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 Corkscrew  Share this article     Summary of Not Just Wine column  
  Not Just Wine Issue 12, October 2003   
ChocolateChocolate Wine ParadeWine Parade  Contents 
Issue 11, September 2003 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 13, November 2003


The food of gods, a beverage having its origin in the most ancient times, has become a tasty food having a countless number of lovers everywhere in the world



 The cocoa plant, whose scientific name is “Theobroma cacao” (Theobroma = food of gods), attributed by the naturalist Linnaeus, is a perennial plant growing in the tropical area at a latitude 20-30 degrees north and south, has its ideal habitat around 400 meters of altitude (1312 feet), in soils rich of azote and potassium, in a moist climate at a temperature from 20 and 30° C (68-86° F). The trunk is thin and in plantings can reach 6-7 meters in length (19-23 feet) whereas can reach 10 meters in wild conditions (33 feet). The fruit is called caryopsis and is egg shaped of 20-25 centimeters in length (7-10 inches) and 10-12 centimeters wide (4-5 inches) and its weight ranges from 200 grams to one kilogram (0.44-2.2 lbs.). The color ranges according to the variety, from yellow to ochre and to red. Cocoa is cultivated on the shadow of other plants having an abundant foliage which shelter it from wind, rains and from direct sunlight. The flowers, truly abundant, directly grow on trunk and on main branches, and only few of them, pollinated by gnats, will succeed in transforming themselves into fruits. On the inside of the fruit there are about 30-40 egg shaped seeds, 2-3 centimeters long (about 1 inch), covered by a whitish mucilaginous gelatin very rich in sugar.

The cocoa plant
The cocoa plant

 There are three varieties of cocoa: Criollo cocoa (creole), from Mexico (according to others, from the Amazon), having whitish seeds, considered of very high quality because it is very aromatic and not much bitter, delicate and unfortunately rare and also scarcely productive in terms of quantity. The second variety is Forastero Cocoa (foreign), from high Amazon, from which are derived African trees, characterized by violet seeds, considered of lower quality than Criollo, because very acid and with a bitter taste because of the higher contents in tannins. Despite this characteristic, and also because it is more resistant and productive, has a more rapid growth and covers 80% of worldwide production. The third variety is Trinitario Cocoa, which is an hybrid obtained by the other two species and has the characteristics of both. There are many hybrids, different for their characteristics, taste, aroma and color, and just like coffee, only one quality of cocoa does not give an excellent product, but only a proper blending of different qualities that every producer secretly keeps.



 The history of chocolate begins with the history of cocoa. Back in the time of legends, it seems that the first cultivators of the plant of cocoa were Mayans, around 1000 BC, and then were Toltecs and Aztecs. Legend goes that Aztec god Quetzalcoatl gave the world the seed of cocoa in order to be used for making a bitter and spicy beverage very energetic. In honor of this god the seed was called “cacahualt” which subsequently changed into “chocolatl”. Around 600 AD, in central America, Mayans used cocoa seeds as money, as a computation unit as well as for making a beverage called “xocoatl”. This beverage, obtained by toasting and grinding seeds, then blended with a liquid and whipped until obtaining a foaming beverage, is something which had nothing in common with the chocolate beverage we are used to consume today. This beverage, scarcely inviting, at least according to the modern taste, was appreciated because it could relief fatigue as well as stimulating physical and mental strength.

 In 1200 Aztecs imposed to the conquered people of Maya tributes to be paid in cocoa seeds. The cocoa beverage enriched with vanilla was the preferred drink of emperor Montezuma. At this point legend is substituted by history. In 1492, Christopher Columbus landed in Honduras, brought back cocoa seeds from America to Spanish court, however they will be ignored. Herman Cortes, in the first half of 1500's, understood the importance of the beverage obtained by cocoa seeds and brings to Spain the Aztec recipe of chocolate but the taste is still too bitter for the taste of the old world. Experts do not agree on the date, however we know for sure that at one point chocolate was consumed sweetened with sugar.

 In the beginning of the 1600's chocolate arrives in France added to sugar, cinnamon and vanilla, therefore meeting the taste of French and becoming a very common beverage. Its advent was because of the marriage between Spanish princess Anna, daughter of king Felipe III, and the king of France Louis XIII. As ordered by princess Anna, chocolate started to be served to the court of France. At the end of 1600's the beverage was common in Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Italy. In 1720 father Labat, while writing its memories about a mission in the Antilles, told Creoles from Martinica used the expression “at the chocolate” to say “at eight o'clock in the morning”, therefore revealing a very common habit.

 At the end of 1700's and at the beginning of 1800's in England are used steam machines to grind cocoa seeds: that was the beginning of the production of chocolate in huge quantities. In Netherlands, Van Houten invented a machine to extract cocoa butter, the beverage gets more fluid and therefore more pleasing. At the end of 1800's Swiss Daniel Peter adds condensed milk to chocolate therefore obtaining milk chocolate of solid consistence. Moreover, at the end of 1800's, another Swiss, Rudolph Lindt, develops a new and original method to refine chocolate, the result is an extremely fine final product: fondant chocolate was just born, a product having nothing in common with its ancient Mayan progenitor, “xocoatl”.


From Cocoa to Chocolate: the Production

 Transforming cocoa seeds into chocolate takes a lot of work. After the harvesting, fruits are broken and the seeds and the whitish pulp covering them are extracted, then they are put in recipients in order to ferment the pulp and to soften seeds: this process reduces the bitter and astringent taste of seeds while enhancing essential oils, an extremely important factor because it promotes the development of aroma that will determine the quality of the final product. At end of this process seeds are being dried under the sun or in artificial heat, then they are stored before being toasted. Subsequently the seeds are brushed by cleaning machines, in order to eliminate impurities and extraneous bodies, and at the end begins the process of “calibration” that allows the selection of seeds according their size, ready to be toasted.

 Toasting is a process during the which all the substances formed with the fermentation are now enhanced while giving seeds the characteristic aroma of cocoa. A fundamental process for the quality of the final product, because this process eliminates moist and acidity while promoting the development of aromatic components. In large rotating spheres the beans, this is the name of cocoa seeds, are being toasted for a period of 15-20 minutes, at a temperature ranging from 110 to 120° C (230-250° F). This process must be controlled by experts who decide the moment in which stopping the procedure, before cocoa beans get carbonized.

An opened cocoa's fruit
An opened cocoa's fruit

 The next phase consists in grinding and melting at a temperature of 50-60° C (122-140° F) cocoa seeds therefore obtaining cocoa paste, a part of it is used for the production of cocoa butter and soluble cocoa. The other part is processed and other components are added, such as sugar, and then it is refined. This process is not a simple operation of blending because friction, heat, air and time allow sugar to change some of its characteristics (inversion of sugar). The result of this process is a fluid, plastic and velvety product: fondant chocolate. At this point the compound is ready to be processed, to be pressed in tablets or in any other procedure. This process may vary according to the nutritional customs of the many countries, for American chocolate, pretty rough, this process lasts 18 hours, whereas for Swiss chocolate, extremely velvety, the process lasts 72 hours.

 The next phase of the process is called “tempering” and consists in lowering chocolate's temperature from 40° C (104° F) to 28° C (82° F) and subsequently to raise it to 31° C (87° F). This sudden change of temperature is useful in obtaining a solid and shiny final product while modifying cocoa butter crystals. The final phase is modeling where chocolate is poured in metallic or wooden molds which are subsequently vibrated in order to take air out from the paste and to obtain a homogeneous product. As soon as chocolate is cooled down is removed from the mold and then packed.


Types of Chocolate

 With the term chocolate it is intended a product containing a percentage of cocoa butter not lower than 35%. Among the many types of chocolate there are:


  • Base chocolate - it must contain at least 35% of cocoa of which at least 18% must be cocoa butter and the quantity of sugar must not be greater than 65%
  • White chocolate - contains at least 20% of cocoa butter, milk powder and sugar. It is not chocolate in the strict sense on the term because it does not contain cocoa but only cocoa butter
  • Milk chocolate - it is a blend of cocoa paste, cocoa butter, sugar and milk. The percentage of cocoa must not be lesser than 25%
  • Milk chocolate with hazelnuts - it is a blend of cocoa paste, cocoa butter, sugar, milk and whole hazelnuts. The percentage of cocoa must not be lesser than 25%
  • Fondant chocolate - must contain cocoa butter, cocoa paste and sugar. It contains a high percentage of cocoa, 35-45%, and it is slightly sweetened
  • Extra-fondant chocolate - contains a high percentage of cocoa up to 70%
  • Bitter chocolate - must be produced with partially skimmed milk for not more than 10% and must not contain colorants
  • Gianduia chocolate - contains about 25% of cocoa, cocoa butter, sugar and finely ground hazelnuts


Nutritional Qualities

 Chocolate is made of 64% of sugar, 22% of lipids (cocoa butter), 5% of proteins, 4% of mineral salts, 1.7% of alkaloid theobromine. Chocolate, because of its high contents in lipids, is undoubtedly a very caloric food: 100 grams of fondant chocolate has 515 Kcal, whereas the same quantity of milk chocolate has 545 Kcal. The permanence of cocoa in the stomach is one of the lowest, from one to two hours, just like wine, beer of coffee.

 Among the 850 chemical components of chocolate some requires a short mention. Theobromine seems to be a stimulant for the central nervous system, it also contains some anti depressive substances as well as aphrodisiac substances. The lipid component of chocolate is represented by 32% of monounsaturated fats and 58% of saturated fats, of which 33% is represented by stearic acid. Stearic acid is rapidly unsaturated into oleic acid which helps the prevention of the formation of blood coagula. Most of fatty acids in chocolate have a positive metabolic effect. As for cholesterol it should be noticed its low content: 1 mg every 100 grams.


 Chocolate, rich in polyphenols contained in cocoa seeds and that remain unaltered during the process of transformation, are the same found in red wine and tea. These substances have a strong antioxidant capacity and help the prevention or atherosclerosis. 40 grams of fondant chocolate contain 950 grams of antioxidants, the same as a glass of red wine, this is true for fondant chocolate only because milk chocolate contains just the half of that. The low content of sodium and the presence of iron, higher than red meat, magnesium, the mineral present in the highest quantity in chocolate, indispensable for the correct functioning of cellular activities, phosphor, slightly higher than in cod, potassium and calcium, make chocolate a food particularly suited for the ones who are involved in sports and physical activities. Chocolate has a low content in sodium, therefore is a food to be considered by those individuals that, because of hypertensive pathologies, should control the daily intake of sodium.

 It is frequently said that chocolate has anti depressive effects, a capacity which certainly has. Chocolate works as a catalyst and promotes the production of endorphins. Endorphins are peptides substances produces by hypophysis having a function of neurotransmitter: thanks to the narcotic action similar to the one of morphine, they lower the sensibility to the pain and stimulate euphoric sensations. 100 grams of chocolate contain about 1 mg of a substance having similar effects of LSD, which is naturally produced by the brain in circumstances of desire and also probably during sexual excitement. In chocolate it is also present a certain quantity of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), one of the active principles of marijuana. The brain produces a similar substance, connected to sensation of wellness, and the consumption of chocolate tends to keep this substance longer before being dissolved, prolonging the pleasing sensations. In case this premise could be cause of fear, it should be remembered these substances are present in quantities so low that cannot be cause of any negative effect, they are natural substances and are present in the right quantity in order to have positive effects. In order to have negative effects to human health it requires a quantity 100,000 times higher of that contained in chocolate.



 Just like wine, even for chocolate there are rules to be followed in order to do a correct tasting, these rules, or better, these advices, created and used by experts, are useful to the evaluation of every aspect of this extraordinary food. Before proceeding with tasting it should be considered that in case fondant chocolate is going to be tasted, the first one will be that having the lowest content of cocoa up to the highest. In case the tasting includes more types of chocolate, white chocolate will go first, then milk chocolate and finally fondant chocolate, always paying attention to the quantity of cocoa, always in ascending order. These rules are very important in order to correctly perceive chocolate's aromas.

 The ideal color should be mahogany-cinnamon red and it is not true a chocolate in order to be good must always have a dark color (brown-black), sometimes this color is used to hide certain defects.The color must be brilliant, not dull, without any white coating (it is a cropping up of cocoa butter) or grey coatings (cropping up of sugar) caused by a bad keeping.

 Snap the tablet of chocolate: the sound must be clean and sharp, according to the environmental conditions; this will be useful for the evaluation of the quality of cocoa butter crystallization. Smell the chocolate while trying to individuate primary aromas (the ones typical of cocoa) and the secondary ones (these may vary from cocoa to cocoa) and any possible bad aroma. A good fondant must have a clean aroma of cocoa and a vague hint of vanilla. A milk chocolate must smell of vanilla followed by the aroma of milk and then the one of cocoa. A white chocolate must have a delicate and sweet aroma of vanilla and milk.

 Take the chocolate to the mouth and chew it slowly. A quality chocolate must rapidly melt, it should not be neither too sweet nor too bitter as well as not acid, in the mouth must give a velvety sensation. The sequence of sensations go from sweet to rapidly change into slight acid and then to bitter (bitter taste is a positive sign of a low content in sugars). Then the persistence will be evaluated, that is the time passed after having swallowed the chocolate up to the end of the aromatic sensations: the higher the persistence, the higher the quality. In case of milk chocolate, it must rapidly melt in the mouth, it must be less crunchy of fondant chocolate and slightly softer, and it must develop this way: sweet, acid, bitter with an intense flavor of milk followed by an aroma of vanilla.

 In case white chocolate is being tasted, it should be remembered it must be as crunchy as milk chocolate, it must rapidly melt in the mouth and must develop this sequence of flavors: cocoa butter, a vaguely acid sensation, sweet of sugar and an intense flavor of milk, followed by an aroma of vanilla and a vague flavor of lecithin. The right temperature for keeping chocolate is from 16 to 18° C (60-64° F). It should not be kept in refrigerator because other extraneous smells could contaminate the aromatic characteristics of chocolate. In case chocolate is going to be kept in the refrigerator, it will be good to put it in an airtight container.


 Corkscrew  Share this article     Summary of Not Just Wine column  
  Not Just Wine Issue 12, October 2003   
ChocolateChocolate Wine ParadeWine Parade  Contents 
Issue 11, September 2003 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 13, November 2003

Wine Parade


The best 15 wines according to DiWineTaste's readers. To express your best three wines send us an E-mail or fill in the form available at our WEB site.

Rank Wine, Producer
1 Colli Bolognesi Pignoletto Superiore “Prova d'Autore” 2001, Bonfiglio (Italy)
2 Masseto 1998, Tenuta dell'Ornellaia (Italy)
3 Capo di Stato 1998, Conte Loredan Gasparin (Italy)
4 Franciacorta Cuvée Annamaria Clementi 1996, Ca' del Bosco (Italy)
5 Teroldego Rotaliano Granato 1998, Foradori (Italy)
6 Château Laroque Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classè 1998 (France)
7 Sauvignon Blanc 2000, Cakebread (USA)
8 Fumé Blanc Napa Valley 2001, Grgich Hills (USA)
9 Shiraz 2000, Plantaganet (Australia)
10 Alto Adige Gewürztraminer Kolbenhof 2002, Hofstätter (Italy)
11 Margaux 2000, Ségla (France)
12 Riesling Adelaide Hills 2001, Nephente (Australia)
13 Barolo Brunate 1999, Enzo Boglietti (Italy)
14 Pinot Noir 1998, Mountadam (Australia)
15 Carignano del Sulcis Superiore Terre Brune 1999, Santadi (Italy)

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