Chocolate is sinful, divine, angelic and fulfilling. For those who are its real lovers, gorging on it is like digging into ambrosia. I think it is also a kind of addiction that entices mortals with weak resolve like us again and again.
From the soft crumbling bars, to the round smooth balls, chocolate has ruled our childhood and our imaginations.
When in a country like India, which boasts of an unlimited miscellany of sweets of all varieties, chocolate has managed to establish its forte, think of other countries!
While trying to gather information about the history of chocolate, strange and amazing facts accosted me.
I had read about the lost Mayan civilization in history, but had never imagined
that they were among the first lovers of chocolate and had nicknamed it bitter water.
In fact the word chocolate has been derived from the word ‘xocolati’ which means sour or bitter!
Few of us know that chocolate is made from intensely bitter cacao beans. Fermentation gives it flavour and sugar gives it sweetness.
Pure unsweetened chocolate or chocolate liquor (made from fermenting, roasting and crushing chocolate beans) is rich in cocoa solids and cocoa butter (yes, the same which is found in skin nourishing moisturisers).
I think I have discovered one more reason why we as a country are so obsessed by everything ‘foreign’. While our excavations at Indus valley revealed samples of (oh so boring!) common food grains like rice and barley, the excavations there (Río Azul) showed evidence of drinking chocolate! Imagine a sheepskin clad, hairy, unkempt man with crude weapons, sitting outside his ancient cave, sipping hot chocolate!
But chocolate was known during early times not merely as an edible item, its beans were was used as a cure for a number of diseases like fatigue and diarrhea and also as currency and means to pay taxes!
Chocolate did not reach Europe till 16th century. Spanish brought it to Europe after the conquest of Aztechs.
Here are some interesting facts that make chocolate even more special:
In 1842 Cadbury's in England created the world’s first chocolate bar.
Researches have shown that chocolate consumption releases a chemical into body very similar to what is produced when one is in love.
20% of the world’s peanuts and 40% of the world’s almonds are used by chocolate manufacturers.
The British eat 16½ pounds and the Swiss, who invented Milk Chocolate, consume the most at 22 pounds per person making them the largest consumers.
Children prefer chocolate when they turn 10-11 years old than when they are younger.
The fruits of the Cacao tree grow directly from the trunk. They look like small melons sticking to the tree.
It takes about 400 beans to make a pound of chocolate.
“Giri Choco” is a Japanese custom which means “duty chocolate.” It is a ritual where employees give chocolates to their managers as a token of loyalty.
Chocolate is America's favorite flavor.
<i>Cacao: </i> This is the cacao bean. It is the healthiest form of chocolate and is quite bitter.
<i>Chocolate Liquor: </i> This is the basis of all types of chocolate, formed by grinding cacao nibs into a smooth, liquid paste. It is non- alcoholic.
<i>Unsweetened Chocolate: </i> It is chocolate liquor that has been allowed to cool and harden.
<i>Bittersweet Chocolate/Semisweet or Dark Chocolate: </i> Has nearly 35% chocolate liquor, besides cocoa butter and sugar.
<i>Sweet Chocolate: </i> Contains 15% chocolate liquor, plus cocoa butter and sugar.
<i>Milk Chocolate: </i> It contains 10% chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, sugar and milk.
<i>White Chocolate: </i> White chocolate does not contain any chocolate liquor. It contains 20% cocoa butter, milk and sugar.
<i>Chocolate Oil: </i> Technically a misnomer, it basically oil with chocolate perfume. It is entirely synthetic and not for cooking.
<i>Chocolate Extract:</i> Cacao beans are soaked in alcohol and this flavoured extract is created. It is mostly like vanilla extract.
<i>Cocoa Butter: </i> When chocolate liquor is pressed to expel the fat and make cocoa powder, the fat expelled is cocoa butter. Cocoa butter is added to chocolate liquor to make the type of chocolate we enjoy eating.
<i>Gianduja: </i> Chocolate made with toasted hazelnuts ground into powder. It has a smooth, chocolaty texture, but has the wonderful flavor of hazelnuts.
<i>Couverture: </i> It is the good stuff - usually some type of dark chocolate with extra cocoa butter added to make it melt nicely for drizzling.
<i>Baking Chocolate: </i> It is unsweetened chocolate used by bakers.
<b>To eat or not to eat…</b>
<i>According to facts based on various studies-</i>
Chocolate is lower in caffeine than tea, coffee and even Coca Cola.
Chocolate was regarded as an aphrodisiac by Aztec Indians.
Chocolate contain theobromine, also found in some tranquilisers. It helps calm down.
Repeated studies have shown that chocolate does not cause acne - or make it worse.
Chocolate contains vitamins A, B1, C, D, and E, as well as potassium, sodium, iron, and fluorine.
Eating chocolate releases endorphins in the brain, which act as pain-relievers.
Chocolate boosts one's appetite, but does not cause weight gain if taken in moderation.
Eating chocolate does not trigger migraine headaches.
Eating moderate amounts of chocolate makes one live almost a year longer.
Chocolate reduces the risk of heart disease and cancer.
But honestly, chocolate is no divine catholicon that it can sort out most of our health troubles. Howsoever strong may be my craving for chocolate, I am unable to keep myself immune from the fact that most researches on chocolates are funded and financed by multinationals and chocolate interest groups with a natural bias in favour of chocolate.
It is true that chocolate actually contains antibacterial components that can actually help prevent cavities and tooth decay rather than promoting it. But it doesn’t mean devouring chocolate will never cause any harm to the teeth. We can’t ignore the sugar and preservatives added to it!
It is also difficult to turn a blind eye to the fact that chocolate as a high level of stearic acid, which is a saturated fat that increases risk of coronary artery disease and coronary death. Also the added milk, sugar and butter make it harmful for health. So what should we do? Not eat chocolate at all? Oh but that would be a cruel, heartless decision.
We can choose chocolates with the least amount of refined white sugar or other sweeteners. Dark 'bittersweet' chocolates with a high percentage of cocoa solids have less sugar and have the greatest health benefits. They also have the more ‘chocolaty’ taste.
Eating a small piece a day and allowing it to melt in the mouth, feeling its divine taste seeping into your senses is the best way to eat it.
Who knows by eating it in moderate amounts daily you may actually be adding nutrition to your body.
After all our ancestors did not call it the <i>food of Gods for no reason… </i>