You are never late with Choco-Late

The sweet and soothing chocolate is everyone’s favourite not only on Valentine’s Day but throughout the year.

Chocolate, which is used in all types of desserts like cakes, candies, puddings et al., is also believed to be good for health. The cocoa beans in the chocolate contain dopamine, phenylethylamine, caffeine, and anandamide, which is considered to be a happy neurotransmitter in the brain.

Anandamide, called the bliss molecule, makes you feel happy and blessed. No matter this much loved sweet has become popular globally and the World Chocolate Day is celebrated on 7th July every year.

Ashok Malkani examines various aspects of the beloved sweet, chocolate: Its usage in desserts, the different types of chocolates, its health benefits, etc. 

It is said that life is full of questions. Chocolate is the answer to all of them! Portuguese poet, writer and literary critic, Fernando Pessoa, has written, “Look, there’s no metaphysics on earth like chocolates.” Indeed chocolate is one of the most loved objects of young and old all across the globe. No wonder it has a day of its own: World Chocolate Day, celebrated on July 7. This day, also known as International Chocolate Day, is a global celebration where people gorge and indulge into their favourite chocolate. Apart from eating, people also gift their loved ones their favourite chocolates.

Chocolates have been loved by people since centuries ago. World Chocolate Day is believed to be celebrated since 1550, when it was introduced in Europe.  Before that, chocolate was available only in specific countries and regions including Mexico and Central America. After being discovered by foreign invaders it travelled to many countries and became a favourite of the consumers.

Aztec emperor, Montezuma, in 1519, served a chocolate-based drink called ‘Xocolātl’ to Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés. He then took the drink back to Spain and experimented with it by adding vanilla, cinnamon, and sugar in order to improve the taste. Post this improvisation, in the 1600s, the drink became popular in France as well as England. However, solid chocolates were created in the 1800s.

Today mention chocolates and you set the mouths drooling. It is consumed not only as a sweet but is also used extensively in desserts.

Chef Sandeep Rane, Corporate Chef, Bakery and Confectionery at Hitchki and Bayroute, Mumbai, avers, “Chocolate is not only a sweet but it has several health benefits too, it is a rich source of fiber, antioxidants, minerals, theobromine,  flavanols, caffeine and many other beneficial ingredients. It is beneficial for heart, brain and more.”

However, he cautions, “Too much consumption may give you a side effect as well.”

Speaking about health benefits of chocolate, one may mention that in a review on chocolate’s health effect in the Netherlands Journal of Medicine, the authors point out cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate contains biologically active phenolic compounds.  It is believed that chocolate could impact aging and conditions such as oxidative stress, blood pressure regulation and atherosclerosis. 

Eating chocolates may have the following benefits: 

  • lowering cholesterol levels
  • preventing cognitive decline
  • reducing the risk of cardiovascular problems

Speaking about the usage of cholates in desserts, Ms. Sehaj Ghuman, Assistant Pastry Chef at The Academy of Pastry and Culinary Arts, Gurgaon states, “The reason why people are fond of chocolates as sweets and desserts is, because, I believe, that chocolates are a gift from the gods. Apart from the scientific reasoning which tells us that eating chocolate releases neurotransmitters in our brain which give us the sensation of pure bliss and joy… the one true reason that you rarely find someone who doesn’t like chocolate is because it is so versatile! No matter what you add it to, there’s no going wrong! It caters to such a varied palette, right from people who enjoy bitter desserts to people who like to binge on the sweeter side of nature with milk and white chocolate. Over the years, chocolate has become more of an emotion than just an item you eat. It signifies celebration, a thank you, a sweet apology, childhood memories and pleasure.” 

Types of Chocolates

While everyone loves chocolates, what most people are not aware of is that there are various types of chocolates, used for different purposes.

Sehaj discloses, “There are three major varieties of chocolate easily available. They are: White, Milk and Dark. But over the years, chocolate manufacturing companies have kept the innovations rolling, with new varieties slowly gaining popularity, like Ruby and the newest Whole fruit Chocolate.

“All three popular types of chocolate can be used in multiple ways, right from making a mousse pastry to baking a basic chocolate chip cookie. The most popular however is Dark chocolate, because the market is filled with goodies baked, coated, enrobed, glazed with dark chocolate, because it’s most relatable to the image that people have of chocolate. Think about it, when I say chocolate cake, doesn’t a picture of a dark gooey cake come to mind?”

Sandeep elaborates further on this. While stating that there are three types of chocolates, he gives details of their uses thus:

“Dark – dark chocolate comes in bittersweet and semisweet chocolate with at least 35% cocoa. Most of the chocolate contains higher amount of cocoa for example- 54%, 56%, 70%, 84% and there is 100% chocolate as well.

“Dark chocolate is mostly used for intense dark chocolate dessert, praline and baked goods. It works well for coating and covering of baked goods.

Milk – to make milk chocolate only 10% of cocoa is required. This chocolate is made with milk fat and cocoa. The texture of milk chocolate is very creamy and used in coating and dipping for baked goods, mousses, truffles, flavour creams, ganache etc.

White – white chocolate, technically, is not a chocolate. It is made with cocoa butter, milk, sugar, emulsifiers, and flavourings but no cocoa solids. It is used mainly in mousses, frostings, ganache, brule’s, tarts etc. 

Milk chocolate is the most loved chocolate worldwide because of its texture and sweet creamy taste. It is made with cocoa butter, milk and sugar.

Chocolate or Cocoa?

There are various opinions on whether one should use chocolate or cocoa for desserts. It’s always good to use the best ingredients you can find, but is if you’re thinking that excellent chocolate is the key to intensely flavoured chocolate desserts, think again. Cocoa is by no means a lesser product than chocolate.

When one creates a recipe for chocolate dessert one considers not only the flavour but also the texture. The finished texture of a dessert is influenced by the type of fats in the recipe. In creamy desserts chocolate is considered to be more suitable. Some desserts need the silkiness that only cocoa butter can provide. Cocoa butter is an unusual fat because it melts at a temperature very close to our body temperature. Chocolate that’s hard and solid at room temperature feels rich on the tongue. In puddings, ganache, and mousses, the luxurious mouth-feel of cocoa butter really shines.

In cakes, the choice is more complicated. Cakes made with cocoa and cakes made with chocolate can differ remarkably in flavour and texture. And those differences have a lot to do with the other fats used in the recipe.

Sandeep feels that both are preferred for desserts. He adds, “It depends on what you are making. Chocolate contains both cocoa solid and cocoa butter which gives smooth and rich texture to dessert whereas in cocoa, maximum of cocoa solid is present and only 12 per cent of cocoa butter. To make creamy & rich desserts, mostly chocolate is used and for making cake and intense flavor desserts cocoa is used.”

Sehaj asserts, “Always go in for chocolate hands down! Chocolate, simply broken down, is cocoa mass and cocoa butter and my suggestion – never ever underestimate the value that cocoa butter adds to taking your dessert to another level! Cocoa butter lends a very rich texture to everything that it’s added to. I am not undermining the importance of cocoa powder, but I’d say use it along with chocolate for a concentrated flavour, but don’t skip the chocolate.”

But what is the best type of chocolate for baking?

Sehaj states, “For me, personally, a semi sweet, or bitter chocolate is best for baking. Most common baking recipes require butter + sugar to be creamed or eggs and sugar to be aerated. Either ways, the recipes are usually high in sugar content and hence it’s best to work with a chocolate which still maintains the amazing taste without making it overly sweet.”

Sandeep says, “Dark bitter chocolate is most preferred chocolate for baking, because it contains zero present sugar and it is very low on milk solid, which is present in milk and white chocolates.”

Chocolate for Desserts

A meal is not considered as complete if it does not include dessert. Chocolate is considered to be one of the most popular desserts. Though sweets are considered to be unhealthy, one cannot say the same about chocolate. It has many health benefits. A few of them are:

 It makes you feel good: Chocolate contains PEA (phenylthylamine), the same compound your brain secretes when you fall in love. It triggers the release of endorphins which in turn make you feel good.

 It is good for your heart and blood circulation: Dark chocolate restores the flexibility of arteries and prevents them from clogging, which keeps your heart and circulatory system healthy.

 It is a rich source of minerals: Chocolate has an abundance of minerals such as potassium, zinc and selenium and is also a rich source of iron. This makes chocolate a delightful source of daily supplements.

 It is good for the skin: The flavonols in dark chocolate help protect the skin against damage from the sun. No wonder it is gaining popularity in the spa as well.

It is good for the brain: Researchers believe that flavonols also help in reducing memory loss in the elderly and have anti-inflammatory qualities which help in treating concussions.

But since there are different kinds of chocolates, which can be used in preparation of different desserts?

Sandeep avers, “All three types of chocolate are preferred for dessert but it depends on flavours and sweetness and bitterness you want to give dessert.

As far as baking is concerned, Dark bitter chocolate is most preferred chocolate for baking, because it contains zero present sugar and is very low on milk solid, which is present in milk and white chocolate.

Sehaj asserts, “I am of the strongest belief that one should use the best quality couverture chocolate available, because it has the ability to make or break a dessert. Do not go in for a compound chocolate (contains vegetable fats instead of cocoa butter) just because it’s easily available and much easier to handle, go in with the extra effort, because it’ll be worth every bite.”

She continues, “For me personally, a semi sweet, or bitter chocolate is best for baking. Most common baking recipes require butter + sugar to be creamed or eggs and Sugar to be aerated , either ways , the recipes are usually high in sugar content and hence it’s best to work with a chocolate which still maintains the amazing taste without making it overly sweet.”

Characteristics of Chocolate

There are several characteristic of a chocolate. The physical properties, rheological behaviour and sensory perception of chocolate are influenced largely by its processing technique, particle size distribution and ingredient composition. Due to its varied characteristics, it is not only used in variety desserts and snacks but natural chocolate is also being used in cosmetic products and spa therapies.

So what are the characteristics of a quality chocolate?
Sehaj’s advice is: “Always check the ingredients list on the packet before picking up chocolate. If you find any vegetable fats there, keep it back on the shelf and go in for one with cocoa butter.
Quality chocolate needs rich cocoa butter on its ingredients list to produce that melt-in-your mouth texture chocolate lovers crave. Good quality chocolate always has a great shine without any blemishes or bubbles and makes a sharp snap when broken, both of which are signs of great tempering.”
Sandeep cites the characteristics thus:
Quality chocolates always taste creamy and will melt in your mouth.
It will look shiny, without white dots & lumbs.
Apart from this there is a good and bad chocolate, to identify the good chocolate always check label with cocoa contains.
To spot bad chocolate check label which includes milk substitute, artificial sweetener, non cocoa butter and vegetable oil.”
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