In honor of Valentine’s Day next week I thought I would post about one of my favorite topics – chocolate! Although I have a personal opinion that Valentine’s day is a contrived holiday and do not care much for it, I also find it a good excuse to eat some chocolate. Really, I do not need an excuse to eat chocolate, but if there is a day that lends itself to some choco indulgence then who am I to argue?
As you have probably already gathered, I loooooooovvvveee chocolate! I never understood people who do not like chocolate. If milk chocolate is too sweet then you have the option of dark. If dark is too bitter then try milk! There are so many brands and ways to prepare this tasty confection that I cannot imagine that someone could not find some kind of chocolate that they would like.
For centuries cultures all over the world have been processing chocolate. I am not sure who came up with the idea of harvesting the beans from the cocao tree and adding milk and sugar to it, but whoever it was, they really were a genius – thank you!
I used to believe that chocolate was naturally sweet. I was wrong. In its raw form it is actually quite bitter. Chocolate is produced from the beans of the cacao tree. The cacao beans are dried, cleaned, roasted, and the shell is removed to produce cacao nibs. The nibs are ground to produce coco mass. The coco mass can be processed into cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Depending on how the cocoa is processed from there will depend upon what type of chocolate you get.
Dark chocolate – This is made up mostly of cocoa solids. In Europe they even have stipulations as to how much cocoa solids must be in the chocolate to deem it “dark chocolate” . This is actually my favorite type of chocolate. However, that was not always the case. I used to find it too bitter and much preferred milk chocolate. Then one day I was watching Dr. Oz talk about the health benefits of dark chocolate and I was intrigued. Could eating chocolate actually be good for you? I had to learn more. I discovered that eating a small amount of dark chocolate often is good for you because it is so rich in flavenoids which act as antioxidants. This was music to my ears! I then made a concerted effort to eat dark chocolate as opposed to other types of chocolates and I gradually became used to the more bitter taste. Nowadays unless I am eating really good milk chocolate I am finding that I actually prefer the dark.
Milk Chocolate – Is a combination of cocoa solids, cocoa butter (or other fat), sugar and a milk product. This is the most popular type of chocolate consumed in the U.S. today. Not everyone has gotten on the dark chocolate bandwagon – yet. Some of my favorite uses for milk chocolate include fondue and eating it in candies and chocolate bars.
White Chocolate – White chocolate contains cocoa butter, sugar, and milk but no cocoa solids. Because there are no cocoa solids many people do not even consider it chocolate. Trivia – the cocoa butter that is in the popular creams that you rub on your dry skin is the same cocoa butter in white chocolate. I find white chocolate to be very sweet and do not use it often. Because it is white it can be mixed with different colors and used in homemade candy making.
Cocoa Powder – Cocoa powder is the cocoa solids without being mixed with fat or sugar. It is actually low in fat and also has a bitter taste on its own. The nice thing is that it is very “chocolatey” and is perfect for baking cakes and brownies. Another great use for cocoa powder – hot chocolate!
A great combination chocolate is semi-sweet chocolate. It is not as bitter as dark chocolate and not as sweet as milk chocolate. Whenever I use chocolate chips I use semi-sweet. This is used in my recipe for oatmeal chocolate chip cookies which is the ultimate cookie!
Nowadays you can find some really impressive chocolates from all over the world in local grocery stores and markets. My personal favorite is chocolate that comes from Belgium. I am not sure what they do in Belgium to make their chocolate so good, but whatever it is they need to keep it up! I really do also love chocolate from all over the world. There are many terrific artisanal chocolate shops popping up. Then there are restaurants dedicated to chocolate. I love Chocolate By The Bald Man which now has locations in a few cities. Then there are some shops that specialize in some tasty chocolatey treats. One thing I really miss from NYC is the hot chocolate at City Bakery. If you are ever in The City and want some great hot chocolate this is a place to go. Of course there is also the famous frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity which is a New York tradition.
Regardless of where you get your chocolate, or what type is your favorite, I think it is a great way to say “I love you” to a person, or yourself and not just on Valentine’s Day 🙂