • Chocolate is very toxic to most animals, including dogs and cats, and can result in death if consumed. Keep your chocolate in a safe place. If your pet accidentally eats chocolate, call your vet immediately.

Fun Facts

  • The highest consumption of chocolate most often occurs between 8p.m. and midnight.

  • According to the Chocolate Atlas, 16 of the top 20 chocolate-consuming countries are European, the top 5 being Switzerland (22lbs per person/year), Austria (20lbs per person/year), Ireland (19lbs per person/year), Germany (18lbs per person/year), and Norway (17.9 lbs per person/year).

  • In 2001, 3 billion pounds of chocolate were consumed in America, totalling $13.1 Billion in sales. (The combined sales of all other non-chocolate candy was $7.6 billion.)

  • 66% of chocolate is consumed between meals.

  • In 1868, Richard Cadbury introduced the first box of chocolates. He decorated the box with a painting of his young daughter holding a kitten in her arms. Richard Cadbury also invented the first Valentine’s Day chocolate box.
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