The story of chocolate :
Chocolate stimulates the senses, through its taste, its aroma, the crisp sound of it breaking or by melting in your mouth. Behind this deliciousness with natural benefits, there is a quite a history...
Before chocolate there was cocoa. Considered to be the tree of the gods, the cacao tree was cultivated by the Mayan and later Aztec peoples. At one time used as currency for barter, cocoa beans crossed the Atlantic and arrived in Europe with the famous explorers such as Christopher Columbus and Hernan Cortès.
This ‘brown gold’ (as they called it) quickly became a precious commodity, with novel virtues. From the 16th century Spanish Court, it gradually spread across Europe.
Innovations and development of chocolate over the intervening centuries have transformed the product in all its forms, making chocolate available to everyone now.
How is chocolate made ?
Before becoming a creamy, malleable paste, chocolate begins its life as a bean wrapped in a protective pod.
The fruit of the cacao tree is called a cocoa pod. Each pod contains on average some 40 cocoa beans, odourless but with a bitter taste.
Harvesting the pods
Ripe pods are picked and split diagonally with a machete: it’s called the ‘cabossage’or pod harvest. The seeds need to be fermented for several days and then spread out to dry in the sun for between eight and 15 days at up to 100°C in a special installation.
The roasting, torrefaction, of the cocoa beans is designed to increased the flavour and reduce the water content. When this stage is completed the cocoa beans are transformed into a liquid paste.
The ‘conchage’ process removes the gritty solids. This is done by heating the paste for two days in an oven at 60°C. Then the paste is gently kneaded with the aid of rolling machines.
Maintaining the correct temperature curve during the process of crystalising the cocoa butter is essential to ensure the chocolate does not turn white later.
The vertues of chocolate :
Chocolate contains large quantities of potassium, calcium and phosphorus.
Potassium is involved in muscle movement and cardiac metabolism.
Calcium plays a fundamental role in cellular function and in the formation of bones and teeth.
Phosphorus, combined with calcium, makes up the bone structure of our skeleton.
Why is chocolate good for the arteries ?
Because it contains flavonoids that limit the appearance of bad cholesterol (LDL). They dilate blood vessels and improve clotting, thus reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Why does chocolate reduce stress ?
Because it is an excellent source of magnesium which help fight fatigue, stress and anxiety. It also contains tryptophanes ( amino acids ) which produce and transmit serotonin – a neurotransmitter which plays an essential rôle on behaviour, creating a feeling of calm and well-being.
Around chocolate :
Chocolate appears in many popular French expressions – and some English ones
- To be chocolate : the stunned realisation that one has been duped.
- To make chocolate : to play the innocent, feign naivety.
- Chocolate medal : fourth place, good try but not on the podium.
- No arms, no chocolate : Passed into popular speech this expression serves to highlight the absurdity of a ban or someone facing a physical impossibility.
- You’re not made of chocolate (Quebec expression) : Used to chide anyone reluctant to go out into the rain, meaning to say that they will not melt
- As useful as a chocolate teapot : (English) hot tea will melt the chocolate so it is completely useless
- Chocolate box picture : (English) colourful, floral painting with little artistic merit, kitsch
Short glossary of chocolate :
Cocoa butter : The fatty substance derived from cocoa beans. Pale yellow in colour it melts at between 32 et 35°C. It has a long conservation.
Cocoa : the powder obtained after roasting and grinding cocoa beans.
Milk chocolate : is obtained by adding cocoa to powdered or concentrated milk European rules require a minimum 25 % cocoa.
White chocolate : a preparation of cocoa butter with the addition of sugar, milk and flavouring and no cocoa solids.
Dark chocolate : contains at least 50 % cocoa. Some dark chocolate contains as much as 99% cocoa, and is known as bitter chocolate.
Coating : a process of smothering the interior filling of an individual chocolate.
Ganache : is the interior filling of a chocolate. It is a mixture of butter, cream, and chocolate coating. The ganache can be flavoured to suit all tastes.
Gianduja : is a paste made of grilled and crushed almonds, sugar and melted chocolate.
Nougatine : confectionery made of caramelised sugar and pieces of almonds or nuts.
Praline : is a mixture of hazelnuts and/or almonds, sugar, crushed and mixed with cocoa or cocoa butter.
Truffle : is a ganache mousse coated in chocolate and dusted with cocoa powder.
Books and films about chocolate :
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Tim Burton (2005)
- Chocolat, Claire Denis (1988)
- The chocolate Lasse Hallström (2000)