Let's clear a few things Up
+ Where does chocolate come from?
Today, chocolate is made from grinding the cured (fermented & dried) and roasted kernel of the cacao seed (aka cocoa bean). It's often combined with sugar, and formed into a solid bar or block.
This seed grows inside the fruit of the tree, Theobroma cacao. You can learn more about the process here.
+ What is the difference between a chocolate maker and chocolatier?
A chocolate maker makes chocolate from scratch, that is, processing the seed into a chocolate bar.
A chocolatier, or chocolate melter, receives the chocolate made by the chocolate maker and proceeds to produce chocolate confections such as ganaches, bon bons, showpieces, truffles, and chocolate decor.
They don't make the chocolate from scratch. Although, they do make their chocolates (truffles, bon bons) from scratch. They take already made chocolate, mix it with cream, butter, fruits or nuts, and create chocolate confections. This is different than taking the cacao seed and processing it into chocolate.
Think of it as a flour mill and baker. A flour mill grinds the kernels of wheat into flour. The baker proceeds to use that flour to produce cookies, breads, and cakes.
+ How do I know which shops are chocolate makers, and which are chocolatiers?
A key thing to know is that today most or even all the chocolate shops in your town or city are chocolatiers (chocolate melters), not chocolate makers. They make chocolates (bonbons, truffles, novelty items), but they don't take the beans and turn them into chocolate. It's rare to find a small scale bean to bar chocolate maker these days, although it is a growing trend.
It's not to say one is above the other, but it's important to know who is producing what.
Most chocolate shop personnel will say they make their own chocolates, which is true, but if you want to know if they make it from the the cocoa bean itself, you need to specify. You need to ask if they make it themselves, on premise, from the bean.
+ Why do some chocolate shops state they make their own chocolate if they are not a chocolate maker?
Not all chocolate shops make their own chocolate confections themselves. Those who take the care and time to make their own, want you to know it.
It's a relatively new idea for chocolatiers to have to differentiate themselves from a small scale bean to bar chocolate makers (someone who produces chocolate bars from the cocoa bean itself). In the past, they had to differentiate themselves from chocolate shops who get their chocolate made in factories. Therefore, you often have to specify your question as to what you mean when you ask "do you make your own chocolate?"
Some chocolatiers out there may try to mislead you to think they also make the chocolate bean to bar, but most do not. Most of this confusion stems from ignorance or miscommunication. Most consumers don't even know the difference, and so don't even know what question to ask in order to get a clear answer.
Ask: Do you make your own chocolate on premise, from the cocoa bean itself? If they don't, it doesn't necessarily mean they are not high quality. It just means they are not bean to bar chocolate makers.
+ How many kinds of chocolate are there?
As far as eating chocolate, there are three kinds, and it is not dark, milk, and white chocolate.
Historically there was one kind of chocolate, drinking chocolate, with a multitude of variations. This was made by grinding fermented, dried, roasted cocoa seeds, and mixing it with water and a variety of spices.
From that evolved dark eating chocolate (made from cocoa beans and sugar).
Flavoured Eating Chocolate
Once powdered milk was invented in the late 19th Century in Switzerland, milk chocolate arrived (cocoa bean, milk powder, sugar). There is also gianduja (cocoa bean, sugar, hazelnut, sometimes milk powder), chocolate made with ground up tea leaves or coffee beans, or other nuts.
Flavoured Cocoa Butter Chocolate
This is chocolate based not on the whole cocoa bean, but based only on the fat from the seed: cocoa butter. This can include white chocolate (cocoa butter, milk powder, sugar, vanilla), Nut bars (cocoa butter, almonds, sugar), fruit bars (cocoa butter, freeze dried fruit, sugar).
There are many many kinds of chocolate today, but they can all fall under these 3 categories based on whether they are based on whole cocoa bean, cocoa bean and another flavour ingredient, or cocoa butter and flavour ingredient.
+ Is chocolate or cacao a fermented food?
No. Chocolate is made from the kernel of the cacao seed. Although the cacao seeds are fermented, the seed itself is not what is being fermented. This is very different from kimchi, wine grapes, and sauerkraut.
The seeds used to make chocolate are surrounded by a fruit or "pulp" contained within the cacao pod. The fruit covered seeds are allowed to ferment, but it is the fruit that becomes part of the fermentation cycle, similar to kimchi, wine grapes, and sauerkraut. It is therefore erroneous to equate chocolate or cacao seeds to the fermented foods listed above.
So why do people say chocolate and cacao are fermented?
There is a big push today to make chocolate a "superfood" and market it for its health. Although there are health benefits to high quality dark chocolate, selling it as a fermented food is not correct.
When the cacao fruit is fermenting, it impacts the cacao seed at the molecular level. The kernel of the cacao seed is altered due to the fruit outside of it being fermented. There is a tiny pore in the testa or "shell" of the seed which allows for the metabolites and other compounds within the fermented fruit to travel into the seed and alter the kernel.
This kernel is then dried, roasted, and ground into chocolate. So although the cacao seed is directly impacted by fermentation of the cacao fruit, the seed itself is not a fermented food.
+ What is cocoa powder?
Cocoa powder is essentically defatted cocoa bean.
Cocoa powder is made from pressing the mass of ground cocoa seed kernel. This press squeezes out a large amount of the cocoa fat, and leaves us two products, the cocoa butter (the fat) and a cocoa press cake (everything else, the cocoa solids and some of the fat). This "cake" is then pulverized into a powder, creating cocoa powder.
99% of commerical cocoa powder today is also alkalized or "dutched". This makes the colour darker, the flavour more mild, and also makes it more miscible in water (easier to mix). You can know if your cocoa powder is "dutched" by reading the ingredients. The ingredients list of cocoa powder which is dutched will be listed as alkalized, dutched, or contains sodium bicarbonate.
Cocoa powder was invented in 1828 by Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes Van Houten. It was a response to the high levels of fat in drinking chocolate that made it difficult for Europeans to mix it into water without separating. They reduced the amount of fat, as well as alkalized it, which is why it's often referred to as Dutched cocoa powder.
+ What is Fine VS Bulk Cacao?
Fine cacao makes up 5-10% of the total world market. It's purchased by chocolate makers who produce high quality fine chocolate, which is often anywhere from $5-$15 a bar. Fine cacao is generally less astringent, bitter, sour, and contains a multitude of favorable aroma profiles. Many compare to fine coffee, with chocolate being the predominant flavour, but also containing an array of notes such as cherry, hazelnut, or hay.
Bulk cacao makes up almost all the rest of the cacao on the market. It's produced into bulk chocolate of varying degrees of quality. Bulk cacao is often quite astringent, bitter, and therefore needs to be processed in a way to make up for these unfavorable characteristics. Chocolate made from bulk cacao is often mixed with other flavourings to compensate for the less favorable aromas.
+ Is dark chocolate good for you?
Dark chocolate can be part of a healthy lifestyle if consumed in moderation. One study suggested 6-7 grams a day as moderate.
Dark chocolate is often linked to health due to the high amounts of antioxidants contained within the dark cocoa solids. The higher the percentage on a bar of dark chocolate, the greater the amount cocoa solids, which also contain many the minerals and antioxidant polyphenols.
Antioxidants, part of mainstream western culture now, are a controversial topic. Their impact on immediate and long term health is still debated, but many encourage the consumption of foods high in antioxidants to improve or slow down cardiovascular disease, inflammation, and is even liked to improved cognition.
However, dark chocolate is also a high caloric food. Roughly 50% of a cocoa bean is fat, and so a small amount of chocolate is packed with a lot of calories. This is not a negative factor, but needs to be considered.
Dark chocolate is not a health food, or some sort of superfood. However, high quality chocolate is not something to be afraid of if consumed mindfully and with moderation. Just as good fats and complex carbohydrates may be a part of a healthy diet, so can dark chocolate, so long as you are not allergic to or prone to kideny stones. If unsure, check with your doctor.
+ Why is dark chocolate said to be healthier than milk or white chocolate?
A cocoa bean can be separated into two components, roughly 50% cocoa butter and 50% cocoa solids (the brown component). The nutrients obtained from chocolate, that is, the minerals and antioxidants, are contained within the cocoa solids, not the cocoa butter.
It's not just dark chocolate, but high percentage dark chocolate. The higher the percentage of dark chocolate, the greater proportion of the dark cocoa solids, and therefore greater amounts of minerals and antioxidants.
Milk chocolate is (most often) made with higher amounts of sugar, as well as contains milk powder, therefore less cocoa solids. White chocolate is made of cocoa butter and sugar, no cocoa solids, and so does not contain any of the minerals and antioxidants found in dark chocolate. As well, studies have shown that chocolate taken with milk reduces the chances of antioxidants being absorbed by our bodies. These chocolates are more likely to be compared to a treat or dessert.
+ What determines percentage on a chocolate bar?
The percentage listed on a chocolate bar reflects the amount of cocoa bean (cocoa solids and cocoa butter) within the bar, in relation to sugar and or other ingredients. A 70% dark chocolate bar that only contains cocoa beans and sugar, is 70% cocoa beans and 30% sugar. A 55% milk chocolate bar is 55% cocoa bean and 45% milk & sugar combined. The percentage on a white chocolate bar indicates the percent of cocoa butter only, the rest being sugar and milk powder.
+ What is chocolate liquor?
It's very simple, chocolate liquor is a ground up mixture of 100% cocoa nibs (cocoa seed kernel). Think of it as peanut butter, but made with cocoa nibs instead of peanuts, and less refined. This is the step in the processes after the cocoa seeds have been roasted and winnowed. Once chocolate liquor is made, it can go one of two paths: continue to making chocolate, or pressed to make cocoa powder and cocoa butter.
+ Can I put chocolate in the fridge?
First let me ask you, why do you want to do that? There is only one reason you need to put dark chocolate bars in the refrigerator: Heat. Dark chocolate bars will not spoil or grow mould. The high levels of fat and polyphenols prevent that.
However, your pricey fine chocolate bar hates warmth, either from the sun, a heating element, or near an appliance that gets warm (don't put them in the cupboard above your stove).
Chocolate loves to be in a dark cool dry place. A safe spot in the pantry is a good idea. However, some of you may not have air conditioning, or live in warm climates. If your room temperature where the chocolate is stored often exceeds 23-25 degrees celcius, you may want to refrigerate it.
You have read that refrigerating chocolate is bad for it, and yes, it's not optimal, but its a better option than leaving it in a very warm room. They key is, you just need to keep it well sealed, and allow it to acclimate to room temperature before unwrapping it.
If the chocolate is still in its original wrapper and not opened, perfect! Seal it in a resealable bag (after removing excess air) and place that bag into a clean odour free tupperware. You want to avoid odours from the food being absorbed by the chocolate. If the chocolate is opened, wrap it back up very well, and repeat the process above.
Now, the reason people suggest not to refrigerate chocolate is often because of the condensation that may develop on it after you take it out. This will affect the texture, flavour, and overall experience. How do you avoid that? Easy. Keep the chocolate sealed, and allow it to come back to room temperature before you want to consume it. This often takes a few hours. Then you can open it and enjoy. As long as the chocolate is not still cold to the touch.
Some recommend a wine cooler as well, as a fridge is often a bit too cool, but you still should allow it to acclimate to room temperature.
The bottom line is, don't keep your chocolate forever. Although dark chocolate won't spoil, the flavour will degrade over time. Some argue the flavour lasts for years, but from my experience, it rarely does, especially if its been previously opened. Fine chocolate is best consumed within a year of when it was made. Enjoy your chocolate fresh, and save the future for new bars.