Chocolate is one of those foods with a huge and passionate following worldwide. No other food conjures up more feelings than chocolate and for some, it is more than just food; it is something akin to a cultural institution! How would a humble seed from the cocoa tree growing in its native South America, end up as one of the best loved foods on the planet? Calorie wise, chocolate is very high in calories – one of the most calorie concentrated foods around.
Chocolate was originally spread to Europe by the Spanish explorers of the New World, and it spread rapidly from there, being regarded as an exotic hot drink that went well with sugar, becoming fashionable among the ruling elite, who then grew cocoa on their overseas plantations. With the coming of the Industrial Revolution, that was when chocolate really grew in popularity with the masses because newer methods and machines could now produce chocolate as a solid food.
Chocolate today is basically made by crushing roasted cocoa beans into a paste, and depending on the amount of cocoa butter extracted, the residual paste is ground and dried to become cocoa powder. Cocoa powder is combined with emulsifiers like lecithin, and then blended or “conched” for much more smoothness. After that, “tempering” is applied, which is a process of obtaining good quality crystallization of cocoa butter by controlling the temperature. Good quality chocolate has a fine texture and firm consistency.
There are several major types of chocolate, namely: milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and white chocolate.
Milk chocolate first appeared on the scene in 1875 when a Swiss company successfully blended chocolate with milk, and now most chocolate contains milk in some form or another. Around 25% of its content is milk powder or milk solids derived from milk. Milk chocolate is the most popular form of chocolate, and most commercial chocolate brands like Cadbury and Hershey’s for example, have varying degrees of milk in their content.
Dark chocolate is also called bitter chocolate, because it contains a higher amount of cocoa extract, and is the form of chocolate most often used in cooking. Dark chocolate contains cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, and high quantities of sugar, which are needed to mask the bitter taste of cocoa.
White chocolate is chocolate without cocoa solids, having had this component deliberately stripped away during processing. As such, it lacks theobromine, an alkaloid chemical in chocolate responsible for a range of health and mood effects attributed to chocolate. In terms of calories and fat, it is similar to milk chocolate. Some consider white chocolate as not a true form of chocolate.
Why is chocolate so highly craved?
Chocolate contains a chemical called phenylethylamine, the “love chemical,” which is released by the brain when one is feeling happy. Additionally, milk chocolate contains tryptophan, an amino acid needed by the body to form serotonin, a “feel good” neurotransmitter in emotional well being. Also, the primary stimulant in chocolate (non white chocolate), are theobromine,and to a lesser extent, caffeine (not as much as in coffee). So could chocolate become addictive? It certainly can, and combined with the culture built around chocolate over the years, chocolate will continue to be a deeply entrenched favorite of society for years to come.
Chocolate contains a lot of calories per gram. A 50 gram bar of chocolate usually has 265 calories, in addition to about 4 grams of protein, and at least 25-30 grams of sugar. People on diets are best off avoiding chocolate, not least because of its addictive effects, and usually, overweight people tend to have a sweet tooth. Nutrition wise, chocolate does have ok amounts of protein, B vitamins, starch and some minerals. Milk chocolate is by far superior to other forms of chocolate, containing many of the nutrients found in milk. As a concentrated food source high in energy giving calories, chocolate is a favorite among hikers and mountain climbers, because it is usually small and quickly digested without depleting much energy from the body.