Chocolate comprises a number of raw and processed foods that are produced from the seed of the tropical cacao tree. Chocolate has become one of the most popular flavors in the world. Gifts of chocolate molded into different shapes have become traditional on certain holidays: chocolate bunnies and eggs are popular on Easter, chocolate coins on Hanukkah, Santa Claus and other holiday symbols on Christmas, and hearts on Valentine's Day. Chocolate is also used in cold and hot beverages, to produce chocolate milk and hot chocolate. Types of chocolate Several types of chocolate can be distingueshed. Pure, unsweetened chocolate contains primarily cocoa solids and cocoa butter in varying proportions. Much of the chocolate consumed today is in the form of sweet chocolate, combining chocolate with sugar. Milk chocolate is sweet chocolate that additionally contains milk powder or condensed milk. "White chocolate" contains cocoa butter, sugar, and milk but no cocoa solids (and thus does not qualify to be considered true chocolate). Chocolate contains alkaloids such as theobromine and phenethylamine, which have some physiological effects in humans, but the presence of theobromine renders it toxic to some animals, such as dogs and cats. It has been linked to serotonin levels in the brain. Dark chocolate has recently been promoted for its health benefits, as it seems to possess substantial amount of antioxidants that reduce the formation of free radicals. Alongside milk chocolate, white chocolate and dark chocolate are also common chocolate varieties. White chocolate is formed from a mixture of sugar, cocoa butter, and milk solids. Although its texture is similar to milk and dark chocolate, it does not contain any cocoa solids; thus not officially qualifying as chocolate. Because of this, many countries do not consider white chocolate as chocolate at all. Although first introduced by Hebert Candies in 1955, Mars, Incorporated was the first to produce white chocolate within the United States. Because it does not contain any cocoa solids, white chocolate does not contain any theobromine, meaning it can be consumed by animals. Dark chocolate is produced by adding fat and sugar to the cacao mixture. The U.S. Government calls this "sweet chocolate", and requires a 15% concentration of chocolate liquor. European rules specify a minimum of 35% cocoa solids. Dark chocolate, with its high cocoa content, is a rich source of the flavonoids epicatechin and gallic acid, which are thought to possess cardioprotective properties. Dark chocolate has also been said to reduce the possibility of a heart attack when consumed regularly in small amounts. Semisweet chocolate is a dark chocolate with a low sugar content. Bittersweet chocolate is chocolate liquor to which some sugar (typically a third), more cocoa butter, vanilla and sometimes lecithin have been added. It has less sugar and more liquor than semisweet chocolate, but the two are interchangeable in baking. Unsweetened chocolate is pure chocolate liquor, also known as bitter or baking chocolate. It is unadulterated chocolate: the pure, ground, roasted chocolate beans impart a strong, deep chocolate flavor. Making chocolate Harvesting Harvesting cacao beans is a delicate process. First, the pods containing cacao beans, are harvested by cutting the pods from the tree using a machete, or by knocking them off the tree using a stick. The beans with their surrounding pulp are removed from the pod and placed in piles or bins to ferment. The fermentation process is what gives the beans their familiar chocolate taste. It is important to harvest the pods when they are fully ripe because if the pod is unripe, the beans will have a low cocoa butter content, or there will be insufficient sugars in the white pulp for fermentation resulting in a weak flavor. After fermentation, the beans must be quickly dried to prevent mold growth. Climate and weather permitting, this is done by spreading the beans out in the sun from 5 to 7 days. Chocolate liquor The dried beans are transported from the plantation where they were grown to a chocolate manufacturing facility. The beans are then cleaned (removing twigs, stones, and other debris), roasted, and graded. Next the shells are removed to extract the nib. Finally, the nibs are ground which releases and melts the cocoa butter producing chocolate liquor. Blending Chocolate liquor is blended with the cocoa butter in varying quantities to make different types of chocolate or couvertures. The basic blends of ingredients for the various types of chocolate (in order of highest quantity of cocoa liquor first), are as follows: Dark chocolate: sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa liquor, and (sometimes) vanilla Milk chocolate: sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa liquor, milk or milk powder, and vanilla White chocolate: sugar, cocoa butter, milk or milk powder, and vanilla Usually, an emulsifying agent such as soy lecithin is added, though a few manufacturers prefer to exclude this ingredient for purity reasons and to remain GMO free, sometimes at the cost of a perfectly
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