WickedEye's Quotient

7/17/2007 at 18:44

Theobroma cacao (Greek "food of the gods" + Nahuatl "bean/berry")

Ah, chocolate.

Onomatopoeically rendered, that should read:

Aaaaaahhhh, chooooocoolaaate…

But simply moaning in pleasure doesn't come close to conveying the essence of this ecstatically wonderful confection.

The substance referred to as chocolate or cocoa (the word originated in the Nahuatl branch of the Uto-Aztecan language and means "bitter water") is a combination of solids from the seeds of the tropical cacao tree Theobroma cacao, cacao fat, sugar, and other additions.

It's been made in some form since at least 1100 BC, associated from the time of its earliest making with the goddess Xochiqetzal, bringer of fertility, and introduced to the Western world through the offices of Columbus, who brought it to Spain and let the industrious Spanish monks do the rest. By the 17th century it was a luxury item to European nobility; it was in Turin at the end of the next century that the solid candy that we now think of as chocolate was invented by Doret.

Cacao is as unique chemically as chocolate is historically, containing theobromine, a potent stimulant, as well as flavonoids and antioxidants. Human consumption also absorbs a family of chemicals known as anandamides (derived from the Sanskrit for "joy"), endogenous cannabinoids which with chocolate's tryptophan and phenethylamine content give rise to mild neurosynaptic stimulation, as well as the legends of chocolate's aphrodisiac qualities.

The making of good chocolate is a long, intricate, and cash-intensive process which resembles in its subtlety and complexity that of winemaking, with the added step of confection-making at the end of the growth, fermentation, roasting, and grinding process. The most expensive cacao varietals, the Criollo, grown in Central America and the Caribbean, sell for an average of $20.00 a pound raw and peeled. The added costs of chocolate production bring the cost of a well-crafted single-origin Criollo bar (the two best produced are Domori and Amedei, both in 70% bars that will steal your breath and leave your entire body prickling in delight) to approximately $6-$7 per 3-ounce bar- cheap for the smooth, sensuous heaven they produce on the tongue.

And I? I crave not only that heaven, but the rougher, spicier bliss of the blunt and artless Forastero, the bean from which most of the world's chocolate is made. A chocolate gourmand and gourmet, I've been exploring Europe on a budget, its chocolate in small pieces, and have stumbled across some melting raptures on the way.

My latest? Lindt's Edelbitter Mousse Sauerkirsch-Chili 70% Cacaogehalt. 70% cocoa solids encasing a 70% mousse, containing sour cherry extract, enwrapping a small core of chili extract (hearkening back to the very beginning of xocolatl, in which it was blended with chili and drunk).

Lindt, whose founder invented the conching process that gives modern chocolate its smooth texture, is the finest mass-producer of chocolates in the world. Its exquisite 85% bar gives even the 'grand-cru' producers a run for their money; its Mousse Sauerkirsch-Chili is a triumph of both confiserie and chocolatiering. Its distinct beginning, middle, and end notes deliquesce across the tastebuds; first the round, dark cacao, the barest trace of bittersweet coffee underpinning it, melting imperceptibly into the sourness of the cherry, finishing creamy on the tongue as the spice of the chili warms through the fruit until your tongue is left tingling and sated.

Ah, chocolate.

I cannot better describe it than Baron Justus von Liebig, a 19th- century German chemist: Chocolate is a perfect food, as wholesome as it is delicious, a beneficent restorer of exhausted power... it is the best friend of those engaged in literary pursuits.

I agree. Voraciously.


Post a Comment

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs2.5 License.