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Food of the Gods

Since the Days of the Aztecs, No Food Has Incited More Passion than Chocolate
Sam Gugino
From the Print Edition:
Pierce Brosnan, Nov/Dec 97

(continued from page 1)

These various types of chocolate are further refined by putting them through huge rollers that reduce the size of their particles. The chocolate is then conched. Conching, so named for the shell-like shape of the containers originally used, is a process in which large blades whip through the heated chocolate liquor for anywhere from 12 hours to several days to produce different textured chocolate. This kneading process not only smooths the texture of the chocolate but allows volatile acids and moisture to evaporate. It is during this process that more cocoa butter may be added, as well as emulsifiers such as lecithin, which create an even smoother texture.

For practical purposes, there are six kinds of chocolate. Government regulations do not control all six, and regulations in the United States do not always coincide with the standards and terminology used in Europe. However, European chocolate sold in the United States must adhere to U.S. standards. The varieties are:

Unsweetened or Bitter Chocolate
This is the essence of chocolate--just the chocolate liquor, with no sugar added. It may, however, contain some vanilla. According to the U.S. Standard of Identity, federal regulations established by the Food and Drug Administration, unsweetened chocolate must contain a minimum of 50 percent of cocoa butter but no more than 60 percent. Since chocolate liquor contains between 50 and 60 percent of cocoa butter after processing, some companies add or subtract this ingredient for their final product.

Unsweetened or bitter chocolate, which should not be confused with bittersweet chocolate, is also known as baking chocolate. Because there isn't enough sugar to make it palatable for eating out of hand, unsweetened chocolate is used almost exclusively for confections and desserts. Unsweetened chocolate generally comes in eight individually wrapped one-ounce portions. In a recent issue of Cook's Illustrated magazine, Nestlé Unsweetened Baking Chocolate Bars took top honors in a taste test, followed by Guittard, Merckens, Ghirardelli, Van Leer and Baker's, in descending order of preference.

Bittersweet and Semisweet Chocolate
This is the broadest category of chocolate, and the one that is subject to the most confusion, beginning with the names themselves. Despite the difference in the two names, the chocolates are interchangeable, because there is no standard that differentiates them. That said, chocolates labeled bittersweet generally have a stronger, more pronounced chocolate flavor that results from a higher concentration of chocolate liquor and a lower sugar content. Regardless of what it is called, each product must contain at least 35 percent of chocolate liquor. This category is the darkest of the eating chocolates and therefore has the richest chocolate flavor.

Bittersweet or semisweet chocolate serves a dual purpose in the United States. It is eaten out of hand but is also used in many desserts and confections--a change from earlier days, when most desserts and confections were made of unsweetened chocolate.

Sweet Chocolate
As the name implies, this is a sweeter chocolate, with a less intense chocolate flavor. It requires only 15 percent of chocolate liquor and must contain less than 12 percent of milk solids.

Milk Chocolate
This is America's favorite eating chocolate, the kind found in candy bars and other chocolate candies. It contains at least 12 percent of milk solids and 10 percent of chocolate liquor. The chocolate flavor is mellow, somewhat caramelized and tempered by a high dairy content.

White Chocolate
The U.S. Standard of Identity traditionally has not recognized this as chocolate because it contains no chocolate solids other than cocoa butter; hence its color. When white chocolate is produced in the United States, it is called confectionery coating. Europeans prefer the term white chocolate, a designation that the United States is considering for approval and one that selected manufacturers are being allowed to use on a trial basis. In addition to cocoa butter, white chocolate contains sugar, butterfat, milk solids, lecithin and flavorings. Quality white chocolate should have an ivory color, which indicates a high percentage of cocoa butter. When the cocoa butter is replaced by cheaper fats, such as vegetable fats, the color becomes progressively whiter and the quality of the flavor is reduced.

Cocoa Powder
When most of the cocoa butter has been removed from the chocolate liquor under hydraulic pressure, a cake is formed. This cake is then ground into cocoa powder or breakfast cocoa, which contains between 10 and 22 percent of butterfat. Most cocoa is simply labeled as cocoa (not breakfast cocoa) or medium-fat cocoa. The chocolate flavor in cocoa powder can vary from mild to strong. Similarly, colors can range from light tan to red to black. Dutched chocolate has been treated with an alkalizing agent to modify flavor and to make the powder more easily absorbed in liquid. The Dutching process may also alter color, making the product almost black in extreme cases.

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