Often lovingly referred to as the "other food group" chocolate has found its way into our daily lives. Inspiring everything from recipes, stories, cravings and a host of products from eating chocolate to bubble bath; chocolate is an obsession.
Cacao trees are native to Mexico, Central and South America. Cultivated for over 3000 years, Mayans drank chocolate both as an everyday beverage as well as for ceremonial purposes. The frothy bitter concoction was mixed with vanilla, chile peppers and achiote (annatto). Turning cacao beans into the tasty sweet confection we all know and crave is a complicated process with only a handful of companies all over the world truly making their own chocolate. Most candy shops buy chocolate in blocks, melt it and shape it into candies and other sweet treats.
Benefits of Chocolate
Xocoatl, as it was known in the Mayan culture, was believed to fight fatigue. This is due to the theobromine content in chocolate.
Chocolate then and now is considered to have many therapeutic benefits including cancer fighter antioxidants, circulatory benefits and many studies are being conducted on using chocolate to fight obesity. While this is certainly good news and really any excuse to eat chocolate is a good one, I urge you to take heed of the adage "you get what you pay for".
What Makes Good Chocolate
Not all chocolate is good chocolate. In fact, there is a lot of bad chocolate out there. Thankfully it is easy to find the good stuff. Look at the ingredients on the label. There should be just a small handful of ingredients. There should be only cocoa, fat and sugar for dark chocolate, the less sugar the darker it will be. Milk chocolate will have the addition of milk listed and white chocolate, which is not really chocolate due to the fact that it does not have cocoa paste or cocoa mass but does have cocoa butter, will have sugar, cocoa butter, milk or milk powder and vanilla. That's it! No other ingredients should be in the chocolate. Notice that cacao beans are listed first. Great chocolate should have a high concentration of cacao, not other ingredients.
There are many great chocolates on the market that are kosher. In fact, there is no reason that great chocolate cannot be kosher. I am lucky enough to have recently been in Paris where I slurped and stuffed myself full of chocolate for one solid week. Armed with my list of kosher chocolate companies and bakeries, I ate my way through the city of lights. You also can enjoy amazing chocolate if you follow a few simple rules.
- Buy the good stuff. You are feeding your family and friends, they deserve good chocolate. Do not cut corners. Cheap chocolate cannot be disguised by any amount of other ingredients in a recipe. My favorites are: Callebaut chocolates for cooking, baking and eating, and Valrhona cocoa powder. This is an amazing cocoa powder with a deep, dark color and flavor.
- Chef Laura's golden rule—do not use substitute ingredients. Butter is butter, cream is cream, margarine is never good and non-dairy whipped topping comes from a laboratory and shouldn't be ingested by humans.
Now that you have the rules—go forth and enjoy!
Explore your decadent side with these chocolate-inspired recipes: