Chocolate Connoisseurship

SCIENCE FOR YOUTH

by Hiya Islam

scienceTHE history of the universally loved treat, chocolates dates back as far as the Maya. But, it wasn’t until the 1850s that the solid chocolate was discovered and rocked the world. When Joseph Fry discovered how chocolates can be molded, soon Henry Nestle and Daniel Peter came up with a formula for milk chocolate. Consequently, Rudolphe Lindt introduced new ways of making chocolate that would only melt when in mouth. We surely owe them big time.

Cacao Tree (Theobroma cacao), found abundantly in South America and West Africa, is the ultimate source of this edible form of happiness. Ripe cacao pods are harvested. Then these pods are broken open to reveal cacao beans in a moist, white pulp. The next step is fermentation. The seeds along with the pulp are scooped out and placed in fermenters for about a week. This step is crucial in bringing out the chocolate flavour as the bitterness subsides. For this reason, chocolate companies often work in collaboration with farmers to ensure quality. It is now the chocolate-maker’s turn to further process the dried beans and makes them ready for our palate. Once these arrive at the manufacturing plant, they undergo an extensive series of sampling and testing. They are thoroughly washed to remove any foreign matter and moved to the ovens for roasting. The temperature used and the roasting time are a part of the maker’s ‘secret recipe’. The aroma intensifies and the beans turn darker. The shell separates while roasting and are winnowed using electric fans. The remaining kernels are cracked to form cocoa nibs. The grinding process follows next. Melangeur, the grinding machine crushes the beans hard enough to initiate slight melting and forms a cocoa paste known as the chocolate liquor. From this, cocoa butter and cocoa powder can be extracted under high pressure. A roll refiner comes into play now. It further reduces the size of particles and evenly distributes the cocoa butter. Finally, the kneading process begins. Here, the liquor is continuously kneaded with rollers for hours until the desired consistency is achieved. At this stage, milk, sugar, caramel and other ingredients are added. At last, the liquid is poured into moulds, tempered and flavored and refrigerated before being dressed in wrappers and delivered to chocolate lovers.

Other than being immensely satisfying to the taste buds, chocolate, especially dark chocolate plays a healthy role in the body. Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants such as, polyphenols, flavanols and catechins. Antioxidants are essential to fighting off the free radicals formed when cells use oxygen. Free radicals are very reactive species that cause significant cellular damage. It is these antioxidants that stabilise them and repair the harm caused. Studies have shown that dark chocolate helps in reducing insulin resistance, a major cause of type II diabetes. Even better, high flavanols increase blood supply to the brain thereby facilitating cognitive functions. Besides, more observational studies have showed a long-term consumption increases HDL, or the ‘good cholesterol’ and lowers LDL, or the ‘bad cholesterol’.

Be it a fix for bad mood or a delight to random cravings, chocolate makes the world go round. However, it is certainly not the case for TV producer, Andrew Bullock who suffers from xocolatophobia- an irrational fear of chocolates or the last thing you need!

Hiya Islam is a student of BRAC University.

 

 

 

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