Food Information: The History Of Chocolate

Methods of manufacturing chocolates and description of some of the main types available. Ideas for recipes and uses from different cultures.

Chocolate, one of life's attainable little luxuries, has a history spanning back several centuries. It has been called the "food of the gods", for very good reasons! Chocolate derives from the cacao bean of the cacao tree that is native to Central and Southern America. The botanical name for the cacao tree can be loosely translated as, "food of the gods".

There is some evidence that as long ago as three thousand years, the Aztec and Maya Indians indulged in a slightly bitter, dark drink, reminiscent of today's drinking chocolate.

During the sixteenth century, a thick grainy drink made from the cacao bean, was popular among the Aztec Emperors of South America. The delights of the cacao bean also reached Europe during the sixteenth century when Columbus introduced it to Spain. It rapidly gained the approval among the rich and noble who soon improved its flavour by adding sugar.

The fashion for drinking chocolate spread swiftly across Europe. Chocolate reached England by the mid seventeenth century. It remained, however, very much the preserve of the rich for at least the next two hundred years. During the latter part of the seventeenth century, Chocolate Houses became popular throughout England as meeting places for the rich and fashionable.

Surprisingly, chocolate as an edible, solid bar did not appear until the early nineteenth century. Since then, however, its popularity has become firmly established throughout the world. It is commonly perceived as the ideal gift or a readily available everyday treat. Chocolate has a unique appeal that transcends national boundaries!

Chocolate, apart from being used for eating and drinking, has also become increasingly popular for cooking. It is often used in ordinary day-to-day recipes as well as in cakes and desserts for special occasions. Because of the constant and overwhelming worldwide demand for chocolate, the cacao tree is now also grown in the East and West Indies and in West Africa.

Chocolate is made from a combination of ingredients, all based on varying amounts of solid cocoa. The manufacturing process starts with the roasting of the cacao beans that have been first removed from their pods, then washed and dried. Once the roasting process is complete, the shells are removed, leaving the kernels. The kernels are ground to a thick, dark paste called chocolate liquor. The paste is pressed to remove the fat, resulting in a dry powdery substance that is ground into cocoa powder.

The quality of the chocolate, as an end product, can vary considerably. It has to contain a minimum of 34% cocoa butter in order to earn the title of genuine chocolate. Usually, a higher percentage of cocoa produces a superior quality of chocolate.

There are many types of chocolate available today, including:

Plain Chocolate

This chocolate includes plain or dark chocolate that contains the minimum 34% cocoa solids. Even when used in cooking, better results can be obtained with a higher percentage of cocoa solids of at least 50%.

Milk Chocolate

This chocolate has a creamier flavour because full cream has been added to the cocoa butter. The first examples of milk chocolate made in the mid nineteenth century, had condensed milk added to the cocoa solid instead of cream.

Cocoa Powder

This is usually used in drinking chocolate or for cooking purposes.

White Chocolate

Delightful as it is to the taste buds, white chocolate is not, strictly speaking, true chocolate, as it does not contain chocolate liquor. It is made from cocoa butter, milk and sugar.

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