Food and Culture

Chocolate 101: A dummies guide to chocolate

By Archit Agarwal

Nobody needs an introduction to chocolate or chocolate types today. But did you know that the chocolate we all know and love comes from the cocoa solids and cocoa butter extracted from cocoa beans? These beans are the dried and fully fermented seeds of the Theobroma cacao plant, which gets its name from Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus. It is said that Linnaeus, who was a big fan of chocolate, named the tree ‘Theobroma cacao’, meaning ‘cacao, food of the Gods’. And right he was, for there is probably little else in the world that comes close in taste to the bliss of biting into a bar of good quality chocolate.

The humble chocolate has been around for over 3,000 years and was developed way back in 1900 BC. Initially, it was consumed as a drink in Central and South America. Chocolate milk, which is a favorite even today, was first made in Jamaica. As it traversed the world, it started seeing new inventions, including sweeteners like cane sugar or honey. After years of innovation, chocolate finally obtained its solid form in the 19th century, and we’ve never looked back!

Types of Chocolate

Chocolate has three main types: dark, milk, and white. However, it can be categorized into several other variations, all having their own purpose. For example, the toasty, almost caramelized blond chocolate, named after its striking color, was actually made by accident by pastry chef Frédéric Bau, according to the chocolate's founding company, Valrhona. But for now, let us look at three popular chocolate types and how they can be used.

Read on for a quick run-down of all things chocolate. While we all have our favorites, there is one thing that we all agree on – we love chocolate. Happy cooking!

Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate – the king of chocolate – is a form that contains cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Its purest form has no sweeteners and is called bitter or unsweetened chocolate. They have a varying percentage of cocoa, ranging from 70% to 100% – the higher the percentage, the more bitter the chocolate.

Cocoa has a unique quality that no one ever frets about taking advantage of! Eating a few squares of dark chocolate throughout the day can go a long way, and it’s not only because of their incredible taste. Studies show that uses of dark chocolate are manifold. Eating chocolate actually improves your mood. Endorphins are the body’s mood enhancers. They trigger a positive feeling in the body, often described as ‘euphoric’. Aside from this, dark chocolate is in fact some of the healthier desserts you can enjoy. It provides about 600 kilocalories of food energy – the perfect amount to get you through the day, and is a rich source of several minerals like iron, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, and zinc. The list doesn’t stop there!

Dark chocolate is also a rich source of antioxidants, which penetrate your bloodstream to fight several diseases.

Dark chocolate adds depth of flavor to desserts. It helps balance the sugar while adding a complex flavor profile and just a little kick of energy thanks to the caffeine naturally present in every bite. Luckily, there are some ingenious ways in which we can use them in desserts. For instance, combining dark and milk chocolate like in this Oreo Pizza recipe gives this dish a whole new flavor dimension that you wouldn’t get without the bitter notes of dark chocolate.

Milk Chocolate

Our childhood best friend, who didn't love milk chocolate as a child? Simply put, milk chocolate is a mix of cocoa solids, cocoa butter, sweeteners, and milk. The term ‘milk chocolate’ was first used to describe a beverage brought to London from Jamaica in 1687. But it took another two hundred years, in 1875, before Swiss inventor, Daniel Peter, successfully combined cocoa and condensed milk to make the first-ever milk chocolate bar. By the early 1900s, milk chocolate had seen a wide variety of new forms – adding nougat, nuts, caramel, and dried fruit to give us the flavors we all love today.

Milk chocolate is an integral part of the confectionary world today. It is light, sweet, and smooth, perfect in a range of chocolate desserts. In India too, it has been a household staple since the twentieth century. Milk chocolate is also a forgiving ingredient in desserts, and ideal for beginner bakers starting out on their baking journey. We recommend the Crackle Mousse to indulge in the sweet goodness of milk chocolate. And, even if you get it wrong, perhaps you will lead the path to a new dessert – just like how the chocolate chip cookie was invented by a beautiful accident when the chips added to the cookie didn’t melt while baking!

White Chocolate

We all remember our first white chocolate – smooth, melt-in-the-mouth deliciousness! A pale, eggshell-colored chocolate with a rich buttery taste and notes of cream that leave a luxurious, almost velvety mouthfeel. But did you know that white chocolate is truly ‘real’ chocolate? It is made from cocoa butter – not cocoa beans – along with milk solids, sugar, and sometimes vanilla.

Now just because it looks different, it doesn’t mean that the humble white chocolate doesn’t have some great dietary benefits. While it contains milk solids and sweeteners, the presence of cocoa butter does plenty of good. Cocoa butter, the fat component in this delightful treat, is made up of three main types of fat: stearic, palmitic, and oleic acids. Palmitic acid, which composes about 25% of the cocoa butter content, is known to raise LDL cholesterol levels in the body. However, cocoa butter is self-regulating, which means that the remaining fatty acids make up for this by lowering those unhealthy cholesterol levels.

White chocolate is also the only type of chocolate that doesn’t contain caffeine. So, it is a perfect substitute for chocolate desserts for people who follow caffeine restrictions in their diet. Can’t have hot cocoa? Try a white chocolate drink instead – perfect to indulge your sweet tooth before you go to bed! Some of our favourite ways to make desserts with white chocolate revolve around Oreo cookies. If you are looking for some inspiration, check out how we make our mouth-watering Oreo Fudge.

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