Basic Inspirations, Take 2

Part II, Chocolate

Like vanilla, chocolate is also a labor intensive and highly refined product.  While vanilla is the most fickle during the initial growing process, the science behind chocolate shines in the post growing production.  Also similar to vanilla, chocolate will only grow 20 degrees north and south of the equator.

Long before chocolate became a common ingredient, the Aztecs believed the chocolate was food from the gods, given to the humans by a rouge deity who later got punished for introducing this amazing ingredient to the humans.  How this myth got started is very believable, considering how non appealing the fruit growing on the tree it.  It looks like a giant papaya, the natural fruit looks nothing like the final product.  It is hard to believe that humans figured out this process without divine intervention.

Chocolate was used as a form of currency in ancient times and as soon as the revolutionary war.

Chocolate is the final product made with cacao as a base. In raw form, cacao is very bitter and needs to be fermented to develop taste.  After the fermentation process, the beans are dried and roasted to further develop flavor.  The shell is then removed, separating out the cocoa nibs.  The Mayans used part of the outer shell as a fermented sugar to make liquor, a  tradition that has stopped with the demise of the civilization.  I bet this liquor was delicious.  Chocolate was served as a frothy bitter beverage, flavored with vanilla, used as medicine and valued for its aphrodisiac properties.

Although this process has largely not changed since ancient times, this is where the development of chocolate stopped until it was introduced to the Spanish, who took it one step further.  The Spanish added sugar, segueing chocolate into the confection that we know today.  In 1815 a Dutch chemist figured out a way to make chocolate less bitter by adding alkaline salt.  In 1850 a Quaker figured out how to add melted cocoa butter back into pressed chocolate, giving chocolate the solid form that we know today.  In 1875 a Swedish man added milk and mild powder to chocolate, forming the Nestle company and really changing the face of chocolate.

After the cacao is shelled, the cocoa nibs are further broken down to create cocoa mass and cocoa butter.  These are then recombined to create the ideal blend of mass and butter for mouth feel and structure.  After the chocolate is blended, it goes through a process called conching.  A container is filled with metal beads that act a grinders, making the chocolate and sugar granules so small that the tongue cannot detect any particles or grittiness.  This process can take up to 72 hours.

After this step, the chocolate must be tempered so that the fat crystals align in such a way to create a uniform structure.  This is done through a particular formula of time, temperature, and movement.  This process is one of the steps that makes working with chocolate so difficult.  Once chocolate is melted down, the crystal struck has collapsed.  It must be built back up again with this closely monitored system.  If not done properly, the chocolate with crumble instead of snap, very important for mouth feel and structural integrity of the final product

The different percentages of chocolate and the corresponding bitterness is a result of adding back in cocoa butter, sugar, milk.  These are then recombined to create different percentage of chocolate, the most popular being unsweetened, semisweet, dark chocolate 65%, milk chocolate, and white chocolate.

Although native to Mexico, West Africa grows 2/3 of chocolate, half of this coming from the ivory coast.  Given how laborious and long the process of making chocolate is, there is no surprise that slavery plantations sprung up to deal with growing demand of this amazing product.  Although slavery is now demeaned inhumane, we currently still have a problem with child slavery.  There are some chocolate products labeled fair trade, but surprisingly, child slavery still exists.  The demand for cheap and available product has created a situation that is beyond immoral and very upsetting.

Outside of a tasty confection, chocolate has long been used as a form of medicine.  It is high in antioxidants, reduces heart burn, and is an anti inflammatory.  Not only is chocolate delicious, its history complex, the uses for chocolate are seemly endless.

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