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Cocoa - Some Facts About Chocolate, a Favorite Ingredient
Cocoa, one of my favorite ingredients
I have done other hubs, and highlighted a few other ingredients that I say I love, but to be honest, nothing quite compares with chocolate. Whether you are using chocolate chips or cocoa as an ingredient, one thing is for sure, your recipe will be tasting pretty good.
Brief History of Chocolate
Chocolate, also known as theobroma cacao or "food of the gods" was one of the huge discoveries from the New World that has made a larger impact over time than anyone probably imagined. I bet they had no idea how the love and interest in chocolate would only grow over time. It all started with the Cacao tree from South America. Living in river valleys it grows the coveted bean which later was carried into what is now known as Mexico. The Mayans are to blame, I mean to thank for this wonderful bean! Colombus helped to spread these great tidings of joy when he took the beans back with him to Spain. Here is an interesting tidbit. Spain could care less about the cacao bean at that time (grabbing smelling salts here) , and it wasn't until much later that that people really caught on. Thank heavens it did catch on, for we benefit from this discovery often. There is much more that could be said on this, but I will save that for another time.
Types of Cocoa and Chocolate
Natural Cocoa This is used most often to make hot cocoa itself, but also frostings, chocolate sauces and fudges, etc. I had a good friend once invite me over for "chocolate", and to see her "chocolate pots and cups". These are beautiful antique pots and cups that are used specifically for serving cocoa. It dates way back, but is a fun tradition to remember now. It was wonderful chocolate, and now I am collecting chocolate cups and pots as well. Anyway, cocoa in the U.S. contains about 11 - 24 percent cocoa butter. Our supermarket cocoa we buy here in the U.S. is in the 12-16 percent range. In the past, when they sampled dropping the percentage of cocoa butter, they found that the chocolate taste diminished as well. This makes sense, as you need fats to get the full flavor of certain things, it is a flavor carrier.
Dutched, is a process that cocoa goes through in this case. It is great in cakes and cookies. It is either neutral or a little bit alkaline. People will opt to use baking powder rather than baking soda because of this, as the baking powder contains the acid that was removed from the chocolate. There are ways you can test to see if your cocoa is natural or dutch processed.
Black Cocoa Ever wonder what makes the outer part of an Oreo cookie so dark? This is it, Black Cocoa, which really is cocoa that has been severely "Dutched" (see above). This intensifies the color and the flavor both. I found that really interesting about the Oreo cookies.
As for solid chocolates, many of us are familiar with the following: Bitter baking chocolate, Sweet chocolate, Bittersweet chocolate, Milk Chocolate, "White" chocolate, and chocolate chips. Coating Chocolate, or Couverture, contains no other fat than cocoa butter and is tempered so that it performs in a certain way. Tempering can be tricky and there are other options that include vegetable fats that help it to not be so heat sensitive. The only downside, is they lack the flavor, shine and texture that is usually desired of chocolate made solely with cocoa butter. This is not to be confused with chocolate coating, by the way. That is something altogether different.
These chocolates contain more fats than just the common cocoa butter fat that you usually find. This creates a different melting point for the chocolate and can result in a waxy texture. The chocolates that have just the cocoa butter are almost always considered the higher quality chocolates. It depends on the individual, what you personally like and judge as best.
Many may not know, that there even is a chocolate extract . It makes sense though that they should make an extract out of such a wonderful ingredient! I recall my grandmother who was quite the baker, to have this among some other extracts and boy was she proud of her extracts! The extract is natural and comes from the blending together of different beans. You can find these usually at specialty shops and through mail order.