All About Chocolate

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All About Chocolate

A bowl of chocolate being drizzled

Chocolate is often equated to the feelings of love and said that when tasted, releases more endorphins then kissing.  It is similarly often recognized as having a multitude of health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure, fighting inflammation, and even as an antioxidant. Here on Platter Talk, we liken it much to oxygen.

All About Chocolate

Evidence from anthropologists shows that chocolate was harvested and made into a drink as far back as 1900 B.C. The drink didn’t taste like the cup of sweet, warm liquid that we drink in our fuzzy socks next to a crackling fire. The chocolate drink back then was bitter and most likely had hot chilis added to it as a flavoring. But who cared? It was known to be an invigorating mood enhancer, provider of good heath and aphrodisiac.

An ancient piece of art about chocolate
Ancient Mayans used a metate, a rectangular mortar made of stone, to create a chocolate with an intense flavor and gritty texture.

All About Chocolate

Chocolate is harvested from a tree. Picking dangling bars of Lindt, Valrhona or Cadbury is not how it happens, though. Instead, it begins as a large pod (about 1/2 the size and shape of a football) which grows from the side of a tree’s trunk, not the branches as you might assume. Once picked, the pods are split open and the the beans are scooped out. Next they’re fermented, dried, roasted and shelled to extract the interior kernels called nibs.

Cocoa beans
Chocolate starts with beans that grows within the pods of coccoa trees.

Assorted cocoa nibs are used to produce different flavor profiles in chocolate just as different coffee beans are used for your favorite blend(s) of coffee. Where the chocolate beans are grown, how they’re fermented and augmented “roast” time are all integral to the production of quality and flavor of the chocolate.

A chocolate cake
Our Chocolate & Coffee Whiskey Cake is a delectable example of other flavors that pair well with chocolate.

Once the correct proportion of various types of nibs have been joined together to achieve the desired target flavors, they are ground until they form what is known as the chocolate mass or chocolate liquor. This isn’t a type of alcohol (that is liqueur) but what we recognize as unsweetened baking chocolate. This is THE heart of chocolate’s flavor.

All About Chocolate

a long chocolate cake
Cocoa nibs can be used to garnish chocolate creations, for an even more heavenly taste.

You can find nibs in specialty stores and some spice shops. The first time I came across nibs, I was told that the nibs could satisfy my urge for chocolate without consuming the calories of chocolate. Although I found them interesting, they are closer to chewing on a roasted espresso bean, than to savoring the gourmet taste of Vosges.

Chocolate can be unsweetened, bitter, bittersweet, semisweet or milk chocolate. White chocolate? Technically white chocolate is not a true chocolate because it contains no cocoa mass. It is made from cocoa butter, milk and sugar. I love it anyway.

Chex snack mix with lemon
Our Lemon Crunch Buddies are made with white chocolate.

All About Chocolate

Different types of chocolate are a result the amounts of sugar, cocoa butter and flavoring agents (vanilla, cinnamon, chilis, matcha, citrus, etc.) that are added to the mass by rolling and distributing the added ingredients. This results in thin, dry sheets. The sheets then go through the conching process which is done with heated liquid chocolate in vats.

The chocolate sheets are melted by heat and friction caused by interior rotating panels and rollers that scrape down the the liquid chocolate from the vats walls and base. This step, which can take between 6 to 78 hours, eliminates water vapor and any bitterness of the chocolate by agitating and aeration. It’s this step that, before the pouring , that gives chocolate it smoothness and mouthfeel.

A diagram of how chocolate is made
Process for making a chocolate bar.

Factors that Determine Quality of Chocolate:

  • Taste and Aroma

    • Aroma affects ones perception of taste and your taste is a very personal thing. Again, think about coffee. I have my favorite roasts (Italian or Colombian) and I have my favorite chocolates. Where the pods are grown, how the seeds were roasted and how the chocolate was manufactured are all part of chocolates taste and aroma.
  • Mouthfeel

    • This is the texture perceived by your brain to what is inside your mouth. Cocoa butter has a melting point lower then our body temperature. That means good chocolate will not be waxy or grainy but will simply melt on you tongue (think of a quality butter compared to margarine). If the chocolate seems waxy and doesn’t melt in your mouth, it probably has shortening rather then cocoa butter. If the chocolate seems to melt in your mouth but keeps the shape, it’s probably made with vegetable oil. I can think of a brand that is especially prolific during Christmas and Easter. It’s always less expensive, in it’s shiny Santa wrapper or Easter Bunny form. If you carefully look at how the product is labeled and read the ingredients, you’ll see why it’s cheaper.
  • Surface Appearance

    • Also called gloss, when properly stored a glossy shine should be noticed. Once the temperature becomes too warm (some can start to melt 65℉) the cocoa butter will begin to rise to the surface. When brought down to proper temperature, the chocolate again sets but you might notice a whitish powdery (bloom) appearance. This isn’t mold, or spoilage but rather  simply the cocoa butter that stayed on the surface as fat rises to the top of milk. It doesn’t look all that great, but it’s perfectly edible. As a personal chef, I’ve been in many kitchens that store their chocolate in the first shelf above the counter lights. Not a good idea. I see “bloomed” chocolate all the time. And if the chocolate is a couture or “pass around” type that becomes unsightly, you can always use it in baking.  As you should always do in the kitchen, use your imagination.
  • Tensile Strength

    • Look for a nice, firm snap when breaking the chocolate off the main bar.
A bowl of chocolate
“Always serve too much hot fudge sauce on hot fudge sundaes.
It makes people overjoyed, and puts them in your debt.”
― Judith Olney

Quality of Chocolate

Finally, a note about quality, something that I’m all about. You can go to stores, especially around the holidays, and see large blocks of what appears to be chocolate. If you actually read the label, you might be surprised to find that it’s not chocolate at all but instead labeled as a chocolate impersonator.

Common Chocolate Impersonators

  • Confectioner Coating Chocolate

  • Compound Chocolate Coating

  • Candy Coating

  • Chocolate Flavored Coating

In the same sense that Velveeta isn’t cheese, none of these impersonators are chocolate at all. Instead, they are all chocolate products. In each of these chocolate impersonators,  most of the cocoa butter, if not all, is being replaced with vegetable fat which has often been hydrogenated. This is done because it’s much cheaper to produce and makes for easier handling when dipping and molding. It also enhances the shine to a finished product. It’s easy, it works, but it’s not chocolate.

A piece of cake sitting on top of a wooden table
Taste Our Complete Chocolate Collection here on Platter Talk.

Favorite Chocolate Recipes

Meet the Platter Talk Guys

Dan & Scott split their time between Wisconsin and Southwest Florida and are dads to six boys. Good food runs through their veins, and they love showing others how to cook easy recipes.

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  1. Haha Rylee. I know… you were panting and drooling, weren’t you? I can’t blame you because that can happen to the best of us!

    1. Rylee, Chocolate is long-believed to be an anti-oxidant. However, certain folks should avoid too much chocolate as it has been known to illicit deleterious effects in certain individuals!

  2. What an interesting article about chocolate. I love dark chocolate but I love white chocolate as well.
    You really are a good instructor! Cheers!

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I agree with you on the dark & white! : ) One of each, please.

  3. Lots of great info – thanks for sharing! I love chocolate – dark is my favorite – drooling over some of the photos in this post!!

  4. I think it’s just wrong that this didn’t come with a sample of each chocolate you talked about. LOL. This made me so hungry

  5. I mean who doesn’t love chocolate. Didn’t realize white chocolate wasn’t really chocolate. Very informative post!

    1. Thanks for your comment on my post. A friend just gave me a bar of Lindt dark, which I’ve been savoring! And for the (broken) record, love white chocolate, anyway!!!

  6. I will be forever grateful to whoever personally invented the use of chocolate! Great and very informative post!

    1. Chocolate just does the trick, doesn’t it? It’s almost scary how it can soothe the “savage beast” need for something yummy.

  7. I really liked your article. Thank you. I have to say, though, it seems a little severe to me to say that chocolate coating compound is not chocolate. That chocolate must contain cocoa butter is a legal distinction. Compound chocolate does contain chocolate solids. I think it’s fair to say that it’s a different kind of chocolate rather than to say that it’s not chocolate. You might even say that it’s an inferior kind of chocolate, and if you’re talking about eating it out of hand I agree with you. But it comes down to this: is a cake made with cocoa not a chocolate cake?