There is something about chocolate that just makes people happy. Perhaps it’s the combination of its rich flavor or maybe it’s the feel-good sensation it produces when we eat it, whatever it is chocolate is one of my favorite things, whether warm melted chocolate fondue or dark chocolate chips topping a fresh fruit. Chocolate is a food that has been around for centuries, but we’re only now learning about many of the benefits of chocolate, and its popularity is only increasing. If you’ve ever wanted to do a deep dive into the mysteries of chocolate, or if you just have a sweet tooth, then this post is one you’ll want to read. We’re going to explore some of the most extraordinary things about chocolate! So keep reading or jump ahead to the section your most curious about, maybe it’s ‘Is chocolate candy?’ or ‘Top Healthy Desserts with Dark Chocolate Chips’, but you don’t have to choose yet because we’re going to learn about;
- Chocolate Trivia
- The different types of chocolate (white chocolate vs milk chocolate vs dark chocolate)
- The History of Chocolate
- Chocolate’s Health Benefits
and much, much, more, so grab your favorite chocolate bar and keep reading!
Chocolate is spelled with an ‘e’ at the end in English (c-h-o-c-o-l-a-t-e). The ‘chocolat’ spelling was popularized by the 2000 movie Chocolat starring Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, and Juliette Binoche.
No, chocolate is not candy. Candy is a type of confection that may use sweetened chocolate as a base to make chocolate candies, as well as other fruits, mixed nuts, but also typically contains sugar or corn syrup, flavoring, and sometimes artificial flavors. Candy and other high sugar confections are almost universally bad for you while chocolate has health benefits in certain portions.
The seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree are used to make chocolate. The word ‘theobroma’ is Greek for ‘food of the gods.’ Cacao trees are native to the tropical regions of North and South America but today they are cultivated all over the world. The top producing countries for cocoa beans are in West Africa and Indonesia.
Chocolate has been around for centuries, however. The Olmecs, a Mesoamerican civilization in present-day Mexico, were the first to cultivate cacao beans around 1500 BCE.
The word ‘chocolate’ is derived from the Aztec word ‘xocolatl’ which means ‘bitter water.’ The Aztecs used cacao beans to make a bitter beverage called xocolatl. Cacao beans were also used as currency by the Aztecs. The Spanish brought chocolate back to Europe and by the late 14th Century it had gained a large fanbase in Europe after being well received in the Spanish Court.
Since then mass produced chocolate has been developed commercially with an ever growing fanbase and variety of uses; from chocolate chips to chocolate bars, and today it grown around the world!
Chocolate is made from the cacao bean which is the seed of the Theobroma cacao tree. It is called ‘cacao’ until the beans are fermented, dried, and roasted and called ‘cocoa’. The ground roasted cocoa beans are then pressed into additional cocoa butter.
Cocoa butter is the fat that is used to make chocolate. The cocoa butter is combined with sugar, milk solids, and lecithin (an emulsifier) to form a liquid which is then tempered and poured into molds to set.
Cocoa Powder is made by pressing the cocoa butter from the roasted and ground cacao beans. The cocoa powder is then sifted to remove any lumps or impurities.
The cocoa beans are ground into a paste called ‘chocolate liquor.’ This is the base for all chocolate. From this point, different manufacturers will add in their own ingredients to create different types of chocolate with their own unique combinations of chocolate liquor, sugar, milk solids, lecithin, and vanilla extracts.
There are several different types of chocolate; white chocolate, milk chocolate, and dark chocolate.
White Chocolate is made from cocoa butter, sugar, milk solids, lecithin, vanilla extractives. It contains no cocoa powder and therefore has a much lighter color and flavor than other types of chocolate.
Milk Chocolate is a sweet chocolate made from cocoa butter, sugar, milk solids, chocolate liquor, lecithin, vanilla extractives. Milk chocolate is the most popular type of chocolate in the United States.
Dark Chocolate is made from cocoa butter, sugar, chocolate liquor, and sometimes vanilla extractives. The percentage of cocoa powder in dark chocolate can range from 30-99%. Dark chocolate has a much richer flavor than milk chocolate.
You will also see bittersweet and semi-sweet versions of chocolate in the store, these are compromises between the sometimes bitter dark chocolate and the sweet milk chocolate. Semisweet chocolate is more like milk chocolate and bittersweet chocolates being more like dark chocolate.
These types of chocolates have been made for centuries, but there is also ruby chocolate which is a relatively new type of chocolate only discovered in 2017! Ruby chocolate is made from the ruby cocoa bean and is pink in color with a fruity flavor. It was introduced by Swiss chocolatier Barry Callebaut.
Chocolate is not just a delicious treat, it also has some health benefits! Research has shown several amazing benefits from the antioxidants in chocolate, specifically a compound called epicatechin which fights inflammation. While increased heart health is important other benefits of chocolate include;
- More balanced immune system thanks to antioxidants.
- Prevents diabetes by helping cells process insulin more effectively.
- May improve brain function, research is ongoing, but shows improvements in memory and reaction times, likely due to better blood flow to the brain.
- The same better blood flow may improve muscle performance in athletics.
- Reduced stress levels (no scientific studies needed to prove this).
A key point is that most of these studies are based around high quality chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70%, or dark chocolate. Sweet chocolate varieties like white chocolate and milk chocolate don’t count unfortunately and neither do chocolates with food industry extras like added sugar and artificial sweeteners and other ingredients that add to the total calorie count.
So you may want to include dark chocolate chips and bars in your diet especially as a dessert. How do you do that? Well you can keep reading to find out how to melt chocolate chips and bars so you can make our Top Healthy Desserts with Dark Chocolate!
There are a few ways that you can melt chocolate chips. The most common is to use a double boiler, this is also known as the bain-marie method, and you can also microwave it. First though, you should start with chocolate chips, or a broken chocolate bar, divided into uniform pieces, this will produce a more even consistency for the melted chocolate.
The double boiler (bain-marie) method is where you place the chocolate chips in a heat-resistant bowl over simmering water. Make sure that the bowl is not touching the water as this can cause the chocolate to seize or become grainy. Allow the steam from the simmering water to heat the bowl containing the chocolate chips slowly. Stir the chocolate chips often to ensure even melting. The best bowls to use for the chocolate chips will have smooth edges, instead of a hard corner.
You do not need to add liquid to make the chocolate melt, if you want to reduce the thickness of the melted chocolate, you can add cream or milk, but if you pursue this option you should heat the milk or cream before adding the chocolate in order to heat the chocolate chips more uniformly.
Another method is to place chocolate chips in the microwave and melt them on a low power setting. Most people use a power level of 50%, but it will depend on your individual microwave’s settings. Use 30-second increments, stirring after each increment. Be very careful not to overheat the chocolate or it will become grainy and unusable.
- Dark Chocolate Chips With Berries & Cream
- Dark Chocolate Covered Strawberries