Going back thousands of years, chocolate has always been valued in human culture. It’s been used as a mystical element, mood booster, aphrodisiac, and even money. In this article, we’ll give you an overview of everything you need to know about the fascinating food item that is chocolate.
History of Chocolate
Just how old is chocolate? Very old. As reported by History.com, “Anthropologists have found evidence that chocolate was produced by pre-Olmec cultures living in present-day Mexico as early as 1900 B.C.”
When Spanish conquistadors discovered the Americas in the 1500s, they also discovered chocolate. The Spanish brought chocolate back to Europe and added honey and cane sugar to sweeten up the bitter taste. By the 17th century, chocolate was a popular drink amongst European elites.
The more “modern” form of chocolate appeared in 1847 when a British man named Joseph Fry created the first chocolate bar. Just over 20 years later in 1868, the now-famous Cadbury company started selling chocolate candy boxes in England.
Fast forward to current day and, while the numbers are still being tallied, Statista estimates that chocolate sales in the U.S. alone will amount to about $22.4 billion.
How Chocolate Is Made
Making chocolate begins with harvesting the seeds, or beans, within the pods of a cacao tree. The beans are cleaned by hand, and then covered with banana leaves as they ferment for up to nine days. After the fermentation process, beans are dried in the sun for 1-2 weeks. After they’re dried, the beans are checked for quality, packed up, and shipped out to different markets or chocolate makers.
Once processors or makers receive the cocoa beans, a variety of methods can be used to create chocolate. Generally speaking, beans are cleaned, roasted, winnowed, and ground into cocoa mass, which yields cocoa powder and cocoa butter. Cocoa mass can be combined with other ingredients to create familiar favorites like dark or white chocolate and chocolate milk.
The processes of conching, tempering, and molding are important final steps to ensure the chocolate is smooth, pure, and flavorful. After the chocolate is “made,” it can be tweaked in a variety of delicious ways by chocolatiers, bakers, and sweet aficionados.
Different Types of Chocolate
Chocolate is chameleon-like and can appear in many different forms. Here are a few of the most common types:
- Cacao: De-shelled cacao beans (nibs, raw, roasted, or ground)
- Chocolate liquor: Cacao beans that have been processed into a smooth, liquid form, containing about 53% cocoa butter
- Unsweetened chocolate: Pure chocolate with no added sugar (used almost exclusively for baking)
- Bittersweet (dark) chocolate: At least 35% pure chocolate with a small amount of sugar added
- Semi-sweet chocolate: At least 35% pure chocolate with cocoa butter and sugar added
- White chocolate: At least 20% cocoa butter, 14% milk, sugar, and (typically) vanilla flavoring
- Milk chocolate: At least 10% pure chocolate with cocoa butter and sugar added
- Mexican chocolate: Pure chocolate with cinnamon and sugar added
- Cocoa powder: Unsweetened powder produced by grinding cocoa beans and pressing out the cocoa butter
5 Hacks for Cooking or Baking With Chocolate
As versatile as it is, chocolate can be finicky to work with. Here are five quick tips to keep in mind when you’re baking or cooking with chocolate:
- Buy high-quality chocolate for the best results. For example, choose chocolate that’s at least 60% bittersweet and cocoa powder that has at least 1 gram of fat per tablespoon.
- Don’t store chocolate in the refrigerator or freezer because it won’t melt smoothly when brought to room temperature.
- Use a serrated knife for the fastest, easiest, and least messy way to chop up chocolate.
- Melt chocolate with other liquids (water, milk, cream, liqueurs) to speed up melting time and prevent overheating or burning.
- Add a shot of espresso or dark coffee to chocolate to enhance its flavor.
Best Flavors to Pair With Chocolate
Choosing a flavor to pair with chocolate is like trying to choose a favorite child – you just can’t do it. Depending on what you’re baking or cooking and the type of chocolate you’re using, flavors like these can enhance the natural richness of dish:
- Sea-salt caramel
- Peanut butter
- Jalapeno or chipotle
- Strawberries, cherries, or blueberries
And many more…the flavor options are endless! We’re addicted to chocolate ourselves at Ne-Mo’s and many of our fresh-baked goods include this delicious ingredient, including our Double Chocolate Pudding Slice, our Chocolate Cake Square, and our heavenly Brookie– made from a chocolate chip cookies baked into a brownie with a layer of caramel.