Chocolate is the favorite flavor of most Americans. In fact Americans eat an average of 12 pounds of chocolate per person each year, ranking tenth among all countries. I am sure that I contribute greatly to that average! With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching, I thought I would take a little time to explore the world of chocolate with you.
The ancient Mayans of Mexico and Central America were the first to consume chocolate. They made it into a spicy drink used in ceremonies and rituals, and the cacao seeds were valued as money. In the 16th century, the Spanish, searching for gold in the new world, instead found cacao. Finding the drink bitter, they mixed it with sugar, and kept their discovery secret from the rest of Europe for nearly a century.
Before long the English, Dutch, and French were so enamored of chocolate they set out to colonize cacao growing lands, and thus was built a system of forced labor and slavery of Meso-American and African people.
In the late 17th and 18th-centuries, Italians began experimenting with chocolate as a flavoring in everything from soup to polenta. Chocolate was the preferred drink of the Cardinals, and was even delivered to the conclave during Papal elections.
The cocoa press was developed in 1828 to extract the cocoa butter from chocolate leaving a powder we call cocoa. This made chocolate more consistent and cheaper to produce. By 1847 the first solid eating chocolate was introduced in England. Richard Cadbury introduced the first box of chocolates in 1868, and later the first Valentine’s Day candy box.
Other notable chocolate inventions include the development of milk chocolate in Switzerland by the Nestle family, and the invention of a machine by Rodolphe Lindt that churned chocolate paste into a smoother, mellow texture. By 1893 Milton Hershey builds a chocolate factory in the hills of Southern Pennsylvania and soon becomes the “Henry Ford of chocolate makers”.
Chocolate products are made from cocoa solids, cocoa liquor, and cocoa butter in varying proportions. To develop the taste, cocoa beans are fermented and dried, and the shell removed. The resulting nibs are ground into cocoa liquor, which is processed into cocoa butter and cocoa solids. White chocolate contains no cocoa liquor, but is rather a sweet concoction of cocoa butter, milk solids, sugar, and flavoring.
Milk Chocolate is mild and sweet due to the addition of dried milk, sugar and cocoa butter
Dark Chocolate does not contain milk solids and may contain up to 70% cocoa. It is made by adding fat and sugar to cocoa liquor and cocoa butter.
Bittersweet, has less sugar and more chocolate liquor then Semi-sweet but the terms are often used interchangeably. They contain varying amounts of chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter and vanilla.
Unsweet, bitter, or baking chocolate is pure chocolate liquor with no added sugar or other ingredients.
Cocoa Powder finely ground dried cocoa beans. The Dutch process alkalizes the dried beans, making them darker, less acidic, and sometime more flavorful.
Recent research has determined that there may be health benefits to consuming chocolate. Chocolate contains antioxidant flavanol compounds that lower LDL cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, and reduce blood platelet aggregation. The amount of these compounds is determined by the type of chocolate and the processing method. Dutched process cocoa has lower levels of antioxidants, while dark chocolate is higher in these compounds. White chocolate is very low in antioxidant flavanol compounds. Chocolate also appears to improve insulin resistance and improves mood and pleasure by boosting serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain.
While there are benefits to consuming chocolate, the calories, fat and sugar associated with it may lead to weight gain. In addition, chocolate contains small amounts of caffeine and tyramine, a chemical they may trigger migraines in some individuals. Chocolate also contains oxalates, which may increase the risk for forming kidney stones.
The ideal storage temperature for chocolate is 78 degrees in low humidity. Store chocolate wrapped to prevent the absorption of moisture and the aromas of other foods. If not stored properly, chocolate tends to “bloom”, forming a whitish discoloration of fat or sugar crystals on the surface. While still safe to eat, it can be visually unappealing. High temperatures cause chocolate to melt, and develop crystals which feel rough when eaten.
All chocolates scorches easily. So melt chocolate slowly over hot, not boiling water. Even the lightest amounts of steam can cause chocolate to harden or “seize”. In the event this happens, add 1⁄2 teaspoon of vegetable shortening per ounce of chocolate to reliquify and soften.
Chocolate can add a special touch to any dessert, and it is easy to work with if you take a little time and care. I hope you heart chocolate as much as I heart chocolate! A special interest class entitled “I Heart Chocolate” will be taught at the Trigg County Extension Office on Thursday afternoon, February 13, 2014 from 3:00-4:30 PM. Nancy Kelley, FCS Extension Agent in Hopkins County will be helping me teach this class that will feature learning as well as recipe demonstrations and tastings. The cost of the class is $5.00 per person to cover the cost of supplies. Please pre-register by 2:00 PM on February 12th. Call 270-522-3269 to sign up.
Dark Chocolate Pralines
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup water
1/2 tsp. vinegar
3 T. corn syrup
8 oz. dark chocolate, broken in small pieces
3/4 cup broken pecans
In a medium saucepan mix sugar, salt, water, corn syrup and vinegar. Bring to a boil while stirring constantly. Lower the heat and allow to boil 3 minutes without stirring. Remove from the heat and allow to rest 4 to 5 minutes. Add the chocolate, stir until melted, add the pecans and stir again. Using a measuring spoon, drop mixture by the tablespoonful onto a foil-lined cookie sheet. Work quickly
as mixture sets easily. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes or until completely set. Remove from foil paper using a plastic or rubber spatula. Store in refrigerator in lightly packed container.
Yield: 20 pralines
Source: University of Missouri Cooperative Extension
Hot Cocoa Mix
2 1/2 cups nonfat dry milk powder
1/2 cup fat-free powdered nondairy creamer (choose a flavor you like)
1/2 cup cocoa powder (unsweetened)
Sugar substitute such as Splenda equivalent to 1/2 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
In a bowl, combine all of the ingredients; mix well. If you do not have the nondairy creamer, substitute an additional 1⁄2 C dry milk powder. Store in an airtight container in a cool dry place for up to six months.
To prepare hot cocoa: Dissolve 1/3 cup of the hot cocoa mix in 1 cup boiling water; stir well.
Yield: 2-3/4 cups (about 8 servings).
Nutritional Analysis: One serving (1 cup prepared hot cocoa) equals 101 calories, 1 g fat (trace saturated fat), 3 mg cholesterol, 94 mg sodium, 17 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 7 g protein. Diabetic Exchange: 1 fat-free milk.
Option: For a special “kick” add a small pinch of cayenne pepper to the cup and create Mayan Hot Chocolate.
Source: Purdue Cooperative Extension Service
Spicy Cocoa Glazed Pecans
1⁄4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 cup water
1 1⁄2 cups pecan halves of pieces
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
3-4 teaspoons chili powder
1/8-1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Heat oven to 350°F. Lightly spray shallow baking pan with vegetable oil spray. Stir together 1⁄4 cup sugar and warm water, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add pecans; let soak 10 minutes. Drain water and discard.
Stir together remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, cocoa powder, chili powder, and cayenne pepper in a medium bowl. Add pecans; toss until all the cocoa mixture coats the pecans. Spread coated pecans on prepared pan. Bake 10-15 minutes or until pecans start to glisten and appear dry. Stir occasionally while baking. Cool completely. Store in a cool, dry place. Serve as a snack or sprinkle in salads.
Yield: 1 1⁄2 cups coated pecans
For more information, contact Cecelia Hostilo at the Trigg County Extension Office by calling 522-3269.
Information for this article obtained from a publication by the same name compiled from various sources by Nancy Kelley, FCS Extension Agent for Hopkins County.
Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.