increasing your chocolate knowledge
This is a cornerstone post of Chocolatour and is all about chocolate and cacao. Increasing your chocolate knowledge is a terrific way to celebrate International Chocolate Day, which is celebrated throughout the world on September 13th.
increasing your chocolate knowledge will help you make better decisions
I’ve been studying, enjoying, and researching artisanal chocolate since 2009 and during that time, have visited 20 countries and cocoa plantations/farms in about 10 of those locales. There is so much to learn about the world of chocolate and cacao culture. Pictured above is Leslie at Cylie Patisserie & Chocolaterie in Ottawa, Canada, showing off some of the beautifully artistic work of her chocolatier husband, Cyril.
It continues to be quite the journey as I come toward the time when I will publish volume II of Chocolatour–either to be subtitled A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate Adventures, OR A Quest for Chocolate Knowledge. Do you have a preference on either of those two subtitles?
Readers continually ask me for explanations on various basics about the world of chocolate and cacao, so I’ve prepared a list for you here, which is an excerpt from Chapter One of volume I of Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate. If you don’t already have a copy of this award-winning book, you can purchase a hardcopy or e-copy here, as well as through Amazon and selected retailers. Volume I of Chocolatour is all about chocolate, the creative people who are making it, and the places you will find it.
10 things you should know to increase your chocolate knowledge
- Chocolate does grow on trees. They are called Theobroma cacao trees and can be found growing in a belt around the globe, generally within 20 degrees north or south of the equator.
- Cacao trees are difficult to grow as they are susceptible to disease, and the pods may be eaten by insects and various vermin. The pods are harvested by hand. These factors combined, explain why pure chocolate and cocoa are so expensive.
- It takes at least four years before a cacao seedling will begin to produce cocoa pods. On maturity, a cacao tree may yield about 40 cocoa pods per year. Each pod may contain 30-50 cocoa beans. But it takes a lot of these beans (approximately 500 cocoa beans) to produce one pound of chocolate.
- There are three types of chocolate. Dark chocolate contains the highest percentage of cocoa, generally at 70% or higher. The remaining percentage is generally sugar or some form of natural sweetener. Milk chocolate contains anywhere from 38-40% and upwards to 60% cocoa for a dark milk chocolate, with the remaining percentage comprised on milk and sugar. White chocolate only contains cocoa butter (no cocoa mass) and sugar, often with fruit or nuts added for flavour.
- A chocolate maker is someone who makes chocolate directly from cocoa beans. A chocolatier is someone who makes chocolate using couverture, which is chocolate that has already been fermented and roasted and comes (via a commercial distributor) in tablets or disks for the chocolatier to temper and add their own flavourings to.
- The concept of terroir factors into the flavour of chocolate. That means that cocoa grown in one place is likely to taste different than cocoa grown in a different country (or in the case of a large country, from one part of the country to another, depending on its elevation, proximity to water, and what other plants the cocoa trees are grown alongside.)
- There are three major varietals of cocoa pods, and a larger number of sub-varietals. Criollo is the rarest varietal and most highly coveted for its flavour. Arriba and Nacional are variations of Criollo and considered to be the finest full-flavour, aromatic cocoa in the world. They are most often grown in South America. Trinitario is the mid-grade cacao that is a hybrid blend of Criollo and Forastero, the bulk grade cacao that is used to make 90% of the chocolate in the world.
- Approximately 70% of the world’s cacao is grown in West Africa, specifically the countries of Ivory Coast and Ghana. These are the countries in which the use of child labour on cocoa farms has contributed to the dark side of chocolate. Gratefully, the large companies who purchase this cocoa to make chocolate candy have changed their practices, and refused to purchase cocoa from farms where child labour was or may still be used.
- Chocolate is a feel-good drug. Eating a square of dark chocolate will release serotonin and endorphins into your blood stream, making you feel happier, more energetic, and perhaps more amorous.
- Eating pure cocoa nibs (pieces of dried cocoa beans) or a high percentage dark chocolate is good for your body. There are many health benefits associated with eating pure dark chocolate, most notably, the fact that it has the highest percentage of disease-fighting antioxidants and flavonols compared to any other power food on the planet.
I hope these chocolate fun facts have increased your chocolate knowledge by helping you to realize that there is a big difference between chocolate candy that may only have a tiny percentage of real cocoa in it, and good quality handcrafted chocolate made by chocolate artisans. Does any of the above info surprise you? Please stay tuned, and subscribe to this site so you don’t miss any more information about the wonderful world of chocolate and cocoa culture.