70% cacao content is somewhere around the lowest level of tolerability for chocolate, unless adulterated with some appropriate kind of flavouring (ginger, Earl Grey tea, pepper, for example), although I accept Tomdogggg's point that this is not per se a measure of manufacturing quality. To date, the best we've managed to find is the 88% cacao stuff from Dolfin, who are located somewhere on the southern fringes of Brussels (http://www.dolfin.be we think if you are slavering already) who also perform the above adulterations. Valrhona ain't bad either, though, even though it's French.

Update: Lindt, bless their souls, produce a 99% chocolate. This is an interesting experience, best taken in very small quantities in tasting session conditions; I suspect that even the most devout addicts would be hard pushed to knock it back in any quantity. It certainly sorts out the serious chocaholics from those who are just trying to make their sugar cravings look chic ...

Chocolate and its composition was the subject of a long-running dispute inside the European Union when single market conditions were imposed, albeit not regarding the cacao content per se. A number of countries including France and Belgium refused to accept chocolate which used other fats than cocoa butter, with some backing from the cocoa-producing ACP countries; the British, Irish and Scandinavians had however a tradition of low-quality industrial chocolate production which used palm oil and other vegetable fats in addition to cocoa butter. This led to a certain amount of misinformation from the usual sources with suggestions that Brussels would make the British call their cheap greasy stuff "vegelate" instead of chocolate. In fact, the sole restriction was that such stuff should be labelled with translations of "household milk chocolate" for export to other parts of Europe; no special labelling was required for domestic consumption.

Contrary to popular believe, the percent of cocoa in a chocolate is not always a measure of the quality. The true measure of quality is in the process used to produce the chocolate. The reason a brand like valrhona is so famed is because of the percentage of the actual cocoa butter used. The percentage of cocoa in a chocolate does not mean the cocoa butter content, it simply is a measure of the percentage of chocolate liquor (pure, unsweetened chocolate) used to produce it. Dark chocolates for this reason almost always have the highest numbers, and at the other end up the spectrum white chocolates will have the lowest number even though white chocolate is purely cocoa butter mixed with milk, sugar, and vanilla and put through the remainder of the chocolate production cycle. A great measure of quality of chocolate is the conching process. The reason many chocolates are more expensive when you see them (apart from the standard of quality used in the raw bean state) is because of the care given to this process, the reason being, the longer a chocolate is conched, the finer the texture will be on the tongue.

Yes, chocolate does grow on trees! Cacao trees grow in tropical areas. Inside the melon like fruit are twenty to forty almond shaped cacao beans. Only five in one hundred cocoa tree blossoms produce a pod of cocoa beans. The beans ripen over a period of four to eight months then they are cut from the tree and the reddish brown beans are scooped out. The beans are then placed in a warm, wet place and covered with banana leaves or burlap bags to ferment. As the shells harden, the beans start to become richer in flavor as they darken. Then they are set out in the sun to dry, bagged and sent off to the chocolate factory. There the dried beans are cleaned, blended with other types of beans and roasted at high temperatures. After that they are shelled and ground into a liquid, then mixed well with milk and sugar. The liquid is then poured into a conch, a large machine with huge cylindrical rollers that blends it across a stone bed over many hours until all of the gritty parts are removed and the desired taste is achieved. After that the chocolate is tempered, or cooled and heated a number of times. Finally it's poured into molds, cooled, wrapped and ready to eat! mmmmmmmm chocolate! ! !

Even the scientific name Theobroma cacao testifies to our fascination and delight with chocolate. Theo is a Greek word meaning god, while broma means food, so chocolate literally means the food of the gods. It was the Swedish scientist by the name of Linnaeus who named cocoa Theobroma cacao.

Chocolate has a long and rich history in the areas of geography, science, and economics. Cacao beans were prominent in the Mayan and Aztec societies and in the voyages of Christopher Columbus and Cortéz to Latin America. The fruit of the cocoa tree was used by the Olmec Indians living in South and Central America who invented the word for cacao many years before it was exported to Europe. The Mayan Indians further domesticated cacao and developed the first cacao beverage. The Aztecs credit their god, Quetzlcoatl, for introducing the cocoa bean to humankind. The beans were revered by the Aztecs, used in religious services and given as gifts.

Not only do over one billion people worldwide eat some form of chocolate every single day, cacao beans also play an important part in the ecology of the rain forest and is a 12.5 billion industry in the United States. Since the U.S. Civil War, chocolate has been part of the battlefield rations of U.S. soldiers. Manufacturers around the world use forty percent of the world's almonds, twenty percent of the worlds peanuts, and eight percent of the worlds sugar, PLUS 3.5 million pounds of whole milk a day.

Two thirds of the cacao bean harvest comes from Ghana, the Ivory Coast and other counties along the equator in Africa. Chocolate is also grown in the rain forests of Mexico, Brazil, Costa Rica, and other parts of Central and South America, as well as the Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia. The manufacturing of chocolate occurs primarily in countries such as Switzerland, France, Belgium, Italy, England and the United States.

Concocted as a spicy, bitter drink, the ancient Aztecs roasted and ground cocoa beans into a paste, mixed it with water and maize, flavored the drink with chilies and beat it to a froth. It was called xocolatl (pronounced shoco-latle)as a matter of fact, both the Mayan and Aztec cultures called the drink xocoatl from that the Spanish Conquerors turned the word into chocolate. The Aztecs kept the consumption of cocoa for nobility and warriors. Montezuma and his friends consumed up to fifty pitchers of the xocolatl drink a day. Served up in a golden goblet they were only used once and then ceremoniously thrown into a lake. It was around 1519 AD that Montezuma introduced Hernan Cortéz to chocolate. He was sure that Cortéz was the prophesied "white god" He gave the explorer a royal plantation of cocoa trees. Cortéz traded many cocoa beans for gold, which was far less revered by the Aztecs. It was not only used for ceremony and nutrition, but also because the beans were small and easy to carry and count that they were once used as a from of currency. The Spanish colonist exported them to Spain, where as recently as 1545, they were still being traded:

    200 beans = male turkey
    100 beans = daily wage of a porter
    100 beans = female turkey
    100 beans = rabbit
    3 beans = turkey egg
    3 beans = avocado 3 beans = fish wrapped in maize husks
    1 bean = tamale

Cacao trees grow best in its native rain forest in the shade of the tall canopy. About eighty percent of the worlds chocolate is produced on small farms there. Chiefly because the cacao tree needs chocolate bugs --tiny insects that help pollinate the cacao flowers. These insects need a very damp environment and so they don't survive on the large plantations with no shade. Scientists have discovered these little midges (Ceratopogonidae) are more attracted to wild trees than the domesticated one.

How does chocolate affect the body?

    While eating too much of any food may cause health problems. The cocoa butter in chocolate does contain saturated fat, which can increase blood cholesterol levels, and high cholesterol can contribute to heart disease. However, recent research at the University of California, Davis, has discovered that chocolate carries high levels of chemicals known as phenolics, some of which may help lower the risk of heart disease. Plants such as chocolate, coffee, tea, and others contain high levels of phenolics.
Does chocolate cause acne?
    "Chocolate has a reputation for being a fattening, nutritionless food. Some theories would have us believe that it causes acne and tooth decay. The good news is," according to The Sweet Lure of Chocolate, "is that most of the bad effects of eating chocolate are either overstated or entirely false. Eating chocolate neither causes nor aggravates acne. Two studies -- one by the Pennsylvania School of Medicine and another by the U.S. Naval Academy -- showed that eating chocolate (or not eating it) did not produce any significant changes in the acne conditions of the study's participants. These results are further backed by research which shows that acne is not primarily linked to diet."

    "Chocolate also has not been proven to cause cavities or tooth decay. In fact, there are indications that the cocoa butter in the chocolate coats the teeth and may help protect them by preventing plaque from forming. The sugar in chocolate does contribute to cavities, but no more than the sugar in any other food. "

Does it have any nutritional value?
    "Chocolate is loaded with calories." says Good Housekeeping," The average 1.5- to 1.6-ounce milk chocolate bar has roughly 230 calories, with more than half of those coming from fat. Chocolate provides other nutrients, too, but not the ones you might expect."

    "Despite its name, a typical "milk" chocolate bar provides less than 10 percent of the daily recommended amount of calcium. But, surprisingly, a government survey shows that chocolate and products containing chocolate make substantial contributions to our daily intake of copper, an essential mineral in the prevention of anemia and, possibly, heart disease and cancer. Chocolate also provides significant amounts of magnesium, which plays a role in regulating blood pressure and building bones. "

Some people claim that eating chocolate has the same chemical effect on the body as falling in love--is that true?
    "Probably not." again from Good Housekeeping. They say, "Chocolate contains a variety of compounds that in large amounts can produce a drug like effect, but the sensory aspects of this delectable confection -- its delicious smell, the feel of it melting in your mouth, its rich taste -- are more likely the reasons for your passion. For instance, a 1994 study found that eating a chocolate bar satisfied a chocolate craving, but swallowing a cocoa-containing capsule had no more effect than a placebo capsule. Other research suggests that chocolate cravings may also have a strong cultural component. When university students from Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania and the Universidad Nacional de Educacion a Distancia in Madrid, Spain, were asked to fill out a questionnaire naming the foods they craved the most, nearly half of the American women craved chocolate, while only a little more than 25 percent of Spanish women did. This study, too, argues against any innate biological craving. In Spain chocolate does not loom as large on the culinary landscape as it does here."

Helpful Hints About Chocolate

Chocolate Bloom:
    Chocolate may develop a grey film on its surface, called bloom This is caused by cocoa butter within the chocolate rising to the surface. While this dulls the color of the chocolate, it does not affect the taste. Don't hesitate to use the chocolate for melting or baking because it's rich color will reappear.

Storing Chocolate:

    Keep chocolate in a cool dry place. It can be refrigerated, but wrap it tightly so it won't absorb odors. Airtight wrapping also prevents moisture from condensing on the chocolate when taken out of the fridge. Chocolate becomes hard and very brittle when cold, so let it come to room temperature before using.

Chocolate Conversion Chart:

    1 ounce (1 square) unsweetened baking chocolate is equal to 3 ounces or ½ cup of semi sweet chocolate chips. You can substitute it in recipes by decreasing the shortening by 1 tablespoon and decreasing the sugar by ¼ cup.
    ¼ cup of unsweetened cocoa powder is equal to 3 ounces or ½ cup of semi sweet chocolate chips. You can substitute it in recipes by decreasing the shortening by 1 tablespoon and decreasing the sugar by ¼ cup.

About Melting Chocolate

    The smallest drop of moisture (even a wet spoon or steam from a double boiler ) can cause melted chocolate to become lumpy. If this happens, stir in one tablespoon vegetable shortening for every three ounces of chocolate. Do not use butter because it contains water.

    One 12 ounce package of semi sweet chocolate chips is equivalent to one cup of melted chocolate.

Top of Stove Method:

Microwave Oven Method:
    To melt one 12 ounce package (2 cups) of semi sweet chocolate chips place them in a dry 4 cup glass measuring cup. Microwave on high 2 minutes; stir. Microwave on high 1 minute longer. Stir until chocolate is smooth.

For Pets: Chocolate is a tasty toxin. It contains a compound called theobromine, which like caffeine, is dangerous to dogs and cats when eaten in large quantities, says Mary Labato, D.V.M., clinical assistant at the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine.
Baking chocolate, with almost nine times more theobromine that milk chocolate, is particularly dangerous, but either kind can cause problems she warns.
Don't panic, however, just because your pet sneaks a munch from you chocolate bar. A toxic dose of theobromine for a 20 pound dog is about 1,000 milligrams--the amount found in 28 ounces of baking chocolate. If you're not sure how much he ate, call your vet for advice.


The History of Chocolate:


The Sweet Lure of Chocolate:http://www.exploratorium.edu/chocolate/

When cocoa (the powder) was introduced in Europe, hot cocoa became an extremely popular drink. Due to this popularity large amounts of cocoa butter became available, since the butter was also part of the cocoa bean that cocoa was made out of but wasn't used. In 1847 a new product was developed that contained sugar and also extra cocoa butter so that it had a better consistency than the 'natural' proportion cocoa/cocoa butter showed. This was the first chocolate.

Two Swiss improvements in around 1880 led to the milk chocolate as we know it.

To make chocolate, the cocoa bean is first cleaned, fermented, roasted, and the skin removed. The cocoa mass (= bean minus skin) is neutralized and ground. Part of the cocoa mass is pressed, so that the cocoa butter is separated from the cocoa.
Part of the cocoa butter is added to the unpressed cocoa mass, as well as other ingredients like sugar, milk powder and vanilla. The mixture is then mixed for a long time, a process that involves large rolls. The longer this process takes, the better the structure of the eventual chocolate, and thus the quality, becomes.
After the rolling process the chocolate is conched, a process that is like the mixing process but with slighly elevated temperature. After several hours some more cocoa butter is added and some lecithin (an emulsifier). The conching takes 12 to 72 hours.
Finally the chocolate is poured into metal moulds and cooled. Voila! Chocolate.

The Theobroma cocao tree, from whence derives chocolate, is a native of Latin America, and the Mayans were the first to cultivate it. The word chocolate could be a corruption of the Mayan word xocolatl, which means bitter water, for they used to make an unsweetened drink of toasted pounded cocoa beans mixed with corn flour and spices. Or it could be from the Mayan words choco (foam) and atl (water), for cocoa symbolized fertility for the Mayans, and their wedding rituals included sharing a frothy cocoa-based drink. Aztec legends say that the god Quetzalcoatl descended to earth on a beam of the Morning Star with a cacao tree and taught their people how to use the beans to make a drink which would bring wisdom and knowledge. The Aztec elite thought the bitter drink was an aphrodisiac, and Montezuma, so the story goes, downed 50 golden goblets of it every day. Cocoa beans were used for currency in the Mayan and Aztec empires, and figured in these people's gorgeous carved stone art.

Europeans learned about cocoa from the Aztecs, though when Christopher Columbus first brought samples of the bean back to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in Spain, it was ignored in favour of other treasures. Hernando Cortez, who was given the drink by Montezuma around 1519, brought the bean back to Europe, where the recipe was adapted to the European palate with the addition of sugar, vanilla, wine, and spices. Cocoa was secretly processed in Spanish monasteries, using produce from overseas plantations, for almost a century. When the chocolate craze began to sweep France and much of the rest of Europe by the 17th century, however, the secret of its origins eventually became public. In the 17th century people began adding chocolate to cakes and rolls; in the 18th century the naturalist Carolus Linnaeus gave the plant the name Theobroma, Greek for "food of the gods". Chocolate had become a very popular food, as it remains today, and it is now grown all over the tropical world: Africa, Southeast Asia, South America, and Hawaii. The Ivory Coast and Brazil are the world's top cocoa producers today; Ghana, once the premier producer, has been suffering from aging plantations.

How do those weird orange fruits, the size and shape of small papayas, become chocolate? They are fermented, dried, roasted, and cracked, revealing the cocoa beans inside, which are then chopped into small pieces called nibs. The nibs are then ground to extract cocoa butter, a natural fat, and a dark paste called chocolate liquor, which contains cocoa butter and cocoa solids. If even more cocoa butter is removed, a hard mass results, which is dried and ground to make unsweetened cocoa powder. Richer, darker Dutch process cocoa powder is treated with an alkali to neutralize cocoa's acidity. The final step for chocolate liquor on its way to becoming chocolate is conching, which removes residual moisture and volatile acids by running the liquid through huge rotating blades; the process continues for 12 to 72 hours, depending on the quality of chocolate required. During conching, cocoa butter - and sometimes the emulsifier lecithin - is added to make the texture smooth.

There are a number of kinds of chocolate on the market, and standards vary: chocolates labelled bittersweet or semisweet can vary widely in sweetness, amount of cocoa butter, and amount of chocolate liquor. The chocolate liquor is the ingredient which gives that rich, chocolatey flavour, and higher quality chocolate will contain more of this elixir. Cocoa butter imparts a smooth creamy mouth feel and attractive sheen.

Unsweetened, or baking or bitter chocolate usually has between 50 and 60% cocoa butter plus cocoa solids. Bittersweet usually contains at least 35% chocolate liquor, semisweet and sweet from 15 to 35% chocolate liquor; all 3 contain varying amounts of cocoa butter, sugar, lecithin, and vanilla. Milk chocolate contains only about 10% chocolate liquor, plus milk solids. The high quality couverture (French for coating or covering) contains high proportions of cocoa butter and chocolate liquor, and is used by confectioners to envelope candies and mold shapes. White chocolate is made from cocoa butter but contains no chocolate liquor, and thus is not, strictly speaking, chocolate at all. In Latin American markets you may find Mexican chocolate, a semisweet, grainy variation flavoured with cinnamon, almonds and vanilla. It's used for hot chocolate and the complex mole sauce. Substitute 1 oz (30 gr) semisweet chocolate, 1/2 tsp (2-1/2 ml) ground cinnamon and 1 drop almond extract for 1 oz Mexican chocolate.

Besides these differences, there are variations in the quality of bean, quality of a particular year's harvest, and the duration of the refining process for various brands of chocolate. Bernard Callebaut, arguably the maker of the finest chocolate in North America, believes that in the future there will be cocoa vintages, just as there are with wines, to help consumers distinguish different qualities of chocolate. At present only the manufacturers are cognizant of the origin and quality of the beans that go into making up their chocolate.

Café-Tasse, a Belgian outfit, makes a number of chocolates they label chocolat fin artisanal. Some are delicious, but I must confess to being completely thrown by their Noir Cannelle edition, which is dark chocolate flavored with cinnamon. It is deeply troubling. I am not sure if the rules of combination for chocolate have been fully worked out by the gastronomic sages, but I rather think cinnamon is not a working prospect for chocolate. I have never met anyone who says they like it. Perhaps it has something to do with the things they sprinkle on top of capuccino and whatnot. Since both chocolate and cinnamon can go on top of milk foam, therefore...

I have eaten this Noir Cannelle just once - actually, I devoured the whole 3 ounce bar in a fit of pique. When I recovered my senses, I knew I would not be eating it again any time soon. But some weeks ago I bought another bar just because I happened to see it in a store. It's somewhat rare, and I thought I had better keep one on hand in case I'm ever challenged to prove my tale.

Now I have this thing in my bookcase, and I don't know what to do with it. It is wrapped in dark green paper. The paper is coarse and lettered in old-fashioned type. It's extremely attractive. I only fear how I may feel in the morning if I do what is in my mind.

Albert_Herring asks about people eating 99% pure chocolate.

In my days as a pre-med after college, I always carried a single square of baking chocolate in my backpack. Baking chocolate is completely unsweeted, and very strong. The library study hall was open until 2 AM most nights, and there were strict rules about bringing food in. I used the baking chocolate in place of strong coffee, which would have been too visible. Just a tiny nibble would give me an enormous burst of wakefulness. I used it all year my first year as a pre-med, and got A's in most of my classes, including the hardest math class I have ever taken (differential equations).

Then my fiancé arrived from Taiwan, and I stayed home nights, and was fed sweet desserts. That semester I got a C- in organic chemistry, and before much longer I switched to graduate school in Chinese. I've never looked back, and since then I've never needed baking chocolate, except for cooking.

Choc"o*late (?), n. [Sp., fr. the Mexican name of the cacao. Cf. Cacao, Cocoa.]


A paste or cake composed of the roasted seeds of the Theobroma Cacao ground and mixed with other ingredients, usually sugar, and cinnamon or vanilla.


The beverage made by dissolving a portion of the paste or cake in boiling water or milk.

Chocolate house, a house in which customers may be served with chocolate. -- Chocolate nut. See Cacao.


© Webster 1913.

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