Curiosities about cocoa and chocolate

The Cocoa Tree:cocoa comes from a tree (Theobroma Cacao L.) originally from the Amazonian basin or Orinoco, in South America, before spreading to Central America and Mexico. It is known as “the tree of life” and ranges up to 6-8 metres, growing naturally in the tropical rain forests. This tree produces a mattress of flowers on the trunk and its biggest branches, but only some of the flowers are fertilised and therefore only a few of them produce fruit.

The importance of Cocoa in history:the indians Mayans and Aztecs of Central America and Mexico cultivated cocoa for 3,000 years and used to make a drink with cocoa and spices unlike anything we call chocolate today. The Swedish botanist Linnaeus gave it the Latin name Theobroma Cacao L. which means ‘food or drink of the Gods’ indicating how important the Cacao Tree was to these communities. The cocoa beans were also used as money.

The quality of chocolate:Unlike the popular belief, the famous cocoa percentage mentioned on most chocolate bars is not necessary related to its quality. Quality has on the one hand to do with the variety of the cocoa itself, there are three main varieties (Criollo, Forastero and Trinatario). On the other hand, it has to do with fermentation, drying, toasting, etc., processes that go into making the chocolate liquor.

Chocolate must first be tempered: cocoa butter in chocolate liquor forms solid crystals but these crystals may take on six different forms or chemically speaking, you could say it is polymorphic. Polymorphism is the ability of a substance to crystallize in several distinctly different forms. For example pure carbon may crystallize in one form as graphite (pencils) but equally it could crystallize and become diamonds. Chocolate is polymorphic and there are two types of crystals that one wants to obtain. One gives the chocolate brilliance and shine, whilst the other creates a smooth texture and delicate flavour in the mouth. The process required to achieve these characteristics is known as ‘tempering’. Properly tempered chocolate crystallizes as a hard, stable, shiny substance, with a good snap and a long shelf life. To achieve this involves heating the chocolate to 45 degrees, agitating it and cooling it down according to a predefined cooling curve.