Chocolate, as we commonly know it, is the product of a long refining process that begins with the fruit (cacao beans)of the tropical tree Theobroma cacao. The beans are fermented, dried, roasted, and ground, and the resulting products include cocoa butter, a smooth, solid fat used in both food and cosmetics, and chocolate liquor, or ground roasted cocoa beans. The type of chocolate is determined by the various amounts of cocoa butter and chocolate liquor the chocolate contains, as well the amount of sugar and any other ingredients added to the mixture. This brief guide to chocolate terminology will familiarize you with some of the most common chocolate varieties.
Cocoa powder: This unsweetened powder is pulverized, partially defatted chocolate liquor. processed” (alkalized) or natural varieties. Natural cocoa powder is light brown, with a strong, pronounced chocolate flavor. It is slightly acidic, so it is best to use natural cocoa powder in recipes calling for baking soda. Alkalized cocoa powder is darker in color, less acidic, and has a milder chocolate taste. Alkalized cocoa powder is recommended for recipes that call for baking powder.
Unsweetened chocolate: Also known as “bitter” or “baking” chocolate. This is pure chocolate liquor, composed solely of ground cocoa beans. Although it looks and smells like chocolate, it has a bitter taste and is not meant for consumption on its own—it is best used in cooking, when it can be combined with sugar to make it more palatable. Because cocoa beans contain equal amounts of cocoa butter and cocoa solids, unsweetened chocolate lends a deep, rich chocolate flavor to baked goods. Unsweetened chocolate is the base ingredient in all other forms of chocolate, except white chocolate.
Dark chocolate: Chocolate that contains chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla and leicithin (an emulsifier).There are no milk solids added in dark chocolate. The cocoa content of commercial dark chocolate bars can range from 30% (sweet dark) to 70- 80% for extremely dark bars. Bittersweet chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate also fall into the “dark chocolate” category.
Bittersweet chocolate: Chocolate, as defined by the FDA, that contains at least 35% cocoa solids. Most bittersweet bars contain at least 50% chocolate liquor, with some bars pushing 70-80% chocolate liquor. This chocolate often has a deeper, more bitter flavor than sweet dark or semi-sweet bars. However, the amount of sugar in the chocolate is not regulated, so one manufacturer’s “bittersweet” bar may taste sweeter than another’s “semi-sweet” bar.
Semi-sweet chocolate: This is primarily an American term, popularized by Nestle Toll House semi-sweet chocolate chips. Semi-sweet chocolate contains at least 35% cocoa solids, and is generally assumed to be darker than sweet dark chocolate, but sweeter than bittersweet. However, the lack of regulations regarding sugar content means that these classifications are relative and not consistent across brands.
Sweet dark chocolate: is “dark chocolate” in the sense that it does not contain milk solids, but it still has a high percentage of sugar and is much sweeter than other types of dark chocolate. Many brands of sweet dark chocolate have only 20-40% cocoa solids.
Milk chocolate: In addition to containing cocoa butter and chocolate liquor, milk chocolate contains either condensed milk (most European varieties) or dry milk solids. Milk chocolate must contain at least 10% chocolate liquor (in the United States), 3.39% butterfat, and 12% milk solids. Milk chocolates are typically much sweeter than dark chocolate, and have a lighter color and a less pronounced chocolate taste. Milk chocolate is more difficult to temper properly and more prone to overheating.
White chocolate: White chocolate gets its name from the cocoa butter it contains, but does not contain chocolate liquor or any other cocoa products. As a result, it has no pronounced chocolate taste, but commonly tastes like vanilla or other added flavorings. By law, white chocolate must contain a minimum 20% cocoa butter, 14% milk solids, and a maximum of 55% sugar. There are some “white chocolate” products available that contain vegetable fats instead of cocoa butter—these should be avoided from a taste standpoint, as they contain no cocoa products at all, and are not technically white chocolate.
Gianduja chocolate: Gianduja is the name given to a European style of chocolate made from chocolate and nut paste. Hazelnut paste is most common, but gianduja can also be made with almond paste. It comes in milk or dark chocolate varieties. Gianduja chocolate can be used as a flavoring or as a substitute for milk or dark chocolate. At room temperature it is soft enough to be rolled or cut, but is too soft to use for molding chocolates.
"Candy coating" chocolate: Also known as “confectionery coating,” “summer coating,” or “compound coating.” These terms refer to candy products that are flavored like dark, milk or white chocolate and substitute vegetable or palm oils for cocoa butter. These products are cheaper than most chocolates, and do not contain significant amounts of chocolate liquor; thus, they do not have a strong chocolate flavor or an appealing mouthfeel. However, they have excellent melting and molding properties, and thus are often used in candymaking for dipping or enrobing, since they do not require tempering and can withstand high ambient temperatures. Be careful to never mix candy coating with real chocolate, as the fats are not compatible and the resulting candy will be unattractive and discolored.
The earliest record of chocolate was over fifteen hundred years ago in the Central American rain forests, where the tropical mix of high rain fall combined with high year round temperatures and humidity provide the ideal climate for cultivation of the plant from which chocolate is derived, the Cacao Tree.
The Cacao Tree was worshipped by the Mayan civilisation of Central America and Southern Mexico, who believed it to be of divine origin, Cacao is actually a Mayan word meaning "God Food" hence the tree's modern generic Latin name 'Theobrama Cacao' meaning ‘Food of the Gods’. Cacao was corrupted into the more familiar 'Cocoa' by the early European explorers. The Maya brewed a spicy, bitter sweet drink by roasting and pounding the seeds of the Cacao tree (cocoa beans) with maize and Capsicum (Chilli) peppers and letting the mixture ferment. This drink was reserved for use in ceremonies as well as for drinking by the wealthy and religious elite, they also ate a Cacao porridge.
The Aztecs of central Mexico also prized the beans, but because the Aztec's lived further north in more arid regions at higher altitudes, where the climate was not suitable for cultivation of the tree, they had to acquire the beans through trade and/or the spoils of war. The Aztecs prized the beans so highly they used them as currency - 100 beans bought a Turkey or a slave - and tribute or Taxes were paid in cocoa beans to Aztec emperors. The Aztecs, like the Mayans, also enjoyed Cacao as a beverage fermented from the raw beans, which again featured prominently in ritual and as a luxury available only to the very wealthy. The Aztecs called this drink Xocolatl, the Spanish conquistadors found this almost impossible to pronounce and so corrupted it to the easier 'Chocolat', the English further changed this to Chocolate.
The Aztec's regarded chocolate as an aphrodisiac and their Emperor, Montezuma reputedly drank it fifty times a day from a golden goblet and is quoted as saying of Xocolatl: "The divine drink, which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink permits a man to walk for a whole day without food"
In fact, the Aztec's prized Xocolatl well above Gold and Silver so much so, that when Montezuma was defeated by Cortez in 1519 and the victorious 'conquistadors' searched his palace for the Aztec treasury expecting to find Gold & Silver, all they found were huge quantities of cocoa beans. The Aztec Treasury consisted, not of precious metals, but Cocoa Beans.
CHOCOLATE AS WE KNOW IT
The first mention of chocolate being eaten in solid form is when bakers in England began adding cocoa powder to cakes in the mid 1600's. Then in 1828 a Dutch chemist, Johannes Van Houten, invented a method of extracting the bitter tasting fat or "cocoa butter" from the roasted ground beans, his aim was to make the drink smoother and more palatable, however he unknowingly paved the way for solid chocolate as we know it.
Chocolate as we know it today first appeared in 1847 when Fry & Sons of Bristol, England - mixed Sugar with Cocoa Powder and Cocoa Butter (made by the Van Houten process) to produce the first solid chocolate bar then, in 1875 a Swiss manufacturer, Daniel Peters, found a way to combine (some would say improve, some would say ruin) cocoa powder and cocoa butter with sugar and dried milk powder to produce the first milk chocolate.