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June 19, 2013
CHOCOLATE 101Imagine the aroma of the most superb chocolate and its seductive taste as it melts in your mouth. What are the sensations all about and what exactly is chocolate?
Cocoa beans, the fruit of cocao trees, are processed into nibs, the "meat" of the cocoa bean. The nibs, which contain more than 50% cocoa butter, are ground, generating enough heat to liquefy the cocoa butter and form the bitter chocolate liquor. Cocoa powder is what remains when most of the cocoa butter is removed. The type of chocolate, such as "dark" and "semi-sweet", is dependant upon the percentage of liquor and the sugar that is added to it. Milk chocolate has added milk solids and is much sweeter than any of the dark chocolates. Think of this process as making peanut butter. The heat and grinding of peanuts is what produces the peanut butter. After that, sugar, salt and sometimes other ingredients are added.
When it comes to suppliers, there are only about a handful of businesses in the U.S. that actually start from the cocoa bean. These companies then sell a supply of their bulk chocolate to companies who melt, remold and decorate the chocolates.
Although you can easily buy a Hershey's or Nestle's chocolate bar, you won't see a Merckens, or Wilbur bar. These are two of the U.S. companies that produce a bulk chocolate. You may, however, find a bar of Scharffen Berger chocolate, as they are the newest supplier in the chocolate market. At candy-making stores you'll find various products from both domestic and foreign suppliers. But take note that you could be buying what is referred to as "compound chocolate."
Compound chocolate has most of the cocoa butter removed and replaced with vegetable fats such as palm oil and coconut oil. It is much easier to melt and mold with these "chocolates", but not considered to be real chocolate and usually come in various colors, to include brown.
My favorite chocolate store was called Kron Chocolatiere and had venues in Manhattan and Great Neck. After they went out of business I searched for an equivalent. It turned out that a man named John Whaley, who now owns Fifth Avenue Chocolatiere, owned the Manhattan venue. The chocolates are made at a factory located in Long Island City and he still uses the same combinations of bulk chocolates, two of which are Belgian imports.
At the factory, located at 43-10 23rd Street in Long Island City, the combined chocolates are melted, mixed in a machine and then tempered. That means that the chocolate has to be brought to a degree that will enable the cocoa butter to crystallize into a very fine, homogenous mass. Otherwise the molded chocolate would develop fat crystals and give it a granular consistency. Whaley states that if they are tempered by hand, using a marble slate, you are assured of a better quality of chocolate, as large machines need more oil for a smooth ejection. The tempered chocolate is then poured into molds, fillings are added, and you get to purchase chocolates by the pound.
The chocolates that come in bulk are of different grades and although you may find chunks of Callebaut in some gourmet stores, it may not be the same quality as the bulk chocolate that Whaley obtains. You can avoid Manhattan by going directly to the factory and save 25%. Make sure that you have the correct address, as there is no sign posted at the factory.
For generations, Schmidts Chocolates has been a landmark in Woodhaven.
Is chocolate "healthy"? The Chocolate Manufacturers Association along with the American Dietetic Association conducted studies with findings producing positive feedback. Chocolate is a rich source of polyphenol antioxidants that may actually help in guarding against cancer and heart disease. Women who crave chocolate likely do so because of its flavor and mouth feel, not because there are "addictive" substances in chocolate. In regards to dental care, while any food that contains sugar or starch can cause dental caries, studies show that certain naturally occurring substances such as tannins in cocoa may play a role in the inhibition of dental plaque formation. The "healthiest" style of chocolate is one that has the least amount of sugar and highest percentage of cocoa.
Enjoy the Theobroma cacoa, Greek for "food of the Gods" and ask yourself this question about non-pareils. If they are "non", then what exactly is a "pareil?"
June 17, 2003 - Queens Times
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