Cocoa was introduced to Mexico around 600 BC by the Maya people. The cocoa tree became known as the tree of life because of its healthy and aphrodisiac qualities. According to Aztec legend, Quetzalcoatl, the God of air and light, gave the beverage to the people to express his gratitude to an Aztec princess who preferred death to revealing the hiding place of the God,s treasures. The name chocolate “tchocoatl” is believed to come from the two Mayan words “xoco” – sound and “atl” – water. This derives from the way the beverage was prepared: the cocoa was stirred in warm water.
THE COCOA TREE
The cocoa tree grows to a height of about 10 meters and grows in warm, high-moisture areas around the equator. It grows best with an average temperature of about 28° Celsius. The cocoa tree is found mainly in Central and South America as well as West Africa and Indonesia.
WHAT IS DARK CHOCOLATE?
Dark chocolate contains at least 30% cocoa. Traditionally, dark chocolate is divided into different types of chocolate depending on how high the cocoa percentage is. The most common sorts are:
•Guanaja (70% cocoa)
•Bitter chocolate (50% cocoa)
•Cooking chocolate (35% cocoa)
•Regular chocolate (30% cocoa)
In addition to cocoa, chocolate consists of sugar and vanilla. The amount depends on what sort of chocolate. A higher percentage of cocoa means there is less sugar in the chocolate. The higher the percentage of cocoa, the more bitter the chocolate will taste.
WHAT IS MILK CHOCOLATE?
Milk chocolate has a lower percentage of cocoa than dark chocolate and usually contains:
• At least 25% cocoa
• At least 14% dry ingredients (milk, cream and sugar)
• At least 25% fats (cocoa butter or other vegetable fats)
• 30 – 40% sugar
WHAT IS WHITE CHOCOLATE?
White chocolate is made from milk powder, sugar and vanilla mixed with cocoa butter. White chocolate, however, does not contain cocoa mass and therefore does not taste like nor has the characteristic colour of cocoa.
FROM CACAO BEANS TO CACAO MASS
After harvest, the cocoa beans are peeled and fermented. Shortly thereafter, the beans are dried in the sun. The drying process takes approximately ten days. During this process, the moisture in the bean is reduced considerably from about 60% before the process to about 8% after.
The drying process helps preserve the cocoa bean and prevent it from being damaged. After drying, the beans are roasted at high temperatures ranging from 120° to 140° C. Conditions for roasting vary and depend on the type of bean. The roasting brings out the unique cocoa flavour and aroma in the beans. After roasting, the cocoa undergoes a long process. Some of the steps are:
The cocoa paste and the other ingredients are mixed together and heated to 50° C. This process brings the cocoa mass to the proper temperature; it loses some of its fat and becomes liquid. The purpose is to obtain a homogeneous cocoa mass.
• Grinding: It is important to reduce the granular particles in the cocoa mass to an average particle size of about 15 microns.
• Conching: The cocoa mass is mixed intensively, at a high temperature of 45° to 75° C, to make it smooth and to get rid of granular particles. The conching process can take up to 72 hours. During this process, it is necessary to add cocoa butter in order for the mass to become liquid.
• Tempering: The next step is to cool the mass to a temperature that makes the cocoa butter crystallise. This is an important step in getting a smooth and glossy chocolate surface.