I thoroughly appreciate 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon’s love of food (say that three times fast!), especially the episode where Tracy Morgan’s character shows her that she’s been quoted in the paper as a Cathy cartoon saying “Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, aack!” But I digress. Today’s post is, in fact, about the one thing that can bring us all together – chocolate. While it would be logical to start with how chocolate is made, we all know there is no logic when it comes to the consumption of chocolate, so I’m going to start with a post about the different grades of chocolate.
If you’ve ever been, well, anywhere you know that there are lots of different kinds of chocolate. From the ubiquitously known Hershey candy bar straight up to the high quality Valrhona chocolate that would probably turn it’s nose up at your if you dared to call it mere candy (and it would probably be right). Of course, there are four types of chocolate out there – unsweet chocolate (which contains no sugar at all), dark or bittersweet chocolate, milk chocolate (which contains – you guessed it, milk), and white chocolate (which many people don’t consider chocolate at all).
First, let’s break down a few things about those numbers on the outsides of the chocolate wrappers and what is in each type of chocolate.
- Unsweetened Chocolate: Chocolate Liquor
- Dark Chocolate: Chocolate Liquor, Cocoa Butter, Sugar, (occasionally vanilla)
- Milk Chocolate: Chocolate Liquor, Cocoa Butter, Sugar, Milk/Milk Powder, Vanilla
- White Chocolate: Cocoa Butter, Sugar, Milk, Vanilla
Now, sometimes, you’ll see soy lecithin as an ingredient, which is an emulsifying agent. Other various ingredients may also be emulsifying agents as well. But, hear me now when I say that a truly high quality chocolate shouldn’t contain anything but the ingredients listed above. Chocolate can be conched (a process that, basically, refines the texture of the chocolate) long enough to produce a smooth texture so these extraneous ingredients don’t have to be included. Of course, you’ll pay more for it, but you won’t have crappy ingredients in your chocolate either.
So, I’m sure you’re all wondering…what the F is chocolate liquor? No? Well, I’ll tell you anyway. It’s chocolate. Glorious, pure chocolate. The cocoa beans are roasted, separated from their shells, ground into a paste, melted into chocolate liquor, and then, in the case of unsweetened chocolate, molded into blocks. So, unsweetened chocolate is generally just used for baking sugar-free treats and so-on, because it has a super-strong flavor. Clearly, it does not have a number on it’s package – it’s all chocolate, all the time.
But what about the other chocolate that displays numbers? Here’s the fun part. That number, the 70%, 54%, 68%, etc. is the combination of chocolate liquor and cocoa butter. So, you can have a 70% dark chocolate bar that’s not as good as the 62%, because the 70% bar was more cocoa butter than chocolate liquor. Kind of a bummer isn’t it? This is why it’s best to taste several different brands and percentages to find the ones with the best texture and taste (what a burden).
Another thing to consider on your tasting round, is the flavor of chocolate. I know, I know, it’s delicious, but it also have different flavor notes. Some chocolates have fruity tones, while others have nutty undertones. I’m not talking about the chocolates that added flavors (the raspberry-dark chocolate nut bar…).
Finally, let’s talk about white chocolate. Believe it or not, many people don’t consider this to be a chocolate at all. Yes, it contains cocoa butter, which is a component of the cocoa bean, but is technically a cocoa fat, not a cocoa solid. It only contains about 35% cocoa, which is the minimum for something to be called chocolate. Truthfully, it is mostly milk, sugar, and fat. It has, however made it’s way on the chocolate list, and you won’t find me arguing to throw it off.
And, take heart all you vegans out there – you’re not relegated to a life of (delicious) dark chocolate! There are plenty of places making amazing vegan milk chocolate and milk chocolate candies(CrispyCat comes to mind), not to mention, you can easily make your own white chocolate!
One last word I want to throw out there – if you can, try to buy Organic and Fair Trade chocolate, because these companies generally don’t exploit farmers or participate in a system that frequently includes slave labor. If in doubt, check the company’s website or e-mail them directly and ask. A fairly comprehensive list and some info about fair trade chocolate is available here.