Editor’s Note: In Part 2 of this chocolate mini-series, Pastry Chef and Chocolatier David Chow teaches us the difference between good-quality and low-quality chocolate. To get tasting notes, as well as tips for selecting and storing chocolate, be sure to check out our Beginners Guide to Chocolate – Part 1.
Where Does Chocolate Come From?
Here comes the engineer in me…
The chocolate plant’s genus, theobroma cacao, literally means food of the gods, which is a fitting name considering that chocolate is sought out, worshipped and devoured around the world.
First celebrated throughout Mexico and South America, the plant today is grown mostly in tropical climates near the equator. The cocoa bean goes through a multitude of steps before it is transformed into the chocolate you’re familiar with.
The beans themselves are the seeds of the beautiful brightly coloured fruit, which are extracted and fermented along with the white pulp for several days. The beans are sun-dried and then packed to be shipped off for processing.
These are the same beans that are further cracked open to remove the inner nib portion, which is then roasted to bring out its characteristic flavours and aromas that started to develop during fermentation (similar to how green coffee beans are made palatable and develop their coffee flavour by roasting).
How Chocolate is Made
The roasted cocoa nibs are then pulverized remove a papery skin and ground up. Through the application of continual friction and heat it becomes a thick dark brown liquid known as cacao liquor or paste. The paste can then be subjected to extreme pressure that extracts liquid cacao butter while leaving behind a solid block of compressed cocoa (called a presscake) that is further pulverized to make cacao powder!
Lower quality chocolate is actually made by combining the presscake with vegetable fats that are much cheaper than the super expensive cacao butter.
To make the chocolate bars that we know and love on store shelves the different elements made during the process are recombined and in general:
- dark chocolate = cacao liquor + extra cacao butter + sugar
- milk chocolate = cacao liquor + extra cacao butter + sugar + milk
- white chocolate = cacao butter (no liquor!!) + sugar + milk
Every chocolate company, from small-batch makers to large multi-national corporations, has their own ratios for their specific blends.
These mixes are then sent though machines called conchers where the liquid chocolate is continuously mixed and further ground in giant rollers from a few hours to several days to make sure it has a perfectly smooth consistency and remove any remaining acidic flavours that may be present. This process is super important to the final flavour and texture of chocolate so most companies are super secretive about their conching (how and how long).
The beautifully fluid and mellow-flavoured chocolate is then tempered where the chocolate is heated and cooled successively to very specific temperatures to encourage the formation of cocoa butter crystalline structure (Beta V crystals to be exact). These crystals in the chocolate ensure that the final product sets up firm, is shiny and has a snap when broken (all signs of a good-quality chocolate).
Why Don’t All Chocolates Taste the Same?
The concept of the terroir or character of chocolate is similar to that of coffee and wine.
The environment where a cacao plant is grown alters some of its organic compounds resulting in surprisingly different flavour profiles from floral and acidic to woody and nutty. These differences in flavour can be muddled when blending beans from different regions and countries but the emergence of small-batch or bean-to-bar chocolate makers everyone are helping to preserve and accentuate the bean’s individual personality!
Many larger chocolate manufacturers (similar to how blending is done with larger tea manufacturers) often mix chocolate from many sources to make sure that their chocolate’s flavour profile is uniform and consistent no matter where you purchase it the world.
Chocolate is Good for Your Body and Soul
Antioxidant-rich chocolate is often called addictive since it contains positive mood and romance enhancing compounds like serotonin and endorphin-releasing chemicals and alkaloids like caffeine and theobromine (which is actually toxic to cats and dogs, so don’t let them sneak chocolate!).
The purported health benefits of a sensible (yes, sensible) consumption of chocolate include maintenance of a healthy cardiovascular system, reduction in cholesterol and risk of stroke, and even the potential boosting of brain functionality.
About David H. Chow:
David developed his passion and interest in cooking from his early childhood in the Nation’s Capital and received formal training at Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa Culinary Arts Institute. He draws inspiration from his lengthy tenures as Executive Pastry Chef at the Drake Hotel (Toronto, Canada), Albany Luxury Resort Community (Nassau, Bahamas) and TRUMP International Hotel & Tower Toronto (Toronto, Canada) and from his few line cook jobs thrown in for good measure. He hopes to continue to be a driving force in the Canadian pastry scene through education and helping the industry and public alike to re-imagine chocolate and all things sweets.
This is not a sponsored post.
David has given me permission to publish his photographs.