FAQs About Chocolate

How is chocolate made?

Chocolate has been prepared for thousands of years, beginning with the Mayans and continuing over time. In its initial form, chocolate was produced as a somewhat bitter drink that surprisingly was spiked with spicy peppers and was so popular it made its way to the New World. The first step to making that first form of chocolate, or any of the incarnations today, is to get a supply of cacao beans. They are cut open and the beans are dried (out in the sun or using equipment) and cleaned. The now cleaned beans are roasted to bring out the flavor. Then the chocolate beans are opened and the shell is separated from the meat of the bean. Crushing what’s left turns the cacao into a liquid. The earliest chocolatiers drank that liquid. But today, the liquid is put into a mold and becomes drank, unsweetened chocolate. Additional ingredients can transformed this unsweetened product into the chocolate most of us know, such as cocoa butter and vanilla.

What is the history of chocolate?

Chocolate, which comes from the cacao plant, has been around at least 3,000 years. Chocolate is believed to have gotten its name from the Aztec word "xocoatl," which was the term for the popular, but bitter drink, produced from the cacao beans. The cacao plant flourishes in tropical regions of South America, as well as Mexico and Central America. It is in Mexico where experts have documented the existence of chocolate as early as1100 B.C. The bitter, chocolate beverage was especially popular with the Mayans and Aztecs, according to historians. Chocolate acquired the taste most associated it with today once European conquerors discovered America and brought the beans back to their homeland. Europeans didn’t like the bitter taste and added honey or cane sugar to the drink. A few more advancements brought chocolate into the form we know today. In the early 1800s, a Dutch scientist produced Dutch cocoa, which had a sweet flavor as it was treated with alkaline salts. Joseph Fry invented the modern chocolate bar in 1847 when he experimented by adding cacao butter with the cocoa. powder.

Can you give chocolate to your dog?

No! Chocolate is a known poison to dogs. Everyone knows chocolate contains caffeine, and caffeine is toxic to dogs. Perhaps not as generally known is that cocoa beans also contain theobromine, which also can be toxic for dogs. The key is how much the animal ingests. Officials have estimated that for a small breed; say a poodle, weighing about 10 pounds, chocolate poisoning occurs after 7 ounces of milk chocolate or 3 ounces of cocoa powder. For a larger breed, like a 70-pound Golden Retriever, for example, chocolate poisoning occurs after 3 pounds of white chocolate and 1.3 pounds of cocoa powder. Unsweetened baking chocolate is the most toxic, followed by instant cocoa powder and delicious but dangerous dark chocolate. The top three share the same dangerous trait: they each have high levels of caffeine and theobromine. At the bottom of the list in toxicity, by far, is white chocolate, followed by milk chocolate.

How much caffeine is in chocolate?

The normal candy bar you might purchase from a store or out of a vending machine contains about 30 milligrams of caffeine. Compare that to about 100 to 150 milligrams in the normal-sized cup of coffee. The level of caffeine, estimated at 6 milligrams per 1 ounce of milk20chocolate is much lower than the levels of caffeine seen in many soft drinks, tea and coffee.

What are the types of chocolates?

Much of the chocolate sold and consumed today is sweet chocolate, in which the chocolate is combined with sugar. There are a couple of different types of sweet chocolate. Milk chocolate also includes milk powder. White chocolate, on the other hand, has no cocoa solids. Instead, its ingredients include sugar, milk and cocoa butter. Dark chocolate is made with the addition of fat and sugar. And finally there is semisweet, bittersweet and unsweetened chocolate. Unsweetened chocolate is simply chocolate liquor. It is bitter and is primarily used in baking. Semisweet is dark chocolate that has very low sugar content and is frequently found in any chocolate chip cookie recipe, while bittersweet chocolate is made when sugar, cocoa butter and vanilla are added to the chocolate liquor. Sometimes, lecithin is also included.

Are there benefits to eating chocolate?

Actually, there are. Chocolate has a variety of minerals such as magnesium and potassium and small levels of calcium and sodium. It also includes D, E, B1, B2 and A1 vitamins. Considered a food that stimulates energy in relatively small servings, chocolate is used by athletes who wish to maintain their energy level. Scientists have determined that the theobromine so dangerous to dogs and cats helps the central nervous system and the body’s muscular efforts. Caffeine helps resist fatigue while serotonin can help fight against some forms of depression. In people who are suffering from certain forms of depression, serotonin seems to exist in limited quantities, scientists have determined. Chocolate helps boost the level of serotonin. Also, chocolate has flavanol, which in turn contains nitric oxide. Nitric oxides help maintain blood pressure and thus can help to resist cardiovascular disease. Chocolates also have minerals that reduce the risk of heart attack. Studies have shown the healthiest type of chocolate is dark chocolate.

How do you temper chocolate at home?

Tempering chocolate is the way to ensure firm, shiny chocolate by employing a cooling and melting process that allows chocolate to stabilize at room temperature. You can temper chocolate at home and many people use a microwave. First, melt the chocolate in a clean dish that has no water or liquid of any kind to a temperature of about 115 degrees. Then, allow the chocolate to cool until the temperature falls into the low 80-degree area. Stir the chocolate often as it cools and then let the chocolate slowly move up to room temperature – between 88 and 91 degrees. The process also can be accomplished through a double boiler. But whichever way is chosen, the end result, if done properly, is chocolate that is not cloudy but instead is shiny and firm.

What is the best way to store chocolate?

Remember that chocolate is greatly affected by temperature and moisture. Keeping chocolate in a location that is too cool will result in the top of the chocolate turning cloudy and grey, as though the chocolate is no longer fresh. Keep your chocolate in a cool, dry and dark location. Pick a location with a constant temperature of 60 to 72 degrees. Avoid sunlight or too much warmth, as that also will trigger the fat of the chocolate to rise to the top and form that grayish-white layer that saps some of the taste from the chocolate.

What is the best way to melt chocolate and which chocolate is best to use?

Chocolate can be melted with a double boiler, the use of two pans, one over another, so that the direct flame does not come in contact with the pan with the chocolate. Maintaining proper temperatures is crucial with chocolate, so a thermometer is a good idea so that the milk and white chocolate do not exceed 115 degrees and the darker chocolates do not exceed 120 degrees. To make sure the chocolate doesn’t get scorched the melting process, do not heat the chocolate until it is thoroughly melted. Remove the chocolate and use a heat-proof spoon or spatula to stir the chocolate until it is totally melted. Chocolate also can be melted in the microwave. Be sure to use small pieces sold for melting or chop your chocolate up. Also, the same care needs to be taken with the temperatures. There are many chocolates sold in chips or small chunks designed for melting. Pick and choose until you find a chocolate that works well for you.

Is chocolate fattening?

In a word: Yes. Of course, as discussed elsewhere, many positive factors have been associated with chocolate. Cocoa beans themselves contain 50 percent fat. Then, the process of turning the bean into chocolate liquor and then adding the ingredients for various types of chocolates leaves a product both high in fat and in sugar content. As with anything else, the danger is in the amount eaten.

Is chocolate an aphrodisiac?

The answer is yes and no. There is no proof that chocolate acts as an aphrodisiac, but some ingredients in chocolate can be stimulating. The phenylethylamine (PEA) in chocolate in small amounts is seen in the brain and peaks during orgasm. So chocolate actually does stimulate the libido centers of the brain, but above and beyond that, chocolate can be acts like an aphrodisiac because that’s the expectation of many people when they eat chocolate. Throughout history, chocolate has been associated with love and Valentine’s Day and romance. So the brain is trained to consider chocolate as an aphrodisiac.

Is chocolate addictive?

No, with an asterisk. There is nothing chemically addictive in chocolate; however some of the chemicals in chocolate, such as serotonin, will stir the pleasure center of the brain. Add to that the fact that chocolate is one of the most popular foods and you end up with something that FEELS like it’s addictive.

Does chocolate trigger the breakout of acne?

That was the belief as recently as 20 years ago. However, research has shown that chocolate, in and of itself, does not cause acne. Actually, acne is a result poor skin care: when there is a buildup of dead skin cells and excessive skin oil, that leads to the bacteria that causes acne.

Does chocolate cause tooth decay?

Another yes and no answer. Because of the amount of sugar in many types of chocolate and cookie recipes, the answer is yes. Sugar breaks down the enamel in teeth and promotes tooth decay. However, the presence of the cocoa powder in chocolate is actually nearly as beneficial for teeth as fluoride. This is another area where how much chocolate is digested goes a long way toward answering the question. Too much chocolate, and the sugar levels will far outweigh the benefits of the cocoa powder.