Have a rich and sweet World Chocolate Day, the day we celebrate the introduction of chocolate to Europe in 1550 (though it should be noted that chocolate had been a delicacy in South America for thousands of years before that).
You don’t need us to tell you to try chocolate – given it’s possibly the world’s most consumed dessert, I’m guessing you’ve had it once or twice before. But before you buy out the grocery store’s supply of Cadbury bars, here are a few ways to become a chocolate master.
Understand the science
Cocoa beans are contained in the large, reddish pods of the cocoa tree, which is native to tropical regions of the Americas. The process of bean to bar is a long one: The seeds are first fermented, then dried, then husked. The remaining substance contains cocoa solids and cocoa butter (the vegetable fat portion). It is liquefied into cocoa liquor, which is then cooled with added sugar and sometimes milk.
Thus, the ingredients of most kinds of chocolate are some combination of cocoa solids, cocoa butter, sugar and milk.
White, dark, milk, semi-sweet and baking
- Milk chocolate contains all of the above ingredients, solids and butter (cocoa liquor), sugar and condensed or powdered milk. The minimum amount of cocoa liquor in milk chocolate varies between 10 percent in the United States to 25 percent in the European Union.
- Dark chocolate contains little or no milk, and often a greater amount of cocoa solids to cocoa butter. Dark chocolate usually contains 70 to 100 percent cocoa.
- Semi-sweet chocolate and baker’s chocolate contains little or no sugar, and usually must contain a minimum of 35 percent cocoa liquor. These are best used to add chocolate flavour in pastries and other sweet dishes that already call for sugar.
- White chocolate contains little or no cocoa solids, using only cocoa butter in addition to milk and sugar, giving it a mild, creamy taste. (Many chocolatiers don’t even consider white to be chocolate at all, technically speaking.)
Know where your chocolate comes from
Although the cacao tree is native to the Americas, almost two thirds of all cocoa beans today come from West Africa, and more chocolate is produced in Europe than anywhere else.
Belgium and Switzerland (home of the Nestle company) in particular carry some of the world’s most distinguished chocolate reputations, and thus have some of the strictest industry standards.
This esoteric cocoa geography has to do more with access to high quality milk than access to cocoa beans, which can be transported a more easily than fresh dairy.
The distinctive flavour of Hershey’s (the US chocolate giant) may come from the way its local milk is processed, which results in a high amount of butyric acid.
Colour, smell, texture and shine
Time for a sniff test. Low-grade chocolate uses additives such as vanilla or even artificial flavourings and synthetic dairy. The purest chocolate has a very distinctive chocolaty smell.
Colour wise, good chocolate should have a rich, brown colour of varying depth depending on the amount of cocoa. Solid chocolate should be smooth and consistent and not grey or cloudy.
Finally, the best chocolate has a glossy shine, which shows a rich density that should snap when broken and not crumble or flake.
Should you even eat chocolate, though?
Of course. Chocolate is the best. No, really: recent research has even labelled it something of a superfood, packed with antioxidants and flavonoids that boost memory, cognitive function and heart health.
But these conclusions may be somewhat exaggerated, and you should consider the health implications of the large amounts of sugar and carbs in most chocolate before gobbling it down.
Can you make it at home?
Yes! It’s a bit tricky, but totally doable, and a great fresh, local way to enjoy World Chocolate Day.