Lifestyle of the week: From cocoa to chocolate Valentine’s Day | Earth

No sooner have the Christmas decorations been put away than the Valentine’s Day paraphernalia appears. Stores around the world are dressing up in pinks and reds and bracing for the boom in the torrential sales of flowers, jewelry and, most importantly, chocolate. Chocolate-coated strawberries, chocolate-coated cherries and heart-shaped boxes filled with heart-shaped chocolates can be found in all shops, supermarkets and roadside kiosks in the weeks leading up to February 14. Although they weren’t even made as a solid until the mid-19th century, chocolate became the must-have Valentine’s gift. Initially conferred on the Mayan and Aztec civilizations by the Theobroma cocoa tree, chocolate will later be offered to European conquerors. It has undergone some changes since that time, but its popularity has not waned at all.

Love tree

Image credit: Medicaster.

Long before it was a dessert standard around the world, the Mayan and Aztec cultures in Mesoamerica valued chocolate as a drink. Theobroma cocoa, the tree from which they took this drink, is from the new world. Small tree of undergrowth, it grows best in humid climates, in the shade of taller species. A little delicate, it cannot withstand drought or frost.

The tree produces a lot of flowers (not especially worthy of a bouquet) and a much smaller amount of fruit (maybe 40 in a good year) in pod form. The flowers and pods grow directly from the trunk of the tree. Each pod contains between 20 and 60 seeds, or “beans” embedded in a pulp. It was the beans that ultimately provided the company with the first chocolate drinks and a variety of modern chocolate products.

Cross section of the terminal. Image credit: Agricultural Research Service.

After eons of suffering through a dull, chocolate-free existence, Europe finally got wind of the new New World drink in the 16th century, when Spanish explorers brought back the treat from their travels. Chocolate was a hit in Spain and the trend quickly spread to the wealthier residents of other European countries. The drink served the continent’s needs for a few centuries before advancements in the industry allowed cocoa beans to be turned not only into drinks but also into candy.

Food of the gods *

What does it take to grind the fruit of the cocoa tree into candy wrapped in foil to buy as romantic holiday offerings? Is this a miracle performed by Aphrodite herself? Let’s see if we can get some of the romance out of it, okay?

From pods to candy. Image credit: Everjean (L) and chaunceydavis818 (R).

Here is the basic process:
Step 1) remove the beans from the pods and pat dry
Step 2) roasted beans
Step 3) remove the bean shells and keep the inner “feathers” †
Step 4) grind the feathers into a paste
Step 5) heat the dough in a uniform liquid known as “cocoa mass”

Like love itself, the terminology of the chocolate industry is often unduly confused. Cocoa beans are also called cocoa beans. Cocoa mass is also called cocoa liquor, although none contain alcohol. ‡ Liquor, like the bean from which it was ground, is roughly half the fat. After the initial heating which turns the batter into a liquor, the fatty and low-fat components can be further separated into cocoa butter (just the fat) and cocoa solids (just the lean). Cocoa solids are generally sold as cocoa powder. It should be mentioned that terminology is not always used correctly or consistently. (I have come across more than one candy bar using the term “cocoa solids” when it clearly meant “cocoa mass”). Puzzled and frustrated yet? Maybe a glossary will help you …

Cocoa paste / cocoa liquor – product made by heating ground and roasted cocoa bean paste.
Cocoa – low fat part separated from the cocoa mass, can be ground into cocoa powder.
Cocoa butter – fatty part separated from the cocoa mass.

Or how about this production flowchart …

Cocoa butter. Image credit: David Monniaux.

Where were we still? Oh, that’s right… Cocoa mass, sugar, and cocoa butter make up the bulk of any decent chocolate bar (we’ll come back to abominations like milk chocolate shortly). Adding cocoa powder and reducing sugar can result in super, mega, and extremely dark varieties. Some manufacturers have created bars that contain up to “99% cocoa”. Ah, but is it cocoa mass or cocoa solids? Judging by the nutrition label, it looks like lump. So much the better, since a bar made mostly of cocoa powder sounds a bit dry.

Is white chocolate really chocolate? What about milk chocolate?

Shades of chocolate. Image credit: André Karwath.

Here is the deal. Chocolate = cocoa mass + sugar + cocoa butter. Milk chocolate adds milk to the equation. White chocolate goes even further and eliminates cocoa mass. It still contains cocoa butter, which is derived from the beans of the cocoa tree, but so are various moisturizers, and we don’t call them chocolate. But I don’t want to debate semantics. If a mixture of cocoa butter, milk and sugar wishes to be treated like white chocolate, who am I to say otherwise?

As for milk chocolate, the credit for this invention goes mainly to Swiss chocolate maker Daniel Peter. It took her several years of work to achieve her goal (the watery quality of the milk thwarted the process). Finally, towards the end of the 19th century, and with the help of Henri Nestlé, who had created an evaporated “milk flour” for use in baby food, Daniel finally succeeded in making the diluted pseudo-chocolate and loved by millions of people. today.

Bean count

Ancient Maya wallet. Image credit: vår resa.

Your parents, grandparents, or other brooding old people may have told you that money doesn’t grow on trees. This was not always the case. The Mayan and Aztec companies that made cocoa-based drinks also used the beans as a unit of currency.

Whether or not cocoa beans could buy your love back then is a question for historians, but looking through the candy section during the month of February, the answer seems to be yes.

It was British chocolatier Richard Cadbury who launched the first box of Valentine’s Day chocolates in the 1860s. He was on to something. In the 20th century, chocolate became a staple in socially sanctioned declarations of love.

Even those who are not in love with the holidays can take heart; the days after Valentine’s Day have fantastic deals on all chocolates whose red ribbons and curved display make them obsolete as stores trot Easter decorations.

* “Theobroma” comes from the Greek and translates as “food of the gods”

† Beans can also be shelled first and then roasted, if you prefer.

‡ Chocolate liqueur is an independent product, which involves both alcohol and chocolate.

This article was originally published in February 2012.

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