Before the “37 Chocolates” challenge, all I really knew about chocolate was that it was made from cacao beans grown in faraway countries and that making it was a labor-intensive process. That was about it. As the challenge unfolded, I have learned interesting, puzzling, sometimes disturbing facts about cacao and chocolate that I’d like to share with you today.
1) There is “cacao” and then there is “cocoa”. I always knew about “cocoa” but “cacao”? I thought that was the French term for “cacao”! As it turns out, the term “cacao” is usually used to refer to the bean of the fruit of the cacao tree but, once fermented, it is typically referred to as “cocoa”. This is the explanation I found on the Equal Exchange website as well as in the book called Raising the Bar, The Future of Fine Chocolate.
2) Ivory Coast is the #1 producing region of cacao beans in the world.
3) Shockingly, the cacao grown in West African plantations, including those in Ivory Coast, has been associated with child slavery. The topic is well documented – in 2014, CNN even devoted an entire documentary on the issue – and a corporation like Nestle cannot guarantee that the cacao used its chocolate products does not involve child slavery. To me, that meant farewell to most mass-produced chocolate candy bars that are the most likely to contain cacao from West Africa.
As a consumer, feel free to ask a manufacturer about the origin of the cacao used in their chocolate products. To learn more about the issue of child slavery in cacao plantation, check the CNN Freedom Project page.
4) A 70% chocolate is not a 70% chocolate. Let me explain: the 70% chocolate bars you buy at the grocery store are usually made from a blend of cacao beans formulated to taste like what we have come to associate to “chocolate”. If you are mostly used to these bars, your first taste of a quality, single origin chocolate, will send you to a land of both delight and confusion.
I will never forget my first taste of a 70% Madagascar chocolate, whose complete lack of bitterness and bright citrus notes totally threw my taste buds off: that bar did NOT taste like chocolate! As you further explore the world of single origin chocolate, you will discover that an 80% bar is not always darker or more bitter than a 70% chocolate bar from the grocery store and you may find that a 70%, single origin chocolate is too sweet for your taste. In the world of single origin chocolate, the percentage of cacao specified on a wrapper is not an indication of how dark, bitter, or “chocolate-y” your bar will be.
If you are not familiar with the notion of single origin chocolate, check this article on The Kitchn website.
5) A chocolate-maker is not a chocolatier. It took me months before I realized you could not use these terms interchangeably. A chocolate-maker makes chocolate from scratch, starting from cacao beans. A chocolatier uses already-made chocolate, typically referred to “couverture chocolate”, to use in his or her chocolate creations (think truffles and bonbons, or even bars.) I like to say that chocolate-makers express their personality by making chocolate and chocolatiers by making chocolate confections.
To learn more about the steps involved in the chocolate-making process, check this article by Ecole Chocolat.
Now, tell me, what are some facts about chocolate you have learned through this post?
10 thoughts on “5 Things I Did Not Know About Chocolate”
Hello Estelle, So happy to have learned more things about Chocolate thanks to you. The Chocolate World is definitely where you fit in. You know how to speak about it so well. I have learned the facts 4 and 5, not surprised by fact 3 unfortunately, I had forgotten fact 2 and 1. Now you made of me a better chocolate lover 🙂 Considering more and more exploring this world in the future. 😉
Thank you so much for the kind and encouraging words, Gabrielle!
Fun fact – 70% Dark means “70% Cocoa” but that does not mean 70% cacao beans. There can be any percentage of cocoa butter within that 70% Dark bar! So imagine the difference between a 70% Dark where there are only two ingredients, a 70% Dark where 68% is cacao, 2% is cocoa butter, and the rest sugar, and a 70% Dark where 55% is cacao, 15% is cocoa butter, and the rest sugar! They would all taste vastly different and there are no standards for labeling cocoa butter.
Thanks David for mentioning that, that’s something I also learned during the challenge. Maybe I should add a 6th bullet 😉
#4 and #5 I did not know at all! I’ve actually been quite confused whenever I’ve tried various dark chocolate bars that claim to consist of the same percentage of chocolate, but some taste like they’ve been purposefully made to be quite bitter (like fake bitter). I definitely need to learn more about how chocolate is made and what techniques are used to bring out various levels of flavor in them. Very interesting and educational post!
Your first bite of Madagascar chocolate will really blow you away. If you find a good Madagascar, it will change your perception of chocolate forever!
[…] yes, but, it is not always made by the company whose name appears on the bar. As I mentioned in a previous post, a chocolatier uses already-made chocolate, typically referred to “couverture chocolate”, to […]
[…] as mentioning the name of the region or the actual estate where the cacao is from. Remember that 40% of the world’s cacao comes from West Africa, where the practice of child slavery is unfortunately still common on some plantations. When you […]
Hi ! Great article and very informative. In regards to point #4, you are saying that 70% Chocolate on the label doesn’t mean 70% Chocolate. So what does the % on the chocolate labels mean? Thanks.
I like this article. I dont know much of what you just shared but one thing for sure, we are chocolate-maker. We have plenty of cacao trees that was introduced by my grandparents and lately I’ve learned that it as a lot to offer. Thank you for this share.