Chocolate is the answer, who cares what the question is; chocolate is nature’s way of making up for Mondays; a balanced diet is chocolate in both hands; 9 out of 10 people like chocolate, the 10th person always lies – our odes to chocolate are endless, and so they should be, a life without chocolate would be too dreary to contemplate, and clearly the world agrees as International Chocolate Day is celebrated on 7 July – this apparently is the 467th anniversary of chocolate’s introduction to Europe.
But as much as we love chocolate, and will happily slip a slab or two (or five) into our shopping baskets, we tend to forget the complex route that cocoa bean has taken to get us from start to melt-in-your-mouth finish. The International Cocoa Organisation (ICCO) begun in 1973 and composed of both cocoa producing and cocoa consuming countries, explain the steps very clearly; so the next time you indulge (and bemoan the cost of said indulgence) remember how intricate the process is:
The cocoa beans, the vast majority of which come from West Africa collectively, are cleaned to remove all extraneous material. The beans are roasted to enhance the flavour and colour – the temperature, time and degree of moisture depends on the type of bean used and the desired end product. The shells are removed from the beans leaving only the cocoa nibs, these undergo alkalisation to further develop the colour and flavour. Once that’s done, the nibs are milled to create cocoa liquor (cocoa particles suspended in cocoa butter) which is pressed to extract the cocoa butter. While the butter is used to make chocolate, the solid mass that remains behind is called a cocoa presscake and is eventually pulverised to make cocoa powder. The cocoa butter mixture along with other ingredients like sugar, milk and emulsifying agents; are put through a series of rollers until a smooth paste is achieved. The paste is then put through conching – a kneading or smoothing process that further enhances the texture and flavour. Finally, the mixture is passed through a heating, cooling and reheating process to promote longevity and prevent discolouration; poured into moulds and then cooled before being packaged and sent off to the various retailers eventually reaching our basket.
Quite the process, isn’t it? So, whether you prefer your chocolate neat or in delicious food pairings like chocolate chilli sauce atop your favourite steak, be sure to enjoy extra of it on 7 July – it’s your duty you know. Happy World Chocolate Day everyone!