As chocolate has a low moisture content most moulds and food poisoning bacteria will not grow in or on it. So chocolate is actually a very safe food.
However when chocolate contains dairy or any of the other food allergens, then there are food safety issues involved. Manufacturers need to ensure that the chocolate is not contaminated with any allergens that are not on the ingredient list and the labelling must clearly show what food allergens are present in the chocolate.
There have been product recalls because the labelling on chocolate did not show the allergens present in the ingredient list.
The other food safety issues related to not only chocolate but all foods is contamination during processing. If the food business has good food safety controls or a program in place, then this is not an issue.
Always make sure when buying chocolate that it is coming from a reputable manufacturer who has labelled their products correctly.
The key ingredients in chocolate are Cocoa liquor and Cocoa butter. The butter is the fat from the Cacao bean and contributes in a major way to the mouthfeel of the chocolate. liquor is the ingredient which really makes chocolate chocolate, as it gives the flavour, texture and distinct characteristics that make this food a world favourite. In fact, White chocolate does not contain any cocoa liquor, so is technically not actually chocolate.
Although there are variations, there are essentially four types of chocolate;
- Dark Chocolate - basis is cocoa liquor and a small amount of cocoa butter. Sugar is added to reduce bitterness. The lower the sugar content, the higher the cocoa content and the more bitter the chocolate will be. It is now not uncommon to find up to 90% cocoa dark chocolate, but it is very much for acquired taste.
- Milk Chocolate - most common. Has cocoa liquor and cocoa butter mixed with milk to give a milky sweeter chocolate. Generally there will be at least 10% cocoa liquor and a minimum of 12% milk solids.
- White Chocolate - Has at least 20% cocoa butter and 14% milk solids, with a maximum of about 55% sugar. This is the sweetest chocolate, and is often the first chocolate that most of us will taste as children. As we grow older, we will general move into milk chocolate and then to dark chocolate.
- Baking Chocolate - this is 100% cocoa liquor and is used for baking and other foods commercially.
Cocoa butter melts at just above our body temperature, so handling and storage conditions are really important to ensure the best quality. If the fat melts after it has been fully processed and then sets again, the chocolate may develop a condition called bloom. This is an odd colour that can appear on the outside of the chocolate, it is perfectly safe to eat but makes the product look unacceptable.
Work is being done on modifying the butter to allow for it to melt at a much higher temperature, this will significantly reduce bloom and improve the shelflife and transportation of all chocolate in the future. It is not genetic engineering, but an adjustment to the chocolate process that is being done to achieve this.
Until this chocolate is commercially available, we should store chocolate in the fridge and get it out to settle briefly at room temperature before eating it for the best flavour. Fats always have more flavour at a higher temperature, so chocolate will always taste better when not cold.
Cocoa liquor and cocoa butter are obtained from Cacao Beans, which come from fruit grown on Cacao Trees. 75% of all these trees are grown within 8 degrees of the Equator, with the Ivory Coast producing 40% of the world's Cacao Beans.
It is a combination of the ingredients and the process that determine the flavour, texture and appearance of chocolate. The process has several really important steps, including; conching and tempering.
Conching is the kneeding of the chocolate dough and has a significant influence on the texture of the final product. In some companies an emulsifying machine can be used with the concher or instead of it, to give a very smooth chocolate.
Tempering is a vital step in the chocolate process and determines the hardness and shininess of the finished product. It involves mixing and heating and repeating to work the fats in the cocoa butter.
Chocolate has had a reputation for not being a product that protects and nutures it's growers.
This is rapidly changing with sustainability becoming a key part of the process for chocolate companies. This includes adopting sustainable farming practices.
It is now common to find labelling declarations about sustainable farming. It is important to keep an eye out for "greenwashing" - in other words businesses may state that on their labels but not be practising it.
It is unknown exactly where the beans first started growing but it is general accepted that it was in what is now Mexico or the Central Americas at least 4000 years ago.
The beans were used as currency in Latin America until as late as
The Spanish brought the beans into Europe, where it was first used as a medicine / health food. It was drunk not eaten.
The first solid chocolate did not appear commercially until the 1850s.
The higher the cocoa content the higher the antioxidant content, so dark chocolate has been found to be good for heart health. Dark chocolate can have an antioxidant content (measured as Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity Units - ORACS) of up to 13120 per 100g, compared to blueberries at 2400 ORACS.
An average bar of milk chocolate contains around 27mg of caffeine, which is approximately 1/3 of a standard cup of black coffee.
Chocolate also contains serotonin which is the good feeling neurotransmitter.
So eating chocolate sensibly as part of a healthy diet will help your heart, make you feel good and give a little boost of energy as long as you are not allergic to any of it's ingredients. It does have fats that are not good for health, so should not be eaten in excess.
Interesting Chocolate facts
- A tree takes up to five years to become a good bean producer
- Some trees are up to 200 years old but the best beans are produced up to 25 years
- The trees prefer to grow under other tree types
- Up to 50 million people worldwide depend on cocoa for their living
- About 3.8 billion tons of cocoa beans are grown worldwide annually
- There are about 1500 flavour compounds in chocolate
- The Crillobean is the rarest type of bean and usually means more expensive chocolate
- The Olmec word "kakawa" is the origin of the word "Cacao"
- By 1907, the Hershey factory was producing 33 million kisses per day
- The longest chocolate bar was 11.57m and 1.1m wide and was made in 2010
- The largest chocolate bar weighed 4410kg and made in September 2010
- The largest chocolate rabbit weighed 3850kg and was made in Brazil in 2014
- The largest collection of chocolate bars is 770 varieties in the USA
- The most expensive chocolate was a 100 year old Cadburys bar sold for 470 pounds in 2001
- The most amount of chocolate bars eaten in one minutes was 3 x 49 g rectangular bars in July 2010
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