Chocolates & Ice Cream
Theobroma Cacao: Food of the Gods
This is the name given by Carl von Linné, (Linneuas), in categorizing the plant that had been enjoyed, traded far and wide, used as currency, and offered to the gods for hundreds, nay thousands, of years in Central America.
Throughout most of the long history of Chocolate, which stretches back to at least 1800 BCE, cacao was taken not as food, but as drink. Resembling our Hot Chocolate somewhat, but of course made from whole beans rather than cocoa powder.
Cacao pods containing beans inside a white pulp, were likely used as a fruit for the pulp, or the pulp allowed to ferment and turned into something of a chocolate beer, long before the process of turning the beans into the frothy chocolate drink was known.
Several steps must be taken in order to transform the bitter and astringent beans into something so vastly different and wonderful that it has come to be highly regarded, even revered by so many.
Beans and pulp are removed from the pod and the pulp allowed to ferment for several days. This kills the seeds and begins changing compounds inside them, from bitter and acrid to smooth and tasty.
More days in the sun dry the beans. They are then roasted, winnowed and ground. The Mesoamericans used a metate, a stone slab and roller, to grind the beans into a paste. Then the paste was added to water, hot (Mayan) or cold (Aztec), and frothed by pouring it back and forth between two vessels.
Most of the Mesoamericans took their drinks with many flavorings: hot chilies, flower petals, achiote, honey, maguey sap, vanilla. The Spanish did not like the drink at first but when they added sugar, cinnamon, anise seed, black pepper rather than the hot chilli peppers, it did ultimately catch on.
Chocolate preparation did not change essentially from the introduction of the Molinillo by the Spanish, an easier method of mixing and frothing the drink, until the Industrial Revolution.
The idea of Single-Origin Chocolate goes back at
least to the Aztecs:
Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún compiled a Codex, a compendium of knowledge of pre-Conquest Aztec culture, and
translated it into Spanish. From his descriptions we can see
that the Mexican peoples were informed connoisseurs of
cacao and chocolate. His accounts make it clear that
shoppers in the Aztec marketplace were knowledgeable and
choosy about the beans shipped to them from the cacao
growing territory. They paid for quality.
When the Spanish colonists began their chocolate
experiments within about a generation after Cortes, they
continued to observe these crucial distinctions and to judge
chocolate on the basis of nuances in the different original
cacaos it was made from. Later they would attach names
like cacao dulce, or cacao blanco to the whole complex of
superior cacaos that they had found being grown in
Mesoamerica and later in Venezuela. But the name that
would endure was Criollo, or ‘born in the new world’.
Maricel Presilla ~ The New Taste of Chocolate
Criollo (meaning born in the New World, the name given by Spaniards.)
This was the only cacao known during the time of Conquest, during which several superior strains were prized above others. Notable sub-varieties include Carenero Superior. More Criollo trees remain in Venezuela than any other area.
Forestero, (meaning foreign) Forestero beans came onto the market during a time when demand was increasing greatly, while blights were wiping out areas of cultivation of Criollo trees. Forestero is an inferior type of chocolate, more bitter and less nuanced that Criollo, but is much hardier and produces much higher yields than Criollo. It originates in the Amazon basin, and is perhaps the ancestor of Criollo.
Trinitario is a hybrid between the other two types, was supposedly first hybridized on the island of Trinidad. It combines the hardiness of Forestero, with similar flavor to Criollo.
Forestero beans make up 80 – 90 % of the worldwide harvest, depending on whom you believe. Trinitario is most of the rest, and Criollo is a tiny portion of the whole.
Arriba is a superior bean, but classified as a Forestero. Also known as Nacional. Originates in Ecuador.
Cacao is an understory plant, that grows well only in hot, humid areas, with protective shade from larger
plants, and within an ecosystem that contains midges for pollination.
“Most cacao ~ as much as 80% worldwide ~ comes from small farms. Because small scale farmers don’t
have the resources to buy chemicals such as fertilizers, fungicides, or pesticides, their cacao is organic by
economic necessity.” Scharffen Berger, The Essence of Chocolate
The trees produce year round, and will display blossoms and fruits at all stages, while most of the fruit
does ripen at two times a year.
Fruit grows directly out of the trunk and limbs.
“Each tree bears about twenty four to thirty viable pods a year ~ a dozen or so at each of the twice yearly
harvests, with only a few pods appearing between harvests. Each pod holds about forty seeds, so each
tree produces approximately 1,000 beans per year. It takes 500 beans to produce one pound of
bittersweet chocolate, which means that during a good year, without any hurricanes, pest infestations,
disease or other natural disasters, one tree provides seeds for only two pounds of chocolate. By
comparison, a mature apple tree produces 840 pounds of edible fruit each year.” (SB)
Genebanks: Over the centuries, cacao has been transplanted all over the tropical world, hybridizing in
random ways. Many times older Criollo trees have been pulled out to make room for easier to grow
Foresteros, and so much of the genetically ‘heirloom’ purity is disappearing.
Fortunately, the increased demand for rare, interesting chocolate is driving a resurgence of these beans,
and scientists have been studying and preserving cacao genetics in several genebanks, notably the
International Cacao Genebank in Trinidad.
Tending and harvesting is all done by hand. Workers open pods with a machete and pull out the beans
They pile this under banana leaves or in boxes to ferment for a few days, then dry it in the sun, turning it
often, bringing it in at night or when it rains.
When the beans are dried they are usually shipped from the third world country of origin to somewhere
in Europe or America to be processed further.
The next step is to get rid of the husks in a winnower, then roast the beans in a similar way to coffee
Grinding the beans turns them into Cacao Nibs.
Further grinding, reduces the beans into paste, and unsweetened, that is called Chocolate Liquor, or
cacao liquor, cacao mass.
Pressing this separates the fat, cacao butter, from the solids, which when powdered becomes cocoa.
This is normally done with lower quality beans. The cocoa butter can go back into chocolate
manufacturing, or it can be used for cosmetics, etc.
The final stage in production is called Conching.
This very secretive process takes up to three days or more, and it develops flavor while rounding off
edges to impart a smooth mouthfeel. The process breaks down the sugar crystals that are added to the
chocolate, and blends in the sugar, vanilla, additional cocoa butter, powdered milk (for milk chocolate)
according to the producer’s formula. The friction and aeration of the paste into a smooth mass also
engenders chemical changes that develop and round out the flavor of the liquid chocolate, eliminate
moisture and acidity, and flush out volatile flavors, unpleasant odors, and bitterness. Conching enables
complete homogenization and emulsion of the cocoa butter into the cocoa paste, producing a velvety
smooth chocolate with no grittiness. The chocolate then goes to the molding room, where the chocolate
is tempered, poured into the molds, passed through a refrigerated tunnel and then unmolded. The
invention of conching machine enabled “modern” chocolate as we know it: smooth, velvety, without
graininess or bitterness.
Dark Chocolate contains just cacao mass, sugar, vanilla, and usually soy lecithin.
Milk Chocolate also has milk solids.
White Chocolate has no cocoa solids, only cacao butter, sugar, milk solids, soy and vanilla.