When we want to tend to our hearts and those of others, we reach for one thing: chocolate. According to Nielsen, more than 58 million pounds of chocolate candy will be sold during the week of Valentine’s Day.
Chocolate wasn’t always the sugar-sweetened dessert people consume today. The history of chocolate dates back to 1900 BC, when Aztecs believed the cacao seeds were the gift of Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom. It was made into fermented beverages, and the cacao beans also were used as a form of currency because they held so much value.
Some ancient civilizations considered chocolate to be a mood enhancer and aphrodisiac. It was believed to have mystical properties and was revered so much that it was reserved for rulers, warriors and priests.
It was not until centuries later that edible chocolate became popular among the masses. Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes van Houten invented the cocoa press, which could turn extrude cocoa butter, paving the way for the modern age of chocolate as a confectionery ingredient and gift.
Choosing the right type of chocolate may require gaining an understanding of various chocolate-related terms.
This is the unsweetened raw form of cocoa made from partially de-fatted chocolate liquor. Dutch-processed (alkalized) cocoa powder is milder and less acidic than natural cocoa powder.
“Bitter” or “baking chocolate” are other names attributed to unsweetened chocolate. It is best used in baking when it can be combined with sugar and other ingredients. It is also the base ingredient of most forms of chocolate, with the exception of white chocolate.
Chocolate that contains only chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla, and lecithin is considered dark chocolate. No milk solids are added in. The higher the percentage on the wrapper, the more bitter the chocolate.
In addition to dark chocolate ingredients, milk chocolate also contains dry milk solids or condensed milk. It is sweet and has a mild taste.
BITTERSWEET AND SEMI-SWEET
These are milder than dark chocolate, but not as sweet as milk chocolate. Many manufacturers derive their own formulations for these types, varying the amount of cocoa solids they include.
An expensive variety, this is coveted by professional bakers or confectioners. It contains a high percentage of cocoa butter and chocolate liquor, which helps it to melt evenly. It is ideal for tempering and can coat candies smoothly.
Ganache is a whipped filling, glaze, icing, or sauce that is used in various desserts. It is made by heating cream and pouring over chocolate of any kind. When cooled, it is malleable but not runny, which is why ganache is often used in making candies or fillings.
A chocolate truffle is made from a ball of ganache rolled in cocoa powder. Truffles can be made from any variety of chocolate.