The beginning of chocolate
Chocolate comes from Theobroma Cacao. Theobroma cacao is botanical name for the cacao tree and cocoa tree from the Malvaceae family. Genus Theobroma has 22 different cocoa species. Theobroma cacao is the name given by the European botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1753. This plant is not special high because has from 4 to 8 meters. The tree comes from tropical forests in South and Central America as well as parts from Mexico. The plant is evergreen.
Chocolate is a preparation of the seeds of cacao. Roasted, husked, ground, it is often sweetened and flavored with vanilla and sugar, although fruits such as raspberries can sometimes be used as well.
Chocolate was invented in South America around 1000 BCE. While the Olmec were probably the first people who tried it, the Mayan’s civilization were the first to plant the cacao. The chocolate and cocoa were very important in their life. Theobroma means Food of the Gods in the Mayan language. Of their myths, Mayans believed that the Plumed Serpent gave Cacao to them, after people were created from maize by the divine grandparent deity Xmucane. The Mayans took this time celebrate Cacao because they thought that this is a gift from the God.
The Ancient Mayans prepared chocolate just for drinking because they didn’t know a solid chocolate. The production of this beverage was very similar to the production today. After all processes (harvesting, fermentation, drying, roasting, grounding) they added hot water, honey, vanilla, chili, corn, etc.
Between 1200-1500AD, the Aztecs also were planting cacao. This caused a competition for the Mayans because they dominated and used the cocoa as a currency. For example fish wrapped in maize husks was worth 3 Cacao beans.
The chocolate and cocoa were very important for the Mayans and Aztecs because they used it in lots of religious rituals. Cacao was also perceived like a connection between earth, underworld and sky, royal bloodline. Mayans thought that plant is integral to keeping cycles of death, life, and rebirth. Cacao was thought to boost energy and made the imbiber stronger.
Christopher Columbus was the first European who discovered a cacao tree. . He sent the Cacao to the King Ferdinand. While cocoa was rare for some time, around 20 years after Columbus’ first sample, Prince Philip of Spain received the cocoa drink from a Dominican friar. The reception to this was so positive that France and Portugal didn’t trade cocoa to the rest of Europe for 100 years. At the beginning chocolate was only imported to Spain.
Throughout the rest of Europe, chocolate appeared in the 17th century. The chocolate beverage was very luxury good.
Production of chocolate
The statistics say that the biggest production of cacao is in those countries:
- Cŏte d’Ivoire
From my ealier blog post I want to remind that:
“The first step of cacao production is harvesting. When the pods are properly ripened it is possible to remove them by knife or machete from the tree. The pods must be pried open to access the beans inside. One pod typically can contain around 30-45 beans. The beans are placed in bins for few days to await processing. Afterwards they go to specially designed facilities where they can be fermented and dried.
The next step is fermentation. The fermentation process takes around four or seven days. But this is depends on the condition such as: temperature or humidity. During the fermentation, beans are mixed in every 48 hours. This process is very important because we can obtain flavor precursors, kills seeds, activate enzymes, and volatile aromatics produced in the fermenting pulp diffuse into the seeds, adding additional flavors. Fermentation is very important because the quality of the Cacao is depends on this process. When the Cacao is under-fermented the taste is flat, bitter, beany, and astringent. Conversely, when the product is over-fermented the flavor can come off as hammy, wet cardboard, and the sickening sweet-sour taste has been compared to what seems like vomit, parmesan cheese, moldy, cat urine, fruit loops, olives or sour cream.
The third step is drying. This process takes around one or two weeks. The beans are spread out over a large, flat surface. During this time, it is important to rake them often. The beans are usually dried under the direct sun, sometimes is possible to use artificial heating but the first option is preferable because can help to avoid some undesirable flavors like smoke or oil. Drying can also be a part of fermentation because sometimes this process takes first days of drying. Also it helps to reduce moisture in the cacao, avoid molding, start Maillard reactions and ensure good quality of the cocoa.
The next step is sorting. During this is possible to remove moldy as well flat and destroyed beans, as well extra detritus picked up in the previous stages, such as insects, plastics, glass, and dirt.
Finally Cacao can be packed and shipped. It is important to remember that bagging, storage and transports must be climate controlled to preserve the quality of the beans. Like proper temperature, humidity or polyethylene sacks must all be carefully controlled and monitored.”
Roasting and winnowing the cocoa. Those processes have a place in a manufactory. Roasting the cocoa helps to get the properly color and flavor. The shells of cocoa during this process are much more brittle. Inside the shells we can find cocoa nibs (is kind of raw chocolate of cacao beans which have to be roasted). After roasting the nibs are sorted according to size. This step is called winnowing.
The next process is grinding. During this the nibs are turned into cocoa liquor (cocoa mass). Thanks to the heating of granular consistency we can obtain liquid because the nibs are melted. After this the product is mixed with sugar and cocoa butter.
Types of chocolate
We have a lot of types of chocolates. The type is depends on the substances which are in the product like sugar, milk, chocolate liquor (ground mass of cocoa beans), cocoa butter (the waxy ivory – yellow fat obtained from chocolate liquor)
We can distinguish some types of chocolates:
Dark Chocolate – it contains at least 30% to extremely 70-80% of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter and sugar. The taste becomes bitterer when the level of sugar is smaller. Dark chocolate can also contain vanilla and lecithin.
Unsweetened Chocolate – it contains pure chocolate liquor, composed of ground cocoa beans. This product has very bitter taste. It is used for baking when it is possible to add a sugar.
Bittersweet Chocolate – it contains at least 35% of cocoa solids and 50 – 80% of chocolate liquor.
Sweet Dark Chocolate – it contains at least 15% of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter and sugar.
Milk Chocolate – it contains at least 10% of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, 12% of condensed milk or dry milk solids. This kind of chocolate has much more lighter color, and is sweeter than dark chocolate.
White Chocolate – doesn’t contain chocolate liquor and basically is not a chocolate. This product has at least 20% of cocoa butter, 14% of milk solids and no more than 55% of sugar.
The most know chocolate’s brands on the worlds are: Lindt (Switzerland), Cadbury (United Kingdom), Milka (Switzerland), Toblerone (Switzerland), Ghirardelli (Italy), Ferrero Rocher (Italy), Taza (United States), Hershey (United States), Mars (United States).
Consumption of Chocolate
The consumption of chocolate is huge. People in the United States in 2015 spent around $ 22B USD on chocolate. They ate around 12 lbs of chocolate per person.
We can distinguish five top nations who like chocolate the most:
- Switzerland 22 lbs per year
- Austria 20,13 lbs per year
- Ireland 19,47 lbs per year
- Germany 18,04 lbs per year
- Norway 17,93 lbs per year
All of those countries are European. In Europe the most popular chocolate is – milk chocolate.
This kind of chocolate is much sweeter than dark chocolate. One of the most popular chocolate in Europe is “Milka”. This product has many different varieties of taste, for example with strawberries, cherry, Oreo cookies, nuts, raisins, yoghurt, etc. Is also not special expensive. Approximately 1 chocolate package costs $2.
Is chocolate healthy?
According to the Harvard School of Public Health a few pieces of chocolate per month can make our life longer and sweeter.
Cacao and especially dark chocolate is very rich in magnesium. The chemical symbol is Mg. this is a mineral who participate in many biochemical reactions in our body. Cacao nibs have around 272 mg per 100g.
Chocolate which is very rich in cacao and cacao helps to reduce a weigh. This is because these products have a lot of fiber who helps with digestion. The cacao also helps to keep our bowel movements regular. Also is good to take it when is a problem with constipations because the fiber in cacao work well during the digestion process.
The cocoa and chocolate have a lot of iron. This element is needed to produce red blood cells. When the level of iron is too low the body suffers for anemia. Is a good idea to intake the iron with vitamin C because the absorption of Fe is much better.
The chocolate is very rich in antioxidants like polyphenols, catechins, flavanols which are responsible to absorb free radicals that can damage in the body (for example cancer). Dark chocolate has much more antioxidants than some fruit lie for example blueberries or Acai berries.
Cacao and dark chocolate can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Also those products have very good influence on blood pressure and insulin resistance. The antioxidants like flavanols stimulate the endothelium to give a gas – Nitric Oxide (NO). This substance is responsible for sending out the signal to the arteries to relax. This process makes our blood pressure lower. The dark chocolate can also reduce the level of oxidized bad LDL which can react with free radicals.
When we are eating chocolate or cocoa our brain is stimulated by them. Cacao can produce in our body two chemicals: phenylethylamine (PEA) and anandamide. The first one we produce when we are happy or excited (for example during the eating chocolate). Our pulse is much quicker.
The dark chocolate can also protect the skin against the sun. The product has a lot of flavonols which are responsible for improving the blood flow to the skin and increase the hydration, density of the skin. It is a good idea to eat a dark chocolate a few months before for example vacation or visiting places with a lot of sun.
Our brain can also be improved by eating a dark chocolate. It happens because of the flavanol which can improve the blood flow in our brain. The product also contains some substances like theobromine or caffeine which work as a stimulant for the brain.
Chocolate doesn’t have bad influence on our tooth. If we have a tooth decay is because of the sugar which we can find in a lot of food products. We have to remember that dark chocolate with high level of cacao has less sugar. Actually, a chocolate consists an anti – bacterial substances which can help and prevent the tooth illness.
As we can observe the dark chocolate and cacao have good influence on our body. It is recommended to eat a few times per month because those products are rich in some chemical elements which our bodies need to work properly. Is very important to remember that if we want to eat good chocolate we need to choose a product with high percent of cacao without many sugar. We shouldn’t eat it every day because we gain too much weight but is good to eat for dessert a few times per week.
In a 100 gram of dark chocolate (70 – 85% of cocoa) bar we can find:
- 67% RDA for Iron
- 58% RDA for Magnesium
- 98% RDA for Manganese
- 89% RDA for copper
- 11 grams of fiber
- A lot of potassium, selenium, zinc, phosphorus
RDA* – recommended daily allowance
As we can see the chocolate is a food product with amazing history. Has good influence on our health and frame of mind. We have to remember that dark chocolate with high consistence of cacao is the best for our body because have a lot of nutrients and very low level of sugar.
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