Chocolate – a quickfire guide
Research by Swiss chocolate makers Lindt & Sprüngli discovered that 35% of Germans eat chocolate more than once a week. But where does chocolate even come from, and why is it so popular? Time to investigate.
A box of chocolates is the classic Valentine’s Day gift. Preferably in a heart-shaped box. And if you’re stuck for a romantic idea this year, why not treat your date to dinner at Vapiano? We’re giving every couple a free glass of Prosecco when they order a main. But we digress. Let’s get back to why you’re here – chocolate!
Chocolate – where and how
As long as 2500 years ago, cocoa trees were worshipped by the Mayans. And who could blame them? Cocoa beans are now cultivated primarily in Central America, Africa and South-East Asia. The beans grow in 20 cm long pods on the trunk of the cocoa tree. Once harvested, the beans are removed from the pod and then fermented and dried in the sun before being washed, roasted and ground. The grinding process creates what is known as a “cocoa mass”, which can later be made into cocoa powder.
Chocolate is made either from cocoa butter or cocoa powder. The first production steps are conching and refining. The chocolate is gently heated and continually stirred to create chocolate liquor. Depending on what kind of chocolate is required, other ingredients like milk, sugar or nuts are then added to the liquor.
From sweet to bitter – the broad chocolate spectrum
Not all chocolate is the same. Here are the world’s most popular varieties.
Everybody’s darling – milk chocolate
Milk chocolate is the world’s firm favourite, probably due to its high sugar content and the resulting sweetness. The bad news – it’s packed with calories. As well as cocoa mass and sugar, manufacturers add milk or milk powder.
The baker’s friend – chocolate couverture
Keen bakers always have a stash of chocolate couverture at home. A high percentage of cocoa butter means it’s easy to melt and has a smart, glossy appearance when it hardens again. Perfect for topping cakes, biscuits, gateaux or pralines. Remember to always melt couverture in a bain-marie.
The dark knight – plain chocolate
As the name suggests, this is the darkest of the chocolate varieties. The higher the percentage of cocoa, the more bitter the flavour. Anything with 70% or higher is classed as “dark chocolate”. So-called “sweet-bitter” chocolate has a cocoa percentage of around 55%. Dark chocolate rarely contains milk making it a popular choice for vegans or those with a lactose intolerance.
The imposter – white chocolate
Strictly speaking, white chocolate isn’t even the real McCoy because it doesn’t contain any cocoa. It’s made from sugar, milk and vanilla flavouring and tastes super sweet.
Five fun facts about chocolate
Vegas has much more than casinos on offer! The Jean Philippe Pâtisserie inside the Bellagio hotel boasts the world’s largest chocolate fountain. It’s a whopping four metres tall. Enough chocolate for everyone!
It’s dangerous for dogs to eat chocolate. Our four-legged friends don’t produce the enzyme needed to metabolize the chemical theobromine that’s present in chocolate. The result can be toxic poisoning, so keep chocolate well away from greedy pets.
Up to the 19th century, chocolate was believed to have medicinal properties and could be purchased in pharmacies.
The heaviest praline weighed in at 4.4 tonnes. It was produced in Armenia and shot straight into the Guinness Book of Records. Mmmmh!
On Valentine’s Day, Japanese women don’t just buy chocolate for their loved ones. It’s customary to also give your boss a luxurious selection box, while male co-workers receive a less expensive version known as “giri-choko” or “obligation chocolates”.