Featured Item of the Week = October 28th is National Chocolate Day!
Coming from a dedicated chocolate lover, National Chocolate Day is a GREAT day! Not only is it a day to celebrate, but it's also a day to learn about this mysterious, addicting, and oh so satisfying delicacy.
Yesterday (Sunday, October 28th) was the "official" day, but if you missed it, make sure to have a little extra chocolate today to make up for missing it!!
The process behind the chocolate bar you see at the checkout stand of the grocery store shelf is very complex. The journey begins in tropical countries where cacao evergreens flourish. Blossoms tend to be fickle. Only about 30 out of the 6,000 annual blossoms will eventually bear seeds, and the fruit that is produced is harvested by hand. Just as with coffee, only the ripe fruits must be picked - but not all fruit ripens at the same time. Pickers must be skilled and careful to pick only the best fruits.
Seed pods are 8-15 inches long, reddish brown, and have a hard shell. Each pod contains approximately 40 seeds (each measuring an average of 1 inch). These seeds are extracted from the pods and placed in piles or vats and allowed to ferment for 2-9 days. This is the most important part of the chocolate making process. Fermentation contributes to a chocolate's characteristics.
After fermentation, the seeds are dried in the sun to prevent mold growth. After drying, the beans are sacked and shipped to processors. Once arriving at the processing plant, the seeds are cleaned and then roasted in large drums. During the roasting process, the shells will expand and burst - and then be removed. (These shells are not wasted... they are used in organic mulch and fertilizer.)
The now exposed bean is broken up into small pieces, and air is allowed to blow over the pieces to remove any excess shell that may remain. The broken pieces are passed through a series of sieves and are now considered cocoa “nibs.” These nibs are ground to a paste or liqueur.
The cocoa liqueur is the basis to all chocolate products and will harden when cool. Chocolate liqueur contains 54% cocoa fat. The fat must be removed to make most chocolate as we know it.
Most chocolate at this stage is not quite ready to eat yet. It must now be blended depending on the chocolate product desired. Sugar is added, and for milk chocolate, milk solids are added. White chocolate contains no chocolate liqueur, but is cocoa fat blended with milk solids, sugar, and vanilla.
SIDE NOTE: Recently some chocolate companies have started to advertise percentages on their packaging. This percentage tells the consumer what concentration of cocoa liqueur is in the chocolate. The higher the percentage, the darker and usually more bitter the chocolate is.
So the next time you are in the checkout line at the grocery store, instead of reading the tabloid headlines, look at the chocolate and consider the journey it has taken to reach that shelf.
Interesting Chocolate Facts
- Over two thirds of the chocolate consumed in the US comes from West African countries most of the remainder is sourced from Brazil or Ecuador.
- The US consumes more than 40% of the worlds cocoa.
- Cocoa trees average 25 feet high.
- Three main types of cocoa trees are grown.
- Criollo, meaning “native born”
(the worlds finest chocolates come from the criollo)
- Forastero, meaning “stranger”
(has three subtypes and is 80% of the worlds crop)
- Calabacillo, meaning “little pumpkin”
(odd shape and is the poorest quality cocoa)
- Criollo, meaning “native born”
Happy Dining from Executive Chef Essig!
Chef Aran Essig, CEC, CCA
(Certified Executive Chef, Certified Culinary Administrator)
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