The Lowdown: Chocolate

Robert La Bua gives us the lowdown on how chocolate works and why English-speakers really struggle to pronounce words with five letters and three syllables.

Chocolate is made from cocoa, which is called cacao everywhere in the world except in English-speaking countries where three syllables from five letters can be intimidating. Believe me, I know. Cah-CAH-oh. Of course, in English, it frequently comes out as Cuh-COW which noticeably diminishes its dark mystique.

Cacao is a fruit; it grows on trees that produce football-shaped and -sized pods containing 25-30 balls of white flesh, each ball a sphere of protection for the seed within.

The reason why cacao is a comparatively expensive product is that the process of making chocolate from fruit-wrapped seeds is long and tedious. Like coffee beans and wine grapes, cacao beans have vintage years and preferred provenances, making some more valuable than others.

Just to let you know, chocolate refers to dark chocolate. Milk chocolate, though more common, was the brainchild of Swiss farmers with too much advertising money on their hands and too much milk in their troughs. It also lets corporations use the word chocolate on their labels with a minimum of actual cocoa content; imagine a bottle of wine with 20% wine and 80% sugar water.

High-end chocolate is graded by the percentage of pure cocoa in the final product. The higher the percentage, the purer a chocolate sensation you will experience. Bitter as I am, I prefer the 70-85% range for eating; mellower individuals may prefer something in the 50-70% range.

For the addicts amongst us who need the maximum amount of antidepressants to compensate for last week’s relationship never returning your increasingly desperate phone calls, spooning pure cocoa powder directly into oral orifice is not unheard of.

The antidepressant factor is not inconsiderable. More properly known as serotonin and phenylethylamine, these are the exhilarating thingies in chocolate that make the world seem less threatening for as long as you have some in your mouth. They are the little voices that say everything is okay no matter how old you are, what you look like, or how many debt collectors are on first name terms with you.

And for those of us who watch our weight and that of others walking down the street, let it be known that the higher the cocoa percentage, the lower the fat content. This is why pure cocoa powder can keep for months; almost all the fat (more palatably known as cocoa butter) has been removed, so there is nothing in it to go off.