Understanding chocolate

chocolate

Is there a food more perfect than chocolate? Whether whipped into an ethereal mousse or baked in your favorite oatmeal cookie, chocolate desserts can be elegant or homey, dressed up or dressed down. Of course, there's also nothing wrong with nibbling it by the bar, just the way it is!

Chocolate takes many forms, including:

Cocoa powder

Once cocoa beans are fermented, dried, roasted and cracked, the nibs are ground to extract the cocoa butter, leaving a dark brown paste called chocolate liquor. After drying again, the hardened mass is ground into unsweetened cocoa powder. Dutch cocoa is richer and darker and has been treated with an alkali to neutralize the acidity of the cocoa.

You can store cocoa powder airtight in a cool, dark place for up to 2 years. Try this recipe for Chocolate Turtles.

Unsweetened chocolate (also known as brute Chocolate)

Unsweetened chocolate is used for cooking purposes (in recipes for brownies or tarts, for example). Try this recipe for Chocolate Raspberry Tart.

Bittersweet Chocolate

Bittersweet chocolate contains 35 percent or more cocoa liquor, but you'll find most dark chocolates contain more than 50 percent. Recipes for chocolate mousse, custards, ice creams, cakes and other desserts typically call for bittersweet chocolate.

Try this Chocolate Chocolate Fondue or Mousse au Chocolat with Dried Sour Cherry and Port Wine Sauce.

truffles

Semisweet Chocolate or Sweet Chocolate

Semisweet chocolate and bittersweet chocolate generally are interchangeable in recipes, but semisweet chocolate isn't as intensely flavored (it only contains 15 percent to 35 percent cocoa). Try this recipe for Chocolate Truffles.

Milk chocolate

Adding dry milk to sweetened chocolate creates milk chocolate, which must contain at least 12 percent milk solids and 10 percent chocolate liquor. While bittersweet and semisweet chocolate may often be used interchangeably in recipes, milk chocolate cannot.

White chocolate

White chocolate is not true chocolate because it contains no chocolate liquor. It's usually a mixture of sugar, cocoa butter, milk solids, lecithin and vanilla.

Chocolate's health benefits

Take heart, chocolate lovers! Researchers in Sweden have found evidence that people who eat chocolate have increased survival rates after a heart attack — and it may be that the more they eat, the better.

Scientists followed 1,169 nondiabetic men and women who had been hospitalized for a first heart attack for eight years afterward. The researchers found that the more chocolate people consumed, the more likely they were to survive.

Compared with people who ate none, those who had chocolate less than once a month had a 27 percent reduction in their risk for cardiac death, those who ate it up to once a week had a 44 percent reduction and those who indulged twice or more a week had a 66 percent reduced risk of dying from a subsequent heart event.

Chocolate contains flavonoid antioxidants that are widely believed to have beneficial cardiovascular effects and may help lower blood pressure and alleviate inflammatory conditions. A serving of dark chocolate contains more antioxidants than green tea, red wine, and even blueberries! Listen to this podcast with former PCC Nutrition Educator Leika Suzumura for even more on this delicious topic.

Host a chocolate tasting party

Good chocolate, like wine or coffee, has complex tastes and aromas that reflect the type of cacao beans, where the beans are grown, and how they are roasted and refined. If you try new varieties, you might taste notes of plum or licorice, vanilla or caramel, even earthy mushrooms or grass!

Gathering friends for a chocolate tasting can be a fun way to explore the many flavors of this pleasureful treat. Learn here how to host a chocolate tasting party.

Fair trade/fair labor chocolate

Global trade in cocoa historically has been riddled with exploitation and environmental destruction and, to this day, faces serious problems. But numerous fair labor and fair trade programs and certifications have emerged, offering consumers a level of confidence that human rights are respected in the making of their favorite chocolates. Read Creating Change through Chocolate to learn more.

PCC sells chocolate only from vendors that provide assurance that child slave labor is prohibited and follow International Labor Organization (ILO) Fundamental Conventions. These include strict prohibitions against child slave labor, as well as provisions about age, working conditions and fair wages for all workers.

More about: antioxidants, cacao beans, chocolate, desserts

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cacao pod

How is chocolate made?

Chocolate, known in ancient societies as "food of the gods," comes from cocoa beans, cacao, grown in tropical locations around the world.

After the beans are removed from their pods they're fermented, dried, roasted and cracked, separating the nibs (which contain cocoa butter) from the shells. The nibs are ground to extract some of the cocoa butter, leaving a thick, dark brown paste called chocolate liquor.

Next, the chocolate liquor is refined (sugar, milk or other ingredients are added), and finally, it goes through conching, a process by which huge machines with rotating blades slowly blend the heated chocolate liquor, ridding it of excess moisture and acids.

The result is the sweet, delicious dark brown squares, bars, chips and chunks we love so much!

Learn more

How to melt chocolate

You don't need to use a double-boiler to melt chocolate; you can use a microwave. Just chop chocolate fine, place it in a glass bowl, and microwave for 30 seconds. Remove from microwave and stir. If there are still chunks of chocolate, microwave again for 10-second intervals, stirring between each interval.

Melt only until the chocolate is smooth when stirred; don't microwave too long or the chocolate will scorch.

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