When India's best known Master chocolatier wishes to cart everyone into his chocolate world, we are bound to be aboard this trip, even if it means being caught ticketless Log into 'My world of Chocolates’
Never have I met someone, whom I have had to persuade and convince about eating chocolates. Lucky me, that I have found most who drool over this word called chocolate. Well, I have spent nearly a decade and half promoting this as one of the most versatile ingredients in the world. And you know the best part; I don't need to prod people too much to agree. A few hours with me, and they are already virtually plucking fresh cocoa pods in my 'World of chocolates'
Recently I was invited by Dr. Chowdappa, Director, CPCRI, Kasargod. He personally took me around the facilities and informed me about the past, current and future plans of the institute and the major role it plays in putting India on the world cocoa map. More on this in next issue, but for now I want you to experience the life cycle of a chocolate. Promise, you will rush to sink your teeth into a gorgeous bar of chocolates towards the end of this read. Well, atleast I hope.
Good quality 'Cocoa Beans' form the basis of a good chocolate. It is the plump fatty seed of Theobroma cacao, from which cocoa solids and cocoa butter are extracted after a few processes. The cacao tree is native to the Americas. Theories read, it may have originated in the foothills of the Andes in the Amazon and Orinoco basins of South America, where today, samples of wild cacao are still found. However, it may have had a larger range in the past, long before, as well as after, the Spanish arrived on their scene. In India, however, the appearance is much recent.
Most Cacao trees blossom and are subsequently harvested twice in a year at the time when they are fully ripe by cutting them from the tree using a machete or by knocking ripe cocoa pods off the tree using a stick. This is great fun, and I am lucky to have experienced this many a times in my career as a chocolatier. This is the beauty of being a master chocolatier, where I get invited by cocoa farmers and chocolate makers around the globe to oversee their practices and exchange notes.
A cocoa pod is a papaya-like fruit which has a rough, leathery exterior about 2 to 3 cm thick, varying from variety to variety filled with sweet custard-apple like pulp (called baba de cacao in South America) enclosing 30 to 50 large seeds that are fairly soft with its colour ranging from white to pale lavender to even dark purple. The cover of pods is removed and pulp is placed in piles or bins, allowing access to fermentation, which takes up to seven days. Due to heat buildup in the fermentation process, cacao beans lose this purplish hue and become mostly brown in color, with an adhered skin which includes the dried remains of the fruity pulp. After fermentation, the beans are cleaned and spread out in the sun to dry for five to seven days to prevent mold growth. Now these are ready to be shipped for delivery to chocolate makers. The steps so far are the most critical in developing the 'Chocolaty' flavour in the beans which are otherwise crude and tasteless, if I may put it straight. Now is where the real game begins. The process of creating dark, milk or white chocolate begins. But how you may ask? Read further.
The beans received from farmers are cleaned before roasting. After roasting the shell of each bean is removed to extract the nib. These nibs are crushed, resulting in pure chocolate fluid called chocolate liquor. The liquor is mixture of cocoa butter and cocoa solids. The chocolate liquor is then mixed with other ingredients in varied proportions like lecithin, cocoa butter, sugar, milk solids and run through a method called conching, which determines the final smoothness and quality of the end product. This is imperative to get the desired texture and aids in removing all the volatile chemicals along with its associated bitterness. The final process is called tempering. The uniform sheen and crisp bite of properly processed chocolate are the result of consistently small cocoa butter crystals produced by the tempering process. Now, the mixture is ready for creating bars of beautiful chocolates.
Broadly chocolate can be of three types - Dark, Milk and White. Dark chocolate is produced by adding cocoa butter and sugar to cacao liquor. While in milk chocolate additional ingredients like dehydrated milk are added to smoothen the cocoa flavour and give it a more rounded taste. Milk softens the chocolate and adds flavors which may be buttery, cheesy or creamy. White chocolate, for all chocolate lovers is a shocker as it contains no cocoa solids at all. It is pure imitation chocolate. Any guesses how it is made then? Commonly, it is churned out by a measured mix of cocoa butter, sugar and milk solids.
Well, hoping the joy ride into 'My world of chocolates' has acquainted you to the beautiful journey a cocoa bean goes through to finally reach you, but I promise another peek-a-boo in the next issue. For now it's me Chef Varun Inamdar signing off.