Chocolate has a history of sweetness and violence. The Mayans, the first ones to discover the cacao plant, are credited with perfecting this concoction in its earliest form. Even dedicating a god to Cacao.
The ever-conquering Aztecs also conquered the Mayans. They quickly learned to love the taste and the health benefits associated with this dark beverage.
‘The divine drink, which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink (cocoa) permits a man to walk for a whole day without food.’
Montezuma – Aztec Emperor (c. 1480-1520)
Both the Mayans and the Aztec recognized the cocoa plant and beans as being very valuable even using it as a means of money exchange. The Spaniards seeing the value the Aztecs placed upon the cacao plant became very interested in the plant also.
It did take time for the Spaniards to gain a liking for the dark drink that they saw “more a drink for pigs than a drink for humanity.”
Within no time the Spaniards began shipping the beans back to Spain. And there began the modern history of Chocolate.
At first the only Europeans able to afford this new beverage was the aristocracy. They didn’t consume it in the same methods as the Aztec but preferred to drink it hot and sweet.
They were also the first to begin to add other spices from the new world.
Once they found that by adding sugar the flavor improved, the love for this new drink spread rapidly.
This also meant they needed to produce more. They began experimenting with different cocoa plants. Finally they found one, which although inferior in quality and taste, could produce a much larger quantity.
They found that by adding a few extra teaspoons of sugar that most Europeans couldn’t notice a difference in quality.
In the Americas the slave trade facilitated the growth nicely and the trade grew rapidly.
Once slaves were outlawed in the Americas the plants were brought to Africa to be grown.
1828- “Dutching” or making cocoa into a powder to mix with water, was invented by Dutchman Coenraad Van Houten
1850’s- Solid Chocolate – Created by a famous English chocolatear Joseph Fry. By mixing sugar, cocoa powder and cocoa butter you could create a paste that when it cooled became a solid.
1879- In Switzerland it was discovered that by adding powdered milk to chocolate it became more affordable and milder. Suddenly people from all economic reaches could afford the heavenly substance.
The Mayan and Aztec always recognized the health benefits of chocolate. Interestingly enough it’s really only been in recent years that anyone has began any serious study of the cocoa plant.
What makes it healthy?
While cocoa is a powerhouse of nutrients from A-Z (Anandamide-Zink) What it is recognized the most for is it’s level of antioxidants, amazingly enough even the poorest quality has some level of antioxidants
What are Antioxidants
Antioxidants are the compounds that help to prevent diseases like the aging, arthritis, strokes, cancers, heart disease and others. These compounds are found in great abundance in fresh fruits and veggies.
These compounds are what give fruit and vegetables their color. In fact the darker the color and the more bitter the taste the higher the level of antioxidants.
Making the dark brown and bitter taste of chocolate in its natural form very high in antioxidants.
I’m sure you’ve heard of some of the more common antioxidants such as vitamins C and E. Researchers are still trying to identify many of the other ones and how they affect our bodies.
Why do we need Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are our “Anti-Rust” formula.
Much in the same way an apple or banana will turn color once it’s exposed to the air, we do the same thing.
As a new baby we begin to take in oxygen and as we do so our body begins to “rust” or rather break down.
When we eat foods rich in antioxidants we protect our body much in the same way that pouring lemon juice, a natural antioxidant, over fruit, stops it from turning brown.
It’s these free radicals that you are protecting your body from. Free radicals are molecules “gone wild”. They are either missing an electron or have an extra electron. They become scavengers going in search of any other molecule that they can “steal” from. They are looking to neutralize themselves.
This creates a dangerous chain reaction. As one free radical attaches to a healthy cell, that cell then becomes a free radical and begins to scavenger themselves.
If this process goes unchecked then these mutating cells can create diseases. Just to name a few of the more common “free radical” diseases — memory loss, aging, immune system disorders or even cancer.
Neutralization of Free Radicals-
The goal for our body then should be to neutralize the free radicals, and this is what antioxidants do.
They do this by using one of their carbon atoms, with it’s strong bonds. As they are sitting there when a free radical comes along they are able to latch on to the free radical. They are then able to carry the free radical with them out of the body.
This is why it is so important to have a constant supply of high antioxidant foods to help eliminate free radicals from our bodies.
Chocolate, for me personally, is the most delicious way to keep free radicals in check.
There are many varieties of chocolate. Below are a few of the most common varieties and uses.
Cacao vs. Cocoa
Cacao is the industry term used for the tree and fruit. Once the pod is opened the fermenting process begins and the name changes to cocoa, such as cocoa butter
cocoa bean etc.
Cacao pods – This is the football shaped fruit that the cacao tree produces. It’s about 5-12 inches long and 3-5 inches wide. Within each of these pods you’ll find about 30-40 seeds. It takes about 20 seeds to make one pound of cocoa.
Cocoa Beans – The fruit of the cacao tree, found inside the cacao pods.
Nibs- Once the cocoa beans are removed they are left to ferment. This helps to develop the deep flavor and aroma and also helps reduce the bitterness.
Once the fermentation process has taken place the beans are laid out to dry. Once dried the outer shell of the bean is removed. They use a crushing tool to do this which many times crush the seeds into what they call “nibs”. Nibs are nothing more than crushed pieces of cocoa beans.
One of the easiest and healthiest things I love to do is to add nibs to smoothies, on fresh fruit, in puddings or sprinkled on top of a soufflé. This just adds to the already rich deep chocolate flavor and increases the nutritional value of any food.
The two things that will destroy chocolate are moisture and excessive heat. As long as you have that basic knowledge there really isn’t anything to stop you from using it.
It will grain and thicken with excessive heat, so be careful if you are using a microwave. With moisture even a very small amount will increase its viscosity, making it unacceptable for dipping.
Always store in odorless, dark, cool places.
A double boiler is the easiest way to melt chocolate. Do not allow steam to be coming up from the bottom of the boiler, since this could potentially ruin it.
If it becomes unworkable just add ½ T of oil and while stirring vigorously re-melt.
Professional Melting Options
Electric Frying Pan- While this is not a “professional” method if you are the “occasional” chocolatier this is a less expensive method. An electric fry pan will keep your chocolate at the perfect temperature while you work with it.
Professional Tempering Machine- If you desire to work like the pros then a professional tempering machine is what you’ll need. I recommend one put out by Sephra, the leader in fondue fountains.
Candy Making Workshops
In learning to make chocolates a candy-making workshop is your best bet.
They will teach you all their tricks and techniques, while showing you the best quality ingredients.
Workshops are a lot of fun. You learn as you cover yourself in chocolate. That sounds pretty heavenly to me.
One of the best things about workshops is your chance to jump in with both hands. At a good workshop you will be cutting, melting and dipping your way to pure chocolate indulgence.
Many places don’t offer these workshops so visit us at http://www.chocoliciouscooking.com and watch our how to videos on everything from chocolate covered pretzels to Halloween ghost cookies. The great part of watching Jeannie at http://www.chocoliciousCooking.com is that you can lick the spoon and your fingers!
Tools of the trade –
The tools listed below are ones that have made our life easier. They are tools that we use on a weekly if not daily basis.
Cocoa Latte- This machine is a must have for those cold winter mornings. I turn this on first thing in the morning as I am getting ready for work, and it’s perfection. The thing I love about the Cocoa Latte is it keeps the beverages at the perfect temperature.
This machine by Back to Basics brings the café experience right to you in your home. It whips, mixes and automatically heats your instant cocoa into frothy cafe-style drinks.
Vita Mix Blender- Vita Mix is notorious for health and is my favorite tool.
With this blender I have made, raw salsas, soups, sauces, and desserts. The speed of the blades makes it so although you may be serving a raw tortilla soup, it will be steaming hot, delicious and totally nutritious!
Sephra Fondue Fountains- Sephra has perfected the home and industrial chocolate fountain. With their patent pending technology and comprehensive warranty they were my natural choice.
I’ve used several other fountains and the Sephra fountain is by far the easiest to assemble, disassemble and clean. It makes having a chocolate party a breeze!
Fondue Pot- Fondue has its origins in the French speaking regions of the Swiss Alps and has been around for centuries.
My favorite choice for a fondue pot is an electric pot. These pots lend themselves to any type of fondue. You can boil oil or just keep a dessert fondue warm. I love the versatility found with this pot.
Everyone has his or her favorite recipes. We are no different than any one else.
It’s easy to make any chocolate recipe a bit healthier just by adding in chocolate.
You can also use raw organic cocoa as well as raw nibs as a topping.
We love cooking at chocoliciousCooking and here are a few of our favorite recipes:
There is nothing like giving chocolate as a gift to show that special someone just how much you love them. Each type of gift has it’s own personality of sorts.
Handmade Chocolates- The “cherished gift” I call it this because hand dipping is becoming a lost art. So you know if you receive this type of gift that they cherish you enough to give you the very best
Dark chocolate gift basket- The “thoughtfully loving” gift. I use the term thoughtful because if it’s dark chocolate they obviously care about your health and the darker the better.
Dipped Strawberries- The “sexy” gift. Don’t you think there is something very sexy about deep red strawberries and chocolate?
I can’t think of anything that would make me swoon more than this sexy gift.
Pretzels- The “fun” gift. This combination of salty sweet goodness makes them fun to make and fun to eat. Then if you wish the fun gift to become a personal party just hide a little caramel inside.
Lets face it anytime there is chocolate it’s a party!
And there really is no limit to the fun party ideas that you could center around chocolate. From a Childs birthday party, Teen Halloween party, Chocolate tasting party, or a formal chocolate party — there really is no limit to the fun that could be had.
Especially with a fondue pot or fountain, the party takes on a different feel. I feel like it makes a formal party more of a “water cooler” type of feeling. And it gives a causal party more elegance.
As they stand around dipping fruits, breads and candies in the never-ending flow of chocolate, you not only are filled physically but enjoy the social interaction that comes naturally from the experience.
Chocolate is not optional, it’s a necessity!
It not only makes you feel good, it also makes you smile!
The best gift anyone can ever receive!
No matter how casual or elegant the affair, it suddenly becomes a party!
For maximum effect it should be consumed and shared daily!