Chocolate comprises a number of raw and processed foods produced from the seed of the tropical Theobroma cacao tree. Cacao has been cultivated for at least three millennia in Mexico, Central and South America, with its earliest documented use around 1100 BC. The majority of the Mesoamerican peoples made chocolate beverages, including the Aztecs, who made it into a beverage known as xocolātl, a Nahuatl word meaning "bitter water". The seeds of the cacao tree have an intense bitter taste, and must be fermented to develop the flavor.
Types of chocolate
Chocolate is a popular ingredient and available in many types. Different forms and flavors of chocolate are produced by varying the quantities of the different ingredients. Other flavors can be obtained by varying the time and temperature when roasting the beans. Unsweetened chocolate is pure chocolate liquor, also known as bitter, baking chocolate or cooking chocolate, mixed with some form of fat to produce a solid substance. It is unadulterated chocolate: the pure, ground, roasted chocolate beans impart a strong, deep chocolate flavor. With the addition of sugar, however, it is used as the base for cakes, brownies, confections, and cookies.
- Dark chocolate is produced by adding fat and sugar to cacao. It is chocolate without milk as an additive, although in the United States it is added in most commonly found chocolates. It is sometimes called "plain chocolate" and "black chocolate". The U.S. Government has no definition for dark chocolate, only "sweet chocolate", which requires a 15% concentration of chocolate liquor. Sweet chocolate is not necessarily dark chocolate as there is no restriction of milk in it. European rules specify a minimum of 35% cocoa solids.
- Milk chocolate is chocolate with milk powder, liquid milk, or condensed milk added. The U.S. Government requires a 10% concentration of chocolate liquor. EU regulations specify a minimum of 25% cocoa solids. In the 1870s, Swiss confectioner Daniel Peter invented process of solidifying milk chocolate using condensed milk, which was invented by Henri Nestle in the 1800s.
- Hershey process milk chocolate, invented by Milton S. Hershey, founder of The Hershey Company, can be produced more economically since it is less sensitive to the freshness of the milk. Although the process is still a trade secret, experts speculate that the milk is partially lipolyzed, producing butyric acid, which stabilizes the milk from further fermentation. This compound gives the product a particular sour, "tangy" taste, to which the American public has become accustomed, to the point that other manufacturers now simply add butyric acid to their milk chocolates.
- Semisweet chocolate is frequently used for cooking purposes. It is a dark chocolate with a low (typically half) sugar content.
- Bittersweet chocolate (also called baking chocolate) is chocolate liquor (or unsweetened chocolate) to which some sugar (typically a third), more cocoa butter, vanilla and sometimes lecithin has been added. It has less sugar and more liquor than semisweet chocolate, but the two are interchangeable in baking. Bittersweet and semisweet chocolates are sometimes referred to as 'couverture' (chocolate that contains at least 32 percent cocoa butter); many brands now print on the package the percentage of cocoa (as chocolate liquor and added cocoa butter) contained. The rule is that the higher the percentage of cocoa, the less sweet the chocolate will be. The American FDA classifies chocolate as either "bittersweet" or "semisweet" that contain at least 35% cacao (either cacao solids or butter from the cacao beans).
- Couverture is a term used for chocolates rich in cocoa butter. Popular brands of couverture used by professional pastry chefs and often sold in gourmet and specialty food stores include: Valrhona, Felchlin, Lindt & Sprüngli, Scharffen Berger, Cacao Barry, Callebaut, and Guittard. These chocolates contain a high percentage of cocoa (sometimes 70% or more) and have a total fat content of 30-40%. The European palate is more accustomed to high percentage chocolate, with ordinary supermarkets in Europe commonly carrying 85% cocoa and even 99% cocoa bars for as-is consumption, not cooking. Higher cocoa percentages command a higher price.
- White chocolate (also called white baking chocolate or white baking bar) is a confection based on sugar, nutmeg, and fat (either cocoa butter or vegetable oils) without the cocoa solids. Some consider white chocolate not to even be chocolate, because of the lack of cocoa solids.
- Cocoa powder. There are two types of unsweetened baking cocoa available: natural cocoa (like the sort produced by Hershey's and Nestlé using the Broma process), and Dutch-process cocoa (such as the Hershey's European Style Cocoa and the Droste brand). Both are made by pulverising partially defatted chocolate liquor and removing nearly all the cocoa butter. Natural cocoa is light in colour and somewhat acidic with a strong chocolate flavour. Natural cocoa is commonly used in recipes which call for baking soda. Because baking soda is an alkali, combining it with natural cocoa creates a leavening action that allows the batter to rise during baking. Dutch-process cocoa is processed with alkali to neutralise its natural acidity. Dutch cocoa is slightly milder in taste, with a deeper and warmer colour than natural cocoa. Dutch-process cocoa is frequently used for chocolate drinks such as hot chocolate due to its ease in blending with liquids. Unfortunately, Dutch processing destroys most of the flavonoids present in cocoa.
- Compound chocolate is the technical term for a confection combining cocoa with vegetable fat, usually tropical fats and/or hydrogenated fats, as a replacement for cocoa butter. It is primarily used for candy bar coatings, but because it does not contain cocoa butter, in the US it is not allowed to be called "chocolate." This is especially true for much candy passed as "white chocolate" , which need not contain anything from the cacao bush at all. This can translate to poor taste, texture and possibly health concerns, particularly when partially hydrogenated oils are used to replace cacao butter.
Chocolate chips are small chunks of chocolate. They are often sold in a round, flat-bottomed teardrop shape (similar to a Hershey's Kiss). They are available in numerous sizes, from large to miniature, but are usually around 1 cm in diameter.
Originally, chocolate chips were made of semi-sweet chocolate, but today there are many flavors of chips. These include bittersweet chocolate chips, peanut butter chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, mint chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, dark chocolate chips, milk chocolate chips, and white and dark swirled chocolate chips.
Store chocolate well wrapped in a cool, dry place for up to 4 months.