5 Things I Did Not Know About Chocolate

2015-10-26 15.07.34Before 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?

 

American Chocolate at the Grocery Store

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Mokaccino, a beautiful, creamy creation by TCHO

When I first committed to sample and review 37 chocolates between June and October of 2015, I knew my first reviews would feature chocolate bars from the grocery store. A few reasons for that: first, it’s so much easier to start a daunting project with what you already know and grocery store chocolate was really all I knew until last spring. Second, I wanted to feature bars my friends (who made up most of my audience back in June) could easily find if they wanted to follow me on my journey: my friend Stephanie did just that in the early days, which was quite neat! Finally, I realized that many people don’t know about all their chocolate options at their local grocery store. While a candy aisle is typically stocked with overly sweet options, you will often be able to find better chocolate natural and organic section of your store. To help you start your own chocolate journey, here is a list of bars I reviewed as part of the challenge that  I think you’ll enjoy.

In the Candy Aisle

Ghirardelli Chocolate “Evening Dream” – 60% Cacao (Review #3)

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You can watch a detailed review of the Evening Dream bar here.

Ghirardelli is a San-Francisco-based chocolate-maker whose chocolate products are widely available in American grocery stores. While I am not a fan of many of their chocolates, most notably the filled version, I do like the balance of flavors of this 60% bar. If you like the texture of Lindt chocolate, I think you will enjoy this bar.

Scharffen-Berger Bittersweet – 70% Cacao (Review #4)

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You can watch a detailed review of this bar here.

When Scharffen-Berger was founded back in 1997, it was the first new American chocolate-making company in 50 years (source.) Although Scharffen-Berger chocolate is known for its quality baking chocolate, I also enjoy some of their eating bars, with a preference for the bittersweet variety. This one has a firm snap, smooth texture, and a bright, long finish. A little will go a long way.

In the Natural & Organic Section of the Grocery Store

Theo Chocolate (Review #1)

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For many years, Theo Chocolate had been my drug of choice to fuel my chocolate addiction: I even used to order 12-bar cases on Amazon! On top of featuring organic and fair trade ingredients, I have always liked the fact their chocolate is easy to find, inexpensive, and fun to eat. In addition, unlike most mass-produced chocolate, Theo Chocolate does not use any soy lecithin in their bars, which is good news if you or someone you know is allergic to soy. I have a soft spot for their inclusion bar: cherry almond, anyone? Although I reviewed the dark chocolate, sea salt, and almond bar as part of my challenge, I actually like the balance of flavor of its milk chocolate counterpart even better. Note that the dark chocolate has a much drier texture than a Ghirardelli or Lindt chocolate.

TCHO (Reviews #7, 15, and 24)

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Watch my review of TCHO 70% Ghana bar here, 53% Milk Chocolate here, and Mokaccino bar here.

A relative newcomer to the world of chocolate, TCHO currently makes some of my favorite grocery store bars. Not only do I like their chocolate, I also happen to love the work the company does to educate customers on chocolate production and flavor. On the front of the packaging, you’ll find some approachable, brief tasting notes. On the back, more detail on the flavors, which should help you decide if the bar is for you. I ended up reviewing three bars as part of the challenge: the 70% Ghana, a traditional, quality dark chocolate, the 53% Milk, which is the creamiest, most satisfying dark milk chocolate I have found in grocery store, and my absolute favorite, the Mokaccino bar, which features the perfect balance of chocolate and coffee.

You’ll actually find TCHO in the natural and organic sections of larger grocery stores, such as Wegman’s on the East Coast, as well as in some natural and organic stores. 

Your turn! What are some of your favorite chocolate bars from the grocery store?