Saturday, April 11, 2009

Chocolate


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
Important:

    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.

Yield:
    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.

Sources

The History of Chocolate

iVillage

The Sweet Lure of Chocolate

Picture Source

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