CHOCOLATE: INSIDE AND OUT
To make chocolate, multicolored egg-shaped pods are harvested by hand from cacao trees when they’re about six months old. Next, their seeds — or beans — and pulp ferment to deepen flavors and remove bitterness. They’re subsequently dried and roasted to elicit their aroma, color and rich flavor.
After that the cacao seeds are cracked open, revealing flavorful nibs; cacao nibs are finely ground to make chocolate liquor, which contrary to its name is actually a thick, non-alcoholic liquid of cocoa butter and cocoa solids. Sugar, vanilla and additional cocoa butter are added to the liquor during a process called “conching,” resulting in all kinds of mouth-watering chocolate specialties:
To make cocoa, the cocoa solids are removed from chocolate liquor, pressed into a cake, then pulverized into a powder. Dark, mild-flavored Dutch-process cocoa is treated with alkali to neutralize some of cocoa’s harsh acid compounds.
What kid hasn’t reached into the pantry and pulled out a hunk of baking chocolate, convinced they’re discovering chocolate nirvana? That first bite makes for a bitter lesson — literally! Also known as bitter, baking or cooking chocolate, unsweetened chocolate is about 45% cocoa solids and 55% cocoa butter.
Bitter or Bittersweet Chocolate
Chocolate in this category contains at least 35% chocolate liquor. The higher the percentage, the darker and more bitter the chocolate.
Dark or Semi-Sweet Chocolate
This general category usually contains 15% to 35% chocolate liquor. Think of it as gently bitter and mildly sweet.
In this all-American favorite, milk and/or milk solids replace some of the chocolate liquor, generally less than 15%, making for chocolate that’s smooth, sweet and mild.
While white chocolate — a creamy concoction of cocoa butter, milk solids, sugar and vanilla — resembles chocolate, it contains no chocolate liquor and therefore isn’t really chocolate at all.
NO FUDGING, CHOCOLATE IS GOOD FOR YOU!
Chocolate lovers take heart! Recent findings reveal that dark chocolate is packed with high-quality polyphenol antioxidants that may promote overall cardiovascular health. Cocoa beans also contain flavonoids (like those found in tea and red wine), which promote healthy cholesterol levels and act as antioxidants. Great news!
Chocolate is also full of phenylethylamine, a naturally occurring substance in the body believed to help ward off the blues, as well as stearic acid, a unique saturated fat thought to help lower cholesterol. How’s that for proof positive that eating chocolate may make you happy and healthy?
A sweet side note: As if that wasn’t enough to convince you to dig in, chocolate also provides a slew of daily nutrients. A 1.4-ounce milk chocolate bar contains about 3 grams of protein, 7% of the adult daily value (DV) of riboflavin, 8% of the DV for calcium and 5% of the DV for iron.