Hello my dear readers,
And since February, the month of love is here, it’s time to discover more about an aphrodisiac ingredient from our kitchens.
Are you a sweet tooth?
Well, I’m not really, but a good chocolate I can’t deny it.
Let’s see from where the chocolate comes from?
Chocolate is a food derived from the seeds of the cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao L.) widespread and widely consumed throughout the world.
“Theobroma cacao” is the scientific name for chocolate, which literally means “food of the gods”.
The true story of the cocoa tree starts way back around 6,000 years ago in the Amazon River and in the Orinoco.
The origins of chocolate are very ancient and are associated with the Mayan period, Mayans being probably the first to create the first cocoa plantation in Yucatan in 600 AD.
Already in ancient times chocolate was considered a food for the privileged. The Mayans reserved its consumption only to some classes of the population: the sovereigns, the nobles and the warriors. In those times the Mayan population used to drink cocoa drink prepared with hot water.
The origin of the word chocolate is more closely linked to this type of preparation: water = haa, and hot = chacau. The cocoa drink took the simple name of chacauhaa. Synonym of chacau was chocol, from which chocolhaa derives, surely the first name that comes close to the Spanish chocolate.
Subsequently to the Maya also the Aztecs began the cultivation of cocoa, and later the production of chocolate; they associated chocolate with Xochiquetzal, the goddess of fertility.
The Aztecs used the seeds also as currency: 100 seeds to buy a slave, 10 for a rabbit.
With mystical and religious value, cocoa was consumed by the elite during important ceremonies, offered together with incense as a sacrifice to the gods and sometimes mixed with the blood of the priests themselves.
In addition to a liturgical and ceremonial use, in the Americas chocolate was consumed as a drink, called xocoatl, often flavored with vanilla, chilli and pepper. This drink was obtained hot or cold with the addition of water and any other thickening or nutrient components, such as flour and minerals. Xocoatl had the effect of alleviating the sensation of fatigue, an effect probably due to the theobromine contained in it.
How did the cocoa get to Europe?
In 1502 cocoa was brought to Europe, for the first time, by Christopher Columbus on his return from Honduras, his fourth and last trip, but he did not give any importance to the discovery, probably affected by the bitter taste of the drink.
It was only in 1519 that Fernando Cortés, convinced of the success that such a drink would have had in the living rooms, brought it back with him to Europe. But even later, towards the end of the 1500s, the Spanish Jesuits, custodians of a long tradition of blends and infusions, added sugar to correct their natural bitterness and removed the pepper and chilli pepper.
Throughout the 16th century, chocolate remained a Spanish exclusive. Chocolate drinks developed in Spain in a mixture with pepper, vanilla, sugar or with wine and beer, so much so that they became so important in Spanish society that they were served during mass.
Then in the 17th century at the French court, chocolate was very successful as it was considered an aphrodisiac drink, and subjected to heavy rates it subsequently became a drink for the use of the rich, chocolate becoming in this way a fashionable drink.
In the 17th and 18th centuries it became a very popular drink in England and the chocolate houses began to compete with the traditional pub.
It arrives in Italy in 1635. In the late 1700s the first parlor chocolate, as we know it today, was invented in Turin.
In 1802 Bozzelli invented a machine to refine the cocoa paste and mix it with sugar and vanilla, although it will be necessary to wait until 1847, in England, for the system to be developed to produce the first commercial chocolate bar.
In 1826 Pierre Paul Caffarel began the production of chocolate in large quantities thanks to a new machine and in 1828 the Dutch J. Van Houten patented a method for extracting fat from cocoa beans by transforming them into cocoa powder and cocoa butter and developed also the so-called Dutch process, consisting of treating cocoa with alkali to remove its bitter taste.
The first commercial industry in the UK (J.S. Fry) started working in Bristol in 1728. The first version of the chocolate bar is credited to J.S. Fry and son, when in 1847 they mixed sugar, cocoa butter with chocolate powder and thus prepared the first chocolate bar.
In 1875, Daniel Peter began to include milk and sugar as ingredients, introducing milk chocolate to the market. To remove the water contained in the milk, allowing a longer conservation, he was assisted by a neighbour, a gentleman named Henri Nestlé, whose name we all know.
In 1879 Rudolph Lindt finally invented the process called conching, in which the granite rollers passed back and forth even for days on the chocolate mass, reducing the dimensions of the cocoa particles and partially eliminating the acidic substances, improving their flavor and consistency.
Lindt produces the first fondant chocolate, the “dark”. Before, in fact, the chocolate bar had to be chewed. But now it melts in your mouth.
Milton Hershey was the first industrial chocolate maker with its “Hershey bar” sold for five cents.
The cocoa plant, of the genus Theobroma, was born in tropical America thanks to the favorable Mexican hot and humid climate, and to a rich and very deep soil.
It comes in the form of a tree from 8 to 10 m high, with greyish branches, large, persistent, alternate, acute, internal leaves.
On the trunk and on the large branches, small white or pink flowers are born, while the fruits or the pods, a shell called cabossa, of 15-20 cm long and 6-12 cm large, each have 10 longitudinal furrows and a hard skin. Each fruit contains up to 50 seeds, from which the cocoa is made. During the harvest, the cabossa is opened with a machete to expose the beans. The pulp and cocoa seeds are removed and dried for several days.
About 400 dried beans are required to make one pound (454 grams) of chocolate.
Cocoa plantations begin to produce fruit after 4 or 5 years. Each plant supplies 1-2 kg of dry seeds and bears fruit twice a year.
One person can harvest an estimated 650 cocoa pods per day.
From one hectare of cocoa beans about 300 kg of marketable product are obtained. The cocoa bean contains about 50% fat, called “cocoa butter”, from 0.07% to 0.36% of caffeine, from 1% to 4% of theobromine, from 2.6% to 16% of tannins, 15% of proteins, 15% of starches, also vitamins B and sugars.
Cocoa processing is long and involves several stages:
The transformation of cocoa into chocolate is a long and difficult process which requires heavy investments in machinery and great professionalism.
The first stages of processing allow to obtain the semi-finished product which is the basis of all subsequent preparations: the cocoa mass.
The roasting process is of central importance in determining the final quality of the product, allowing the cocoa to express its aroma and flavor characteristics. The cocoa roasting must be carried out by carefully dosing temperature and duration.
The roasted cocoa is subsequently reduced to grain; the beans are chopped using a cocoa-breaker and the grain obtained is subsequently ground, so as to obtain the mass (or liqueur) of cocoa which can be stored in controlled temperature and humidity conditions and sold as a semi-finished product to the chocolatiers.
These first two stages of processing are not carried out on an artisanal level, precisely because of the large investment in machinery that would be necessary.
Currently in Italy only the large confectionery industries are able to do it for their internal needs, small artisans are forced to purchase the cocoa mass processed by specialized companies without direct control over the origin of the raw material, cocoa.
The master chocolatiers are the real protagonists of the last stages of processing which, starting from the right choice of ingredients and a wise dosage, the result of experience and craft, leads to the finished product.
Mixing: depending on the product you want to prepare, the ingredients (sugar, vanilla, milk, hazelnuts, etc.) are mixed to obtain a chocolate-based mass, pleasant but grainy on the palate.
For the Dark: cocoa paste, cocoa butter, sugar and vanilla;
For milk chocolate: as above, but with the addition of milk or milk powder;
For white chocolate: cocoa butter, sugar, vanilla, milk or milk powder
Soy lecithin is also often added, which acts as an emulsifying agent promoting greater homogenization of the ingredients.
Refining: with refining, a reduction in the grain size of the chocolate is obtained, in order to eliminate the sensation of sand that would otherwise be felt on the palate. The pasta is made to pass through refining machines, equipped with 3-5 cylinders, which reduce the solid particles to a size of 16-20 thousandths of a millimeter.
Conching: after the addition of the necessary ingredients for the transformation into chocolate, the product obtained is placed in special containers called basins. Here the dough is mixed, for hours or days depending on the chocolates and the desired degree of acidity, obtaining a fluid paste, free of relative humidity and volatile acids and giving the chocolate its definitive personality.
Tempering: the chocolate that comes out of the “conching” (80 ° C) then passes to the tempering machine, which lowers (in the case of dark chocolate) the temperature to 28 ° C, and then brings it back to 31 ° C. The thermal shock suffered by the product reduces the unstable crystals of cocoa butter in large numbers. Thanks to this process, the chocolate will acquire brightness, shelf life and consistency. The incorrect execution of the tempering involves the opacity of the chocolate, the early bleaching and the difficulty of modelling.
Modelling and packaging: modelling is the procedure that allows to prepare bars, chocolates, chocolate bars, etc. The liquid chocolate is then poured into molds which are made to advance on a belt subjected to continuous vibrations with the aim of eliminating as much as possible the air bubbles inside the tablet. Finally the shapes pass through a cooling tunnel in which the chocolate solidifies and contracts, obtaining a well-polished cold mass which is easily detached from the molds. These are then wrapped up and prepared for shipment.
The cocoa varieties are mainly three:
Forastero (80% of world production);
Criollo (10% of world production), of superior aroma and quality, often used to cut the Forastero;
Trinitario (remaining 10%) is a hybrid between Criollo and Forastero varieties.
There are also three large areas where cocoa is grown in large quantities:
American cocoa: the most appreciated are the Mexican one, the Brazilian Bahìa, grown in Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador and finally the Chuao and Porcelana, grown in Venezuela;
Asian cocoa: Indonesia and Sri Lanka;
African cocoa: the quality produced in Ghana and also those grown in Cameroon, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Madagascar are important.
I will stop here for now as this post is starting to be quite long but stay tuned and find out how to recognise a good chocolate, how to taste it and what are its benefits!
To be continued…