The cocoa tree grows in the wild in the north-western region of the Amazon Basin. The Olmecs were the first people to grow cocoa more than 2,000 years before Jesus Christ. Later, the Mayas carried on the tradition.
At the time cocoa was a ritual drink known as "xocoatl" (meaning bitter water) made with roasted, ground cocoa beans mixed with water and spices (different peppers and flowers). The cocoa bean was also used as a means of currency during this era.
During the XIVth century, the Aztecs invaded the Mayas territories and took over their economy. The importance of cocoa was maintained and even enhanced.
The Mayas and the Aztecs used cocoa butter to heal chapped skin and burns, to calm the heat of the sun, to treat the liver and lungs and also snake bites.
When Christopher Columbus discovered America, he also discovered cocoa, but found it totally uninteresting.
It was only in 1519 when Hernan Cortez and his troops landed on the Mexican coast that they discovered this bitter drink made from cocoa. Cortez rapidly understood the advantages for Spain in intensifying the cultivation of cocoa.
In 1528 Cortez took back cocoa with him to Spain along with the ingredients for making chocolate. Towards the end of the XVIth century, cocoa became fashionable after having undergone several improvements such as adding sugar instead of peppers to make it more palatable to European tastes.
Chocolate was introduced to France by the Jews who had fled Spain and Portugal and found refuge in the region of Bayonne.
Later, two royal weddings played an important part in the history of chocolate in France. They were the marriages of Anne of Austria with Louis XIII in 1615 and Marie-Theresa of Austria to Louis XIV in 1660. Wives of the kings of France and Spanish by birth, they would drink chocolate all day long.
The first trace of chocolate in Belgium goes back to 1635 and Father Baudeloo.
At the end of the XVIIth century, a certain Emmanuel Soares de Rinero obtained permission to produce chocolate in the province of Brabant. In the XVIIIth century several centres of production sprung up in the main towns in Belgium. Towards the end of the XVIIIth century chocolate started to be used for cooking and for making desserts. Thanks to industrialisation during the XIXth century, the price of chocolate diminished and it was used more and more in the preparation of dishes.
Belgium has an international reputation for quality chocolate. This is because Belgian chocolate is made with 100% cocoa butter and all the other ingredients used are also the best quality.
In 1912, in Brussels, Jean Neuhaus invented the first filled chocolate sweet which he called a "praline".
Several years later his wife invented the "ballotin", a box in which chocolates could be delicately wrapped. More than forty chocolate-makers now have businesses in the town of Brussels
1802: the Swiss François-Louis Cailler invented a technique to make chocolate solid. This is how the bar of chocolate came into being!
1875: the Swiss Daniel Peter and Henri Nestlé invented milk chocolate.
Rudolphe Lindt invented the technique of conching which refines the taste of chocolate..
1. Cocoa pods and cocoa beans
The fruit of the cocoa tree is the pod. It is oval-shaped and measures between 10 and 25 cm long, 15 cm wide and can weigh up to 750 grams.
The cocoa pod contains pulp in which the cocoa beans are stored. One cocoa pod contains around forty cocoa beans.
The beans are heaped in piles on the ground or placed in boxes which are covered with banana leaves. Fermentation takes between two and six days. During this time, the cocoa beans are regularly turned over in order to ensure even fermentation. This is how the beans detach themselves from the pulp and get their specific colour and flavours.
The cocoa beans must be dried before they can be shipped. They are spread out and left to dry in the sun for two weeks. At this stage as well they are regularly turned over.
4. Selection and cleaning
At this stage the cocoa beans are controlled for quality. After a rigorous selection of the best quality beans, they are submitted to a final verification.
The beans are heated to a temperature of between 120 and 130°C for fifteen to thirty five minutes. During the roasting process, the beans loose about 5 to 15 percent of their initial weight. Roasting enhances the flavor of the beans.
6. From cocoa beans to cocoa paste
Once the beans have been roasted, they are placed in a winnowing machine. This process removes the shells from the beans to leave just the cocoa nibs. Then beans of different origins are blended together in order to obtain the desired flavours. After all these different stages of transformation, the beans are again submitted to quality control checks where after they will be ground to obtain a compact paste.
7. From cocoa paste to consumer product
Chocolate is made by adding cocoa butter to cocoa paste, in addition to that which is naturally contained in the beans. This is what makes chocolate crisp and melt in the mouth, which are the characteristic of good quality chocolate.
The technique of conching consists in mixing the paste for several hours. The longer the paste is mixed, the finer and smoother the chocolate, and less bitterness.
8. The different types of chocolate
- Dark chocolate: contains a minimum 45 % cocoa paste, cocoa butter, sugar, soy lecithin and aroma (usually vanilla).
- Milk chocolate: contains a minimum 35 % cocoa paste, cocoa butter, milk, sugar, soy lecithin and aroma (usually vanilla).
- White chocolate: contains cocoa butter, milk, sugar, soy lecithin and aroma (usually vanilla).
Moulding: is where liquid chocolate is poured into the mould. It is left to cool and harden so that it can be filled and then another layer of liquid chocolate is added in order to seal the praline. It is left to harden again, after which the praline is unmoulded and turned over.
9. MAKING PRALINES
Coating: The trimmings are dipped into liquid chocolate or they are passed under a "curtain" of chocolate.
10. The temperature
Temperature plays a very important part in making pralines.
To work with dark chocolate a temperature of around 31-32 degrees is required.
To work with milk chocolate a temperature of around 30 degrees is required.
To work with white chocolate a temperature of around 28 degrees is required.
Storage: Chocolate has a limited shelf-life like all other consumer products. Dark chocolate can be kept for up to one year, whereas milk chocolate and white chocolate can only be kept for six months. Chocolate should be kept in a dry place at a temperature of between 15 and 18°C.
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