If you’re like us, you’re always on the lookout for the latest chocolate desserts. But what is chocolate exactly, and where does it come from? Read on for fast facts about one of the world’s favorite sweet treats, plus check out a few of our favorite chocolate desserts from across the nation.
What is chocolate? Chocolate is the sweet food preparation of cacao seeds. The seeds (or beans) are fermented, dried, cleaned, roasted, ground and then flavored, typically with vanilla. Cacao, or the “cocoa bean,” has been cultivated by many cultures for over three hundred years, with some evidence of bitter chocolate beverages dating all the way back to 1900 B.C. in Mesoamerica, made by the Mayans and the Aztecs.
What are the different types? Often consumed in liquid, paste or block form, most of today’s commercial chocolate is sweet and falls under one of three distinct categories: dark, milk and white. Each of these varieties has a varying proportion of cocoa liquor (pure cocoa mass in solid or semi-solid form), cocoa butter or other fat, milk and sugar. Dark chocolate is the purest, made with cocoa butter, cocoa liquor, sugar and sometimes vanilla. Milk chocolate incorporates the addition of milk or milk powder, vanilla and usually, more sugar. White chocolate is has everything that milk chocolate does, except cocoa liquor.
Health benefits Chocolate is a source of flavonoids, nutrients famous for their antioxident and anti-inflammatory health benefits. Recent research also indicates that regular chocolate consumption (of the less sugary variety) may have other possible health benefits, including reducing cholesterol levels, preventing cognitive decline and lowering the risk of developing heart disease.
Modern-day chocolate Gifts of molded chocolates, such as bars and candies, have become traditional gifts on Western holidays, such as Easter and Valentine’s Day. Chocolate is also used in cold and hot beverages, including chocolate milk and hot chocolate, as well as in alcoholic liqueurs like creme de cacao. Although cocoa originated in the Americas, today, over two-thirds of the world’s cocoa is produced in Western Africa.
From creamy mousses to towering cakes and decadent ice creams, you’ve got plenty of options for satisfying all your chocolate cravings.
Photo provided by Brigantessa. Photo by Kateri Likoudis.
The Budino Di Cuscusu Al Cioccolato at Brigantessa, a warm Sicilian chocolate couscous pudding with dried cherries and toasted almonds, is the ideal accompaniment to the restaurant’s Southern Italian-inspired dishes.