Friday, December 28, 2007

Chocolate is one of the 4 main food groups

At Christmas time, if we have been naughty or nice, we should receive chocolate, so lets focus on one of the food main food groups.

Origin of Chocolate
Native to South America, cocoa beans first came to Europe in the treasure-laden galleons of the Spanish conquistadors. Quickly spreading throughout Europe and beyond, this gift from the New World won more and more admirers. But long before that, the cocoa bean had been enjoyed by the Maya and the Aztecs. So valued was the cocoa drink that they used it as a sacred offering and even employed cocoa beans as currency!

Cocoa Beans
Chocolate is made from the beans harvested from pods of the cacao tree, grown within 10 degrees north and south of the equator. The best-known beans are the rare, delicate Criollo and Trinitario varieties and the more robust Forastero. The finest quality cocoa beans come from hand-nurtured cacao plants and, like wine production, important factors are the local soil, weather and the grower's expertise. Each of these plays its role in the flavour of the chocolate produced.

Quality Chocolate
Quality chocolate has up to 75% cocoa content, compared with as little as 20% in cheap products. Made from carefully roasted and milled quality beans, it has a smooth, velvety finish. Mass-produced chocolate has a gritty texture, more sugar, lower-grade cocoa beans and non-traditional ingredients like dried milk and vegetable oil.

The most skilled chocolatiers learnt their craft in France, Belgium, Italy or Switzerland. First, they select the exact mix of cocoa bean varieties. Well-versed in each variety's special characteristics, chocolatiers create a blend that is balanced, yet with its own uniquely attractive personality. Gently roasted, these beans are then milled for many hours to produce a very fine cocoa. This is mixed with the only ingredients required for quality chocolate: cocoa butter, sugar, natural vanilla and lecithin. For milk chocolate, fresh milk alone is added.

Chocolate Tasting
Like wine, and any other quality food, the enjoyment of luxury chocolate involves all five senses. These are the characteristics that a true chocolate connoisseur looks for...

  • Sight - Look for a shiny, smooth surface of completely blended chocolate, free from any imperfection.
  • Sound - Well-tempered chocolate with a high content of pure cocoa makes a distinctive sharp snapping sound when broken.
  • Touch - The feel should be satin-smooth - not grainy like low-quality chocolate.
  • Smell - Like a vintage wine, premium chocolate releases a range of aromas.
  • Taste - Chocolate should be a savoured delight. Press it to the roof of your mouth and let it slowly melt around your tastebuds. The velvety flavours gradually translate into a pleasantly lingering after-taste. Luxury chocolate can be complex and distinctive, with aromas ranging from citrus, fruity, spice, coffee, smokey, and so forth depending upon the origin of the bean.

For guests with a desire to focus on this particular food group, Rich & Lingering have designed tours to gratfiy their senses and indulge!

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