Why chocolate is so great

BY LISA HANLON – ( I wrote this a few years ago for iVillage)

chocolateI am a woman with needs and desires. I’m not obsessed with chocolate but I think I may need it and I certainly desire it. I have worked with chocolate for many years. I am a trained chocolatier. I know that makes me sound quite posh but, quite frankly, it just gives me a great excuse to eat more than the perceived ‘normal’ amount.

Chocolate has definitely become more fashionable over the past few years. We are a lot more aware of what goes into our chocolate. Most people when asked their favourite chocolate will say ‘Green and Blacks’, ‘Lindt’ or ‘Devine’.

They may claim they never eat anything with less than 70 per cent Cocoa. It’s a rare and beautiful thing when someone around the dinner table admits they love a chunky KitKat over a tiny piece of high quality dark chocolate.

Chocolate and health

Don’t get me wrong. I am one of the 70 per cent crowd. I know the health benefits of good quality dark chocolate. The higher the percentage of cocoa in chocolate the less sugar it contains. Chocolate contains vitamins and minerals, it contains phenylethylamine ( the same chemical released as when you are in love) and also contains good fat, cocoa butter and Iron.

In fact, good quality chocolate has more antioxidants than red wine and green tea. If you are a chocolate connoisseur you may wish to only eat chocolate from single origin or single estate chocolates. It’s like having single malt whiskey.

Tasting with five senses

Although most of us can’t help but eat chocolate quickly, with a bit of will power you can actually prolong the pleasure. Here are the five senses tasting techniques:

We eat with our eyes as the saying goes. Take the time to look at your chocolate. Does it have a gloss or sheen? This signals that the cocoa mass (cocoa butter) has been well-tempered, (cooled down in a controlled manor) moulded and cooled.

Does the chocolate have a wonderful aroma? This is a good sign of the percentage of the cocoa and quality of the roast. Single origin chocolates tend to have a delicious smokiness that a lesser quality chocolate lacks.

Is it a well-balanced taste? Does it have the right degree of sweetness? Is it slightly bitter? All these answers are indications of the quality of the chocolate, the percentage of cocoa and degree of roasting.

Chocolate should be smooth and silky. Is the surface slightly rough? Does it begin to melt as soon at you touch it? This should enable you to judge the cocoa butter content.

When you break a piece of chocolate do you hear a ‘snap’ or does it break silently? In s perfect world you want the combination of the two. A pronounced ‘snap’ could mean the chocolate is too cold to be sampled under optimum conditions

All chocolate comes from the cocoa bean. All cocoa beans come from the cocoa pod and all cocoa pods grow on the Theobroma Cacao tree. Harvesting is done by hand from May to December of every year.

The cocoa beans are scooped out of the pod and left to ferment. They are then dried and gently roasted to bring out the flavour. A process called winnowing is used to break down the cocoa beans so you are left with cocoa nibs. They then use a process called conching. This compresses the nibs so the cocoa butter is extracted in a liquid form.

Then it’s the tempering and forming of chocolate. The conched chocolate mass is tempered and moulded into bulk bars (depending on the manufacturers).

Things you may or may not know about chocolate

– There is no proven link between spots and chocolate. Just ask a dermatologist.
– Years ago, chocolate symbolised fertility, health, life and wealth.
– The cocoa bean was one of the first forms of currency.
– Frys was the first company to introduce chocolate bars in the UK.

So next time you get the urge to unwrap a piece of heaven you can sit back and do the five sense test. Or you can think, ‘stuff it’ and eat the whole lot in one go! As long as we have chocolate in the world I’ll be happy.