Dark Chocolate

Written by Robert Mac
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Dark chocolate is one of the world's favorite foods, thanks to the Spanish explorers who brought a Central American delicacy back to Europe with them. Possibly as long as 2000 years ago, Mayans and Aztecs used crushed cacao seeds in a spicy drink; the Spaniards took the seeds--from which chocolate is derived--to Spain, where new uses were discovered. In time, dark chocolate and its cousins were created, starting a world-wide demand for cacao.

Dark Chocolate Defined

Dark chocolate, also called bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, is the darkest chocolate available. By definition, it contains at least 35 percent chocolate liquor, as well as cocoa butter, sugar and possibly vanilla and lecithin. While it is not as bitter as baking chocolate (which has no sugar at all), it is definitely not the type you'd snack on as a sweet treat.

First, a little on how chocolate is made: Cacao seeds are roasted and ground, in a process similar to coffee beans. The ground cacao seeds, called nibs, are milled; the process generates enough heat to liquefy the mixture into a paste. At this stage, the chocolate is called chocolate liquor--despite the name, there is no alcohol in the mixture.

The chocolate liquor is about 47 percent cocoa solids and about 53 percent cocoa butter, which are the fats of the cacao plant. Chocolatiers use a cocoa press to squeeze out the cocoa butter, separating the liquor into its two components. The butter is used make white chocolate or as an additive with milk or dark chocolates. The remaining cocoa solids are powdered and used in drink or baking recipes.

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