Crazy for Cacao
Nov 10, 2010 10:58PM
● By Anonymous
While we no longer favor Montezuma’s bitter concoction, “chocolate makes and cements emotional connections,” says Clay Gordon, author of Discover Chocolate and publisher of Chocophile.com. “When you select chocolates for your valentine, choose with care as the chocolate becomes a vehicle to prove that you’ve been paying attention in the relationship.” To accomplish this, Gordon says that you need to consider the person you are buying the chocolate for. What flavors does she like? Is he adventurous? If not, a wasabi-ginger bonbon won’t be a good choice. If it’s a new relationship and you are not yet privy to your sweetie’s chocolate preferences, offer up your own favorite flavors to reflect your personality.
Finding high-end chocolate (high in cacao content and less sugar) is easier than ever; chocolate givers should be sure to explore the blossoming world of organic and artisan chocolates. These confectionery gems are made in small batches by artisans who care about quality craftsmanship, fine chocolate, and responsibly sourced ingredients.
Chocolate is made from the cacao beans that grow inside the pods of the Theobroma “food of the gods” cacao tree, which flourish in hot, rainy climates within 20 degrees latitude of the equator. Chocolate production is complex. The seeds are removed from the pods and then fermented, which is when the beans develop their distinctive flavor and aroma. After fermentation, the beans are dried, cleaned, and roasted. The roasted beans are shelled and cracked into small pieces called nibs. The nibs are ground to extract some of the cacao butter (a natural vegetable fat) leaving a thick, dark brown fluid called “chocolate liquor.” This liquor is the base for all chocolate products. When the cacao butter has been removed from the liquor, the remaining product is ground into unsweetened cocoa powder. It is at this point that the candymaking begins.
Like wine grapes, the cacao beans are naturally grown. Different types of soil, weather and climate will affect the crop and influence the chocolate’s flavor. But unlike wine, which has variations from year to year that are noted and appreciated, we are just learning to appreciate variations in our chocolate.
“No two pieces are the same,” says Mary Schellhammer, owner of Spice Rack Chocolates in Virginia. Like most artisan chocolatiers, Schellhammer approaches chocolate making as if each chocolate was a mini-work of art. Spice Rack Chocolates, whose cacao beans come from the Ivory Coast, hand grind herbs and spices, which are infused into hand blended and hand painted chocolates. Schellhammer’s chocolates have unique flavor combinations such as fresh lemon and sweet basil and tangy grapefruit and lavender. “We are trying to create an experience to savor,” says Schellhammer. “You don’t need to eat an entire box of this kind of chocolate. One piece per day will satisfy your craving.”
Philip DeLoache, owner of DeLoache Chocolate and an artisan chocolatier in Annapolis, specializes in custom chocolates and has become known for his Chesapeake Bay designs. DeLoache creates a popular item for brides—their wedding menu (approximately 5 ¼ x 4 ½) made entirely of chocolate, a memorable wedding favor for each guest.
Organic chocolates have also become increasingly popular as consumers become more conscious about where their food comes from and how its cultivation affects our environment. Dagoba® Organic Chocolate in Ashland, Oregon believes that cacao is a sacred food worthy of reverence and respect. Through direct, equitable partnerships in Latin America, South America and Madagascar, Dagoba sources sustainably grown cacao in a way that benefits the land it comes from as well as the farmers that harvest it.
Similarly, Theo Chocolate, located in Seattle, Washington, produces premium organic and Fair Trade specialty chocolate, with the principle that the finest artisan chocolate should be produced in an ethical and sustainable fashion. The company takes carefully selected cacao and stewards it through the entire manufacturing process. The result is a superior product.
Unlike mass-produced, overly sweet chocolates, great chocolate is good for your taste buds and your health. Chocolate enthusiasts know that the stuff is mood altering, containing brain-affecting chemicals, which can cause feelings like those of bliss or being in love. And if that’s not enough of a benefit, chocolate is also packed full of antioxidants. It’s good for circulatory and cardiovascular health and even an upset stomach.
Giving great chocolate will surely impress the object of your affection this Valentine’s Day, but consider treating yourself to a healthy artisan chocolate as well. Like the Aztec elite, you will no doubt experience the delicious emotional and physical benefits of cacao.
- Bonbon: A French term used for any small sweet or candy.
- Cacao Beans: Cacao is the powder made from the cacao bean, which is mashed into a paste, then pounded to extract the cacao butter and pulverized into a dry powder. The name “cocoa” came about as the result of a misspelling by early English traders.
- Cacao Percentage: The total cacao content of a chocolate includes both the cacao solids (powder) and the cacao butter (fat). The higher the number, the truer chocolate flavor and the less sugar. Chocolates with the same percentage may not taste the same due to varying lengths of time the cacao beans are roasted and the quality of the bean.
- Ganache: A mixture of cream, chocolate and sometimes other flavorings.
- Milk Chocolate: Contains cacao solids, milk solids and sugar. Milk chocolate flavor is influenced by the type of milk or cream product used as well as the strength and taste of the cacao liquor.
- Truffle: Truffles are among the richest of all chocolate confections. Some truffles are irregularly shaped balls that resemble French fungi for which they were named. Many have a center made of ganache.
- White Chocolate: Is not true chocolate because it contains no cacao solids. The ivory-colored white chocolate is made from cacao butter and sugar, with added dairy solids and sometimes vanilla.