Chocolate is one of the most addictive foods on the planet and it is not hard to see why. There is no substitute for the rich taste, which is versatile enough to be enjoyed on its own or paired with everything from fresh fruit and pastries to wine. There has been a lot of play in the media recently regarding the supposed health benefits of chocolate and while the media does tend to exaggerate, in this case they`re more right than wrong.
Chocolate contains naturally occurring mood-enhancing chemicals as well as powerful oxidants. The former can help ease a bad day or enhance the rewards of a good one. Antioxidants help scour free radicals from your system, helping you to ward off some of the less pleasant changes that aging brings as well as supporting your body in its resistance to certain types of cancer.
All chocolate comes from the cacao (pronounced, cah-KOW) plant. The fruits of the plant are harvested and split open to reveal small seeds inside that resemble coffee beans. Once the beans and their surrounding pulp have been removed from the outer shell of the fruit, they are placed on banana leaves or in wooden boxes or baskets with bottoms that allow drainage and they are allowed to ferment. Sometimes they are covered with leaves. This is called, “sweating” and can take from six to eight days. During this time, the pulp liquefies and drains away and the beans age into a mellower flavor.
Once fermentation is complete, the beans are gathered and dried. At this point they may be shipped to large chocolate manufacturers, though in
the case of most fairly traded chocolate, the beans are processed on small farms.
The little nibs used to make chocolate are separated from the shells, either by hand or with the use of machinery, depending on where the processing takes place.
The cacao nibs may or may not be roasted, depending on what their end use will be. Roasting the nibs brings out the rich, dark flavor, but many proponents of raw foods prefer their cacao nibs unroasted.
As with so many things in life, not all chocolate is created equal and not all chocolate offers the same benefits. Most commercial chocolate is processed and loaded with fats, sugars and sometimes preservatives. One of the best ways to ensure that your chocolate is of the highest quality is to make it yourself from organic cacao beans, nibs or powder.
One of the main advantages of cacao is that it is easy to store. Place your nibs in plastic lined jute or burlap sacks and store them in a cool dry place for three to five months. Store cacao powder in airtight jars in a cool, dark place to keep it tasting fresh. How long it will stay that way depends on how it was processed, so be sure to ask for guidelines when you purchase it.
Now that you have your fresh, organic, fairly traded chocolate base, have a look at the very best in accessories, as recommended by the chocolate lovers at Chocolate Fudge Cafe, to make cooking with your cacao as fun as it is healthy. http://www.waresofknutsford.co.uk/
Photo of mousse with mango coulis is from the article “Tips for Pairing Fruits With Chocolate”. http://sweets.seriouseats.com/2010/08/pairing-fruit-and-chocolate.html