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What is Chocolate?
Let's first go to Webster's, and what do we find - "processed ground and roasted cocoa beans." But we are not going to stop there, are we? To the millions of lovers, chocolate goes much further. It is an aroma, it is a flavor, it is a texture, and most importantly, it is our lives!!! And we accept no substitutes. Like Carob. What is Carob but the mashed fruit of a Mediterranean pine tree? Some may wish to consume a pine tree, but for most, only the real thing will do. By the way, Americans consumed on average 11.6 pounds of chocolate in 1996. Not enough, let's get to work.
First brought to Europe in 1528 by the Spaniards, who learned about chocolate from the Aztecs, chocolate was, at that time, simply a bitter, spicy drink. And, to be quite frank, not very much fun. Well, enter the Spanish, who first warmed the mixture then added sugar cane. Enter the chemists, who ground, processed, and stirred the beans while adding milk and more cocoa butter. And presto, you now have those tasty morsels of chocolate, which Linnaeus so appropriately named Theobroma - "food of the gods." So, we may not be gods, but bring on the food!
We've somehow gotten ahead of ourselves. Let's get back to basics and answer the following questions: What (really) is chocolate? How did it get where it is today? And, most importantly, why do so many of us love it to death?
In order to produce the chocolate of today, one must first start with fermented cacao beans, which are roasted, shelled, and shattered into nibs or large fragments. The nibs are then crushed and heated between large milling wheels or disks. The result is a thick, dark brown paste which goes by the trade name of Chocolate Liquor. This Chocolate Liquor, which does not have any alcoholic content, forms the basis of most, if not all, chocolate products. Equally important, it is at this point where the additives and/or further processing will be the main determinate of the type, quality, and flavor of the chocolate product to come.
When put into heavy metal canisters and subjected to a large amount of pressure, the Chocolate Liquor can be separated into its two major components: cocoa butter, a beautiful amber-colored oil, and cocoa powder. The next step is to combine some of the extra cocoa butter with Chocolate Liquor and sugar. The mixture is then stirred or conched in large vats for up to 72 hours. What are the results? What have we produced? Nothing more than a velvet-smooth blend (or chocolate as we know it today) that can be filled, flavored, decorated, or shaped into the most beautiful of morsels, which we so eagerly place into our mouths and thus melt away our concerns of the day. And why not? We've earned it!
Here are some more tidbits of information which will help you better understand some of the finer points of chocolate:
All the best,
P.S. Many thanks to John at the WDL.
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