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August 29, 2011

9 Min Read
Culinary Roadmap for Chocolate

By Eric White, Contributing Editor

When we think of chocolate, the first thing that likely comes to mind is the wonderfully rich, sweet and creamy indulgence that becomes a great truffle or plated dessert at the end of a meal. But chocolate has a diverse flavor based on growing regions and lends itself to more than just sweet treats. In fact, today chocolate is used to add a subtle sweetness to savory dishes, as well.

Cocoa origins

There are three main varieties of cocoa trees grown today: criollo, forastero and trinitario. Criollo is the rarest cocoa produced and is mainly found in Central America. Years ago, criollo was the dominant source of cocoa. However, the trees are delicate and less resistant to disease, leaving very few pure trees in existence today. Now forastero cocoa is the most common, as the trees are resistant to many diseases. The majority of the cacao grown in Africa is forastero. Forastero cocoa is higher in fat and has a stronger flavor than criollo. Trinitario is a hybrid of criollo and forastero. The resulting cocoa is stronger, with a fruity flavor.

Chocolates flavor varies based upon its growing region; however, there can be a wide flavor range even within a given region. Consumers today are recognizing the effect terroir has in contributing to the unique range of flavors.

Africa produces the majority of the cacao crops. The beans coming from the Ivory Coast and Ghana have a deep chocolate flavor that will produce a more-pronounced chocolate experience. This type of chocolate can be best utilized in products that will have stronger flavors, such as those featuring the addition of chiles or ginger.

Beans originating in Latin America tend to be balanced with fruity notes. In South America, the flavor varies from complex fruit and deep cocoa flavor to floral and herbal. Cocoa grown in the Dominican Republic produces beans that range in flavor from bright and fruity to deeply earthy with hints of tobacco. In Indonesia, the beans tend to have a balanced acidity and clean cocoa flavor. The fruity notes in chocolates from Latin America and Indonesia are better suited to more-delicate confections.

Aging and heating

In addition to the flavors inherent in cocoa, aging the beans will mellow the flavor of the chocolate. As the chocolate ferments, the green or raw notes are extinguished. The flavor in chocolate also changes as heat is applied to the beans. Roasting the beans evaporates acidic and astringent compounds in the beans, as well as reduces bitterness. The chocolate becomes less sour and astringent, and is milder, with more flavorful top notes.

Bittersweet chocolate is typically a blend of natural and alkalized cocoa. Alkalizing cocoa (also known as dutching" or Dutch process") raises the pH, which produces a darker color, ranging from slightly red to black. Alkalized cocoa is also less astringent. Bittersweet chocolate has a high chocolate impact without distinguishing flavor top notes. It is commonly used for cakes and cookies and high-end truffles, as well as numerous other confections. Bittersweet chocolate contains at least 35% chocolate liquor, but is usually between 60% to 85% cocoa solids.

Semisweet chocolate, which lies between bittersweet and sweet chocolate in degree of added sugar and can contain up to 35% chocolate liquor, is a common type of baking chocolate. It has many uses, from cakes and cookies to ganache.

Chocolate liquor, better known as unsweetened chocolate or baking chocolate, is used in households all across the country to make brownies, cakes and cookies.

Milk chocolate contains a high percentage of milk solids and total fat. Milk chocolate that has been heat-treated can produce toffee notes that will come through in the end product. Milk chocolate is commonly used in candy bars and many other candies.

White chocolate is made without cocoa solids, generally cocoa butter, sweeteners and flavor. In recent years, manufacturers have begun adding antioxidants  such as natural tocopherols, to replace the flavanols, or naturally occurring antioxidants, that stay with the chocolate mass and would otherwise be absent in the product.

Cocoa butter is often used on transfer sheets for fanciful chocolate decorations. Acetate sheets are given a design using colored cocoa butter. Once dry, tempered chocolate is poured over the sheet, allowing the design to imprint the chocolate. The chocolate can then be cut, shaped or molded based on the desired design.

Tasting notes

Although red wine is traditionally the paring choice with red meats, chocolate lovers will argue that there is no proper pairing when it comes to wine and chocolate. Understanding your preferences and keeping an open mind will allow for a completely new tasting adventure every time chocolate is paired.

Chocolate and wine have many traits in common. Both depend on the terroir of their growing region to develop the flavors associated with each product. They also depend on processing conditions and aging to achieve the desired flavor. The complexities of chocolate and wine are naturally suited to pairings. As with wine, chocolate should be examined before tasting. Take note of the shine and aroma. The wine should be tasted first, followed by a piece of chocolate placed on the tongue. As the chocolate starts to melt away, take another sip of wine and allow the flavors to come together. Once the flavors become familiar, pairing Riesling with milk chocolate or a tawny Port with dark chocolate will become second nature. Wine can also add a complementary flavor to chocolate confections; consider adding Malbec to a dark-chocolate truffle.

In addition, chocolate lends itself to a variety of food pairings, whether its classic ingredients like strawberries and raspberries or the more-adventurous flavors of ginger and chiles. Chocolate has also become a savory pairing favorite in recent years. Without a doubt, the most-popular new pairing in recent years is chocolate and bacon. This sweet-savory combination can be found in a wide range of applications, from cakes and muffins to high-quality chocolate bars.

Chocolate and beef can also be a wonderful combination. Adding cocoa powder to a dry rub or marinade can enhance the flavor tremendously. A combination of cocoa powder and fine ground coffee, either rubbed on meat or used as a marinade prior to cooking, smoking or roasting meats, will have a subtle flavor that will enhance the natural flavor in beef, venison, elk or bison. Creating a sauce of red wine, such as a Cabernet Sauvignon, with caramelized shallots and chocolate, can also be used to enhance beef and game meats. Chocolate can be added to chili, whether making a traditional beef chili or a less-mainstream ostrich chili, for an additional layer of flavor. Chocolate is not a main ingredient in mole poblano, but rather one of many ingredients added to boost flavor notes, as well as to tame the heat of the chiles.

Bottoms up

Various early peoples in the Americas used cocoa beans as currency. The Mayansand later, the Aztecsdiscovered a love of drinking chocolate with chiles and other ingredients for health benefits. Consumers today have been influenced by this early Mayan practice and are making chocolate beverages with a combination of spicy, sweet and savory ingredients.

Drinking chocolate has gone beyond the typical hot chocolate made with cocoa, sugar and milk. Chocolate can be made into hot and cold drinks, breakfast drinks and after-dinner drinks. One of the more recognizable is mocha. As peoples palates have evolved, the standard hot chocolate mix that is found in most grocery stores has changed, as well. Many of the premium-chocolate makers have a slot on grocery store shelves for their premium hot-chocolate mixes. Beyond more-flavorful store mixes, there are also consumer and foodservice recipes for hot chocolate that incorporate hot sauce, ginger and a plethora of other ingredients.

Champurrado is a chocolate-based atole (hot drinks thickened with masa) commonly served for breakfast in Mexico. Key ingredients include chocolate, masa, piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar), milk, cinnamon, anise seed and vanilla, and sometimes strawberries, blackberries or crushed pineapple.

The Mexican chocolate used in champurradoas well as in other Mexican recipes, like mole saucesis generally dark and bittersweet, often containing cinnamon and nuts, which give it a distinctly grainy texture.

The possibilities are endless when using chocolate. A small amount of creativity and an open mind can lead to a culinary adventure that will want to be repeated.

Eric White, research chef at ADM, Decatur, IL, has more than 12 years experience in the food industry, including for chain restaurants, hotel foodservice and private organizations. In his current position, White is responsible for development of culinary applications for ADMs food ingredients; internal and external training; and developing menus for special events that showcase ADM ingredients. He is also an adjunct chef instructor at the Culinary Arts Institute at Richland Community College, also in Decatur. White holds an A.S. in Culinary Arts from Le Cordon Bleu and is currently working toward a degree in Culinology®. He is also a co-inventor on patent applications utilizing ADMs ingredients in various applications.

More Love for Chocolate

According to Chocolate Market in the U.S.: Trends and Opportunities in Premium, Gourmet and Mass Chocolate Products" from Packaged Facts, Rockville, MD, the U.S. chocolate market is predicted to increase an average of 3.0% per year through 2014, when sales will top $19 billion, up 10.4% from $17.3 billion in 2009.

The report notes that chocolate has proven resistant to recession-era spending shifts, as 75% of Americans have purchased chocolate products since 2008 and increases in manufacturer prices didnt quell sales of this affordable indulgence." Also, the market-research firm notes that demand for premium chocolate will persist as a leading growth trend, especially when the economy recovers. Further, the healthy chocolate trend," featuring better-for-you" ingredients like lavender and blueberry, is expected to fuel sales.

For many chocolate-loving Americans, its more about the experience than it is about mere consumption. To meet this demand, premium chocolatiers are setting off on culinary adventures, discovering new layers of flavor and textures by experimenting with umami flavors or developing products to match consumers moods," says Don Montuori, publisher of Packaged Facts. This may be a mature market, but its also a market that isnt afraid to innovate, whether that means using savory influences such as bacon and cheese or ethnic flavors such as curry and chipotle. This bold creativity effectively provides chocolate products that satisfy diverse consumer palates at reasonable prices."

Similarly, artisan" products, including chocolates, continue to differentiate themselves to consumerswhile commanding a premium price point. According to the 2010 Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report" from Technomic, Chicago, 35% of consumers are willing to pay up to 10% more for products marketed as artisan." Nearly a quarter of consumers (24%) likewise believe that artisan foods are healthier than non-artisan options. (For an in-depth look at trends related to artisan foods, see Scaling-Up Artisan" at foodproductdesign.com.)

The Editors

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