Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dark Chocolate - Oh, Demon of Deliciousness!

This has to be one of my most-favorite guilty pleasures of all. Deep, dark, rich, taste-bud electrifying, salivary gland enticing, pleasure-inducing flavors ever created on this planet. Dark Chocolate.

The name alone oozes of sinful goodness. Growing up allergic to chocolate, I ate a lot of White Chocolate (which we all know, is not actually Chocolate at all due to its lack of Cocoa Solids). Then as the allergies subsided, my taste buds were introduced to the most common and average of Chocolates here in the US - Milk Chocolate; a sweet, tasty confection not to be
ignored. But oh, you Dark Chocolate, you!

So what is it? What is Chocolate and why the obsession? Deep in the tropical jungles of South America, the Cacao Tree bears large green fruit pods. These 6-12 inch pods weigh about a pound each. Embedding in the pulpy white flesh are about 60 seeds known as beans. These beans are 40-50% fat... a delicious fat known as Cocoa Butter.

These beans are intensely bitter and require fermentation to develop their flavor. Next, these little unassuming beans are dried, cleaned, and finally roasted. Once the shells are removed we have cacao nibs which are ground and turning into a pure chocolate liquid known as chocolate liquor. [My mouth is watering just typing this!] Separate the fat (cocoa butter) from the chocolate liquor and the what remains is cocoa solids. The ratio of cocoa butter to cocoa solids is what defines our chocolate.

Unsweetened or Baker's Chocolate is Pure Chocolate Liquor. But start adding sweeteners and other fats (usually milk) and world begins to engulf the possibilities. In a nutshell, about 25% Cocoa Solids is required for Milk Chocolate (milk being an added fat) and a minimum of 35% Cocoa Solids is required for Dark Chocolate.

But enough science and history... taste it. Savor it. Crave it. If you don't know the difference you can conduct a very simple test. M&Ms. They now make a Dark Chocolate version and the flavor between this and their original formula is night and day.

Regular M&Ms (bring back Tan!) are as delicious as ever. But I've begun to find them ubiquitous, appearing everywhere from ice cream toppings to cupcake decorations, turning batter into faux chocolate chip cookies, living in places it doesn't belong, like trail mix and all sorts other products. I have grown tired of this 'melt in your mouth, not in your hands' snack.

But bite crunch into a new Dark Chocolate M&M and holy smokes. This IS the difference between Milk Chocolate and Dark Chocolate.

So dig through your kids Halloween Haul tonight and find some Dark Chocolate. Try it. Your grown-up taste buds will dance, your eyes will roll, a deep sigh will emanate from the most-inner core of your being. Return will never be an option.

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