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What is Chocolate?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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Chocolate is a confection made from cacao beans, the seeds of the cacao plant. There are a large number of products made from it on the market, from powdered cocoa for making drinks to white chocolate, and most markets carry a cross-section of confections for their customers. In addition to being available at general markets and grocery stores, chocolate can also be purchased from specialty companies which make luxury and distinctive confections.

Cacao originated in Central America. Today, cacoa is mostly grown in South and Central America and in West Africa. Some countries in Asia are also starting to grow the crop. There are actually several varieties of the cacao plant, all of which produce chocolates with slightly different flavors. The flavor is also impacted by where the plant it grown, how it is handled after harvest, and how it is processed. Companies invest a great deal of money in developing ideal blends of cacao beans to create the flavors their consumers are used to.

Cacao beans grow in large pods which are harvested once they ripen and then allowed to ferment. Initially, the cacao beans are extremely bitter; the fermentation process softens the bitterness, allowing producers to move on the next steps, roasting and hulling. Roasting helps to develop the flavor of the beans, while shelling exposes the cacao nibs, the portion of the bean which has all the flavor.

Once cacao nibs are extracted, they must be ground into a substance known as chocolate liquor. This liquor isn't something you'd want to eat: it is extremely fatty, thanks to the cocoa butter it contains, and it is gritty and bitter. This liquid is then pressed to create what is known as press cake, a substance consisting primarily of cocoa solids, while the cocoa butter is allowed to drain away.

Once press cake has been created, producers have a number of options. To make cocoa, they can squeeze the press cake even more to isolate the cocoa solids before allowing it to dry and then pulverizing it. They can also blend some of the cocoa butter back in, along with sugar and other ingredients, to produce eating chocolate, which is subjected to a process called conching to create a smooth, creamy confection without any traces of grittiness. Eating varieties can also be adulterated with milk, creating milk chocolate, and the level of sweetness can vary widely. For white chocolate, cocoa butter is mixed with vanilla and milk.

The history of chocolate is almost as interesting as the confection itself. In its native South America, it was prepared in drinks reserved for royalty and high ranking members of society. When European explorers visited, they were introduced to chocolate, and upon bringing the food back to Europe, it became a big hit. Eventually, Europeans started experimenting, adding sugar and other ingredients and ultimately developing a process which would allow them to make bars in addition to drinks. With the development of bar chocolate, confectioners realized that it had a wide range of possibilities, from candy bar coating to truffles, and the once rare luxury turned into an extremely profitable global industry.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon991420 — On Jun 19, 2015

Chocolate is from Central America where the zone is tropical.

By anon330502 — On Apr 17, 2013

I don't think it is correct to say that chocolate is a confection. Chocolate can be made into a confection, however, by itself, chocolate is no more a confection than is sugar cane, coconut, dates, cherries, etc.

By anon123622 — On Nov 02, 2010

what is couverture chocolate?

By anon104502 — On Aug 17, 2010

I am doing a project about chocolate. It has to be engaging for a group of 13 year olds. What other information could I include?

By BoatHugger — On Aug 14, 2010

@purplespark: Milk chocolate was created around 1899, again by Milton Hershey. His first endeavor was the Lancaster Caramel Company, where milk was used to make caramel. In 1899, he came up with what is called the “Hershey process”. He built a milk-processing plant and it was a huge success in his creation of milk chocolate.

The first milk chocolate that Hershey introduced was the yummy bell-shaped, foil wrapped candies we know as the Hershey Kiss. They used to be individually wrapped by hand in foil until a machine was created to wrap them.

By PurpleSpark — On Aug 14, 2010

How long has milk chocolate been around?

By calabama71 — On Aug 14, 2010

@cmsmith10: Dark chocolate, which is also known as plain chocolate, is made by adding sugar and fat to cacao. It has no milk in it. It is often used in cooking. In Europe, the “rules” specify that it has to have a minimum of 35% cocoa solids to be called dark chocolate. Semisweet chocolate is a dark chocolate with half of the sugar.

Milk chocolate is made with milk in the form of milk powder, condensed milk or liquid milk. The U.S. requires a 10% concentration of chocolate liquor for milk chocolate.

Milk chocolate was invented by Milton S. Hershey and is significantly cheaper to produce than other chocolates.

By cmsmith10 — On Aug 14, 2010

What is the difference in dark chocolate and milk chocolate?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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