Handmade fudge from the heart of Kent
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History Of Chocolate
People have been enjoying the flavour of chocolate for thousands of years. It has become associated with several strong human emotions including pleasure, love, guilt, and sex. Even today it is one of the most commonly given presents throughout many countries.
We tend to think of chocolate as a rich, luxurious treat but throughout most of its history it has been consumed as a drink rather than as a food. In about 600AD it was the middle American cultures of Mayans and Aztecs who were the first enthusiasts for chocolate.
By mixing crushed cacao seeds with warm water they created a frothy chocolate flavoured drink, which was quite bitter. It was nothing like the cocoa or hot chocolate we drink today. Aztecs spiced their drinks with chillies or thickened them with cornmeal. They also added flavourings such as vanilla or flower petals, or sweetened it using honey, as sugar was not yet available.
The Aztecs believed their chocolate drink would bring great wisdom, understanding and energy and it was consequently reserved for the ruling and priestly classes.
The Spanish conquistadores then conquered the Aztecs, introducing all sorts of new ingredients to the cultures. Finding the Aztec chocolate too bitter they introduced sugar to the recipe to sweeten it along with cinnamon, cardamom and a range of other spices. Although the Spanish kept their secret for more than a hundred years this new more palatable version eventually became very popular, spreading fast throughout America and the rest of Europe.
Solid chocolate for eating was eventually developed in England in the 19th century, however it was the Swiss who refined the chocolate making process in 1875, making the final product much more smooth and luxurious. Over time new technologies made the production of chocolate much more economical to mass-produce. Consequently it was no longer just a luxury product available to the rich but was now a treat available to everyone.
From this early start the popularity of chocolate as a food grew and grew, even finding royal approval in 1900 when Queen Victoria sent tons of chocolate to soldiers in the Boer War to wish them a Happy New Year. If you are particularly interested in the history of chocolate the manufacturer Godiva at www.godiva.com has some great further information.
How are Cocoa Beans Grown?
The manufacture of chocolate is a long and complex process. The main ingredient, the cocoa bean, grows in pods attached to the cocoa tree. There are two important cocoa bean species, criollo and forastero. Of the two, criollo tastes much better and has a deeper more interesting flavour and is consequently used in high quality chocolate.
The cocoa tree is very sensitive to its surroundings and will only produce a good crop if it is planted within 20 degrees of the equator and allowed to grow under the shade of other trees. Consequently the areas of the world where quality crops can be produced are quite limited. After planting the trees have to be nurtured for three to five years before they will even produce their first cocoa beans. Like many other crops they are also prone to diseases, moulds and pests, and so constant vigilance from the farmers is required. Unusually the cocoa pods grow from the trunk of the tree rather than from its branches, which makes machine harvesting impossible; so the crop can only be harvested by hand. Over the centuries the intense back-breaking work of harvesting the cocoa pods has been associated with all sorts of problems, such as slavery.
Even today cheap labour has only recently been addressed by the growth of Fair Trade products.
Visit www.fairtrade.org.uk for further information about the organisation.
Once harvested the ripe cocoa pods are cut from the tree and opened.
The skin between the rows of beans is peeled off and now exposed to light the beans turn from off-white to purple. They are then removed from the pod and piled on banana leaves, before being covered with more banana leaves. This allows micro-organisms to feed on the sugar around each bean and start the fermentation process, where the sugar is converted to alcohol and carbon-dioxide and finally to acetic acid.
Following fermentation the beans are transferred to bamboo mats, where they are allowed to dry in the sun for about two weeks. Following this drying process the beans are ready to be transported to the country producing the chocolate, usually by ship.
When the coca beans arrive at the production company they are initially sieved and cleaned to remove any foreign bodies. The beans are then roasted, in much the same way as coffee beans are. The process is critical to the chocolate flavour the bean develops and the roasting process is consequently a very tightly controlled. After roasting the beans are directed through rollers, which crush the shells, exposing the interior kernel or nib.
These nibs are subsequently coarsely ground to produce a dark mixture of fine cocoa particles and cocoa butter - this is called cocoa mass. Under high pressure the cocoa butter is squeezed out and cocoa powder is left. These two ingredients are then combined together again in different proportions to create different types of chocolate. For dark chocolate cocoa mass and sugar are the main ingredients, while white chocolate is created from just cocoa butter and sugar. Milk chocolate, as the name suggests, is made by adding milk to dark chocolate.
To create the smooth texture and melting mouth-feel the chocolate is further refined by passing it through a series of rollers, which become finer and finer. These break down the cocoa and sugar to smaller and smaller particles. The chocolate then moves on to the conching process, where the chocolate is once again mixed for several hours to make it even smoother. The final stage is tempering, where the chocolate is heated to a finely controlled temperature. When the chocolate sets from this temperature the cocoa butter it contains will have the most stable crystal structure, resulting in chocolate which has a hard, shiny finish and an almost brittle texture in the mouth when bitten.
The processed chocolate is now ready to be moulded into the required shape. The moulded chocolates are then transported across a vibrating table, which helps to remove any trapped air from the chocolate before it sets. The chocolate then passes through a series of cooling tunnels, which aids the setting process.
If you are interested in the processing of chocolate there is an excellent American website at www.chocolatealchemy.com, which covers all the processes in great detail.
What sorts of chocolate are there?
When the coca beans are ground up they produce a liquid, which is 50 per cent cocoa solids and 50 per cent cocoa butter. These ingredients are used in different proportions with the added ingredients to create different types of chocolate:
Dark or plain chocolate contains a higher percentage of cocoa solids, with little or no sugar added. The higher the percentage of cocoa solids the better the quality. Most of the better of brands contain at least 70 per cent cocoa solids and usually make this quite a selling-point on the packaging. Dark or plain chocolate can be eaten as it is but is also regularly used in baking and the preparation of desserts.
Milk chocolate contains 30 to 40 per cent cocoa solids with added sugar and milk. It is most commonly used in the production of sweets and mass-produced chocolate bars.
White chocolate contains no cocoa solids and consequently only obtains its mild chocolate flavour from cocoa butter. Milk, sugar and vanilla extract are added to create a sweet finished product. Some chocolate connoisseur's are a bit snobby about white chocolate, saying its not really chocolate as it contains no cocoa solids. However over recent years it has grown in popularity not only in confectionery but also as an ingredient used in restaurant desserts and manufactured ice-cream.
Cocoa powder is created when all the cocoa butter is removed. It is a very fine powder, which has a very bitter taste and can be used to make the real drink cocoa as opposed to the sweeter drinking chocolate. We hope you enjoyed reading about the background to chocolate.
Our chocolate fudge is made using a combination of best quality dark and milk chocolate.
Why not try some for yourself from the online shop?