Hi, gang. Well, if you’ve been watching the Food Network this month at all, you may have picked up on a theme. Let’s see, there was Alton Brown doing multiple chocolate shows; Unwrapped discussed the history of chocolate treats; On Food Network Challenge, the challenges for this week are Chocolate Runway Challenge, Chocolate Masterpieces, Chocolate Wonders (you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen the Eiffel Towel done in chocolate latticework!), Chocolate Landmarks, and Chocolate Fantasy; and just last night, I watched two back-to-back episodes of Iron Chef, wherein the secret ingredients were chocolate and chocolate and chiles.
Umm, have you guessed the theme yet? That’s right, you’ve won the prize. It’s chocolate! That’s because February is Celebration of Chocolate Month, all hinged on one day: St. Valentine’s Day, this Sunday. (Incidentally, February 14 is specifically National Creme-Filled Chocolates Day. Gee, I wonder why.)
Chocolate has a fascinating history, beginning in the New World. Native to Central and South America, chocolate has been used since at least 1100 B.C. The word “chocolate” comes from the Aztec Nuahatl word xocolatl, meaning “bitter water.” This was a ceremonial drink that the Aztecs made by mixing chocolate paste with herbs and spices and shaking it in a hollowed-out gourd until it frothed. More directly, “chocolate” comes from a combination of Nahuatl and Mayan dialects for the term “cacao water,” chocolatl. They also used cacao medicinally and called chocolate “food of the gods.”
[Excerpt from What, No Meat?]
In 1502, Columbus sent cacao beans back to Spain but no one took an interest, most likely because of their bitterness. In 1519, however, explorer Hernando Cortez tasted the Aztec drink and sent the beans once again to Spain. The beans found their way to a monastery where monks added sugar to it. It became a hit, but the details of chocolate-making were kept secret until the Jews were driven out of Spain in the mid-1500s. They went to France and shared the Spanish monks’ secret. French royalty took a liking to it and, naturally, it became elite. It was so expensive that a smuggling ring began in England and Holland to bring in beans illegally from Venezuela. Exclusive “chocolate clubs” opened up where the rich could indulge in it, and it was even used as currency. In 1847, British confectioners added sugar to cocoa and invented the chocolate bar. In 1876, a Swiss, Daniel Peter, invented milk chocolate for eating after eight years of experimenting.
Where Chocolate Comes From
Chocolate literally grows on trees in cacao pods. After they are harvested, the beans and pulp are removed from the pod, then allowed to ferment. Here is a further explanation of the process from Wikipedia:
“After fermentation, the beans are dried, cleaned, and roasted, and the shell is removed to produce cacao nibs. The nibs are then ground to cocoa mass, pure chocolate in rough form. Because this cocoa mass usually is liquefied then molded with or without other ingredients, it is called chocolate liquor. The liquor also may be processed into two components: cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Unsweetened baking chocolate (bitter chocolate) contains primarily cocoa solids and cocoa butter in varying proportions. Much of the chocolate consumed today is in the form of sweet chocolate, combining cocoa solids, cocoa butter or other fat, and sugar. Milk chocolate is sweet chocolate that additionally contains milk powder or condensed milk. White chocolate contains cocoa butter, sugar, and milk but no cocoa solids (and thus does not qualify to be considered true chocolate).”
It’s appropriate that chocolate has become so associated with Valentine’s Day because it is believed that chocolate has the same effect on the brain as falling in love and is, therefore, considered an aphrodisiac. And studies have shown that eating chocolate lowers the risk of fatal heart attacks. I mean, come on, if that’s not a reason to eat chocolate, what is?
Keep an eye out on news in the chocolate world. One of these days, you may end up buying something other than what you wanted. In 2007, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMS), on behalf of the Chocolate Manufacturers Association in the United States, petitioned the FDA to allow them to use vegetable fats and milk substitutes instead of real cocoa butter and milk products, yet still call the end product “chocolate.” The most well-known members of this group are Hershey (the largest chocolate manufacturer in the U.S.), Nestle, and Archer Daniels Midland, an agricultural conglomerate. The FDA rejected the petition, so our chocolate is safe for now. But anything can change. You can read the story Here or for a bunch of links, go HERE.
In the meantime, enjoy the yumminess that is chocolate. No one needs an excuse to buy chocolate, but St. Valentine’s Day is a good one anyway. Mind you, National Celebration of Chocolate Month and National Creme-Filled Chocolates Day are not the only chocolate holidays. No, no, no. Here’s a list of a few more:
February 19 Chocolate Mint Day
March 24 National Chocolate-Covered Raisins Day
April 21 National Chocolate-Covered Cashews Day
May 15 & August 4 National Chocolate Chip Day
June 22 National Chocolate Éclair Day
June 26 National Chocolate Pudding Day
July 7 National Chocolate Ice Cream Day
July 28 National Chocolate Milk Day
Sep 13 International Chocolate Day
December 28 and 29 National Chocolate Day
November 7 National Bittersweet Chocolate With Almonds Day
Dec 16 National Chocolate-Covered Anything Day
3rd Week March American Chocolate Week
Oh, yeah! Chocolate all year long! And that’s just in the United States. Wooo!
And to get you started, here’s a recipe for Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse (with my approximate American conversions), from JustChocolateRecipes.com. Enjoy!
Until next week, have a great Valentine’s Day, everyone.
Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse
250 g Dark chocolate (1 cup + 1 tbsp)
5 lg Eggs, whites and yolks separated
1 tsp Orange rind (grated) and extra for garnish
2 tb Roasted hazelnuts or pecan nuts (lightly crushed)
1 tb Caster sugar (“superfine” in the U.S.; otherwise, use confectioners’ sugar)
pinch Cream of tartar
Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of hot water. Once melted, remove and allow to cool a little.
Add egg yolks, one at a time, and mix in. Add in orange rind.
Beat egg whites, caster sugar and cream of tartar until it forms soft peaks and fold into the chocolate mixture. Add roasted pecan or hazelnuts.
Pour the mixture into individual bowls and refrigerate. Serve with sour cream, mint and grated orange rind.