One of the most potent weapons in the bluffing arsenal is the ability to prove or disprove the myths, commonly held beliefs and misheld opinions surrounding your chosen subject. Happily, chocolate comes preloaded with lots of these. For something that’s so easily accessible, there’s a whole load of confusion out there that can be backed up or cleared up with just a little knowledge.
In this chapter, you’ll be provided with all the ammunition you need to discuss them, analyse them and then either define, disprove or support them. All, of course, to the amazement of your marvelling audience.
Chocolate maker or chocolatier?
There’s a temptation to use the word ‘chocolatier’ when it comes to people in the industry. It’s a great word; it sounds terribly knowledgeable.
However, it doesn’t apply to everyone in the chocolate making world.
So far, only the work of the chocolate maker has been considered in how chocolate is made, but there’s more to it than that. A chocolate maker, you see, is a person – or a company – who buys and roasts cocoa beans and grinds them into chocolate.
A chocolatier is the next person in the industry, the one who takes chocolate that others have made and turns them into chocolates, i.e., the filled, nut-covered, dipped confections particularly popular on Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and, yes, well, every other kind of day including Christmas Day, Boxing Day and all points between Monday and Sunday.
There are many chocolatiers across the world. There are many in most major cities. There are far fewer chocolate makers because, as hopefully established, the process of making chocolate is damn near thankless; it’s laborious, long and requires all sorts of specialised equipment. To be a chocolatier is still a challenging role – particularly to be a good one – but most don’t make their own chocolate from the bean. They buy ‘couverture’ chocolate, melt it down and make their own creations.
Couverture translates as ‘covering’ and basically refers to the kind of chocolate that covers things. This typically has a higher percentage of cocoa butter (to give the finished chocolate item the desired sheen and snap), and comes in all sorts of forms, from drop-sized pieces to huge slabs.
High-end bars – Valrhona, Mast Brothers, Amedei, etc. – also qualify under this tag and are used to make other chocolates and desserts.
(A company called Barry Callebaut is one of the largest producers of couverture in the world and although well known within the industry, you’d be forgiven for having never heard of it.)
Belgian chocolate is the best in the world
You see them everywhere, from supermarkets to high street chocolate chains and duty-free shops. The Belgian chocolate. It’s fantastic right? Er, no. It’s not. Well, to be fair, it’s not bad, but it’s not necessarily fantastic.
There are some great Belgian chocolatiers and chocolate makers. However, the whole ‘Belgian-chocolate-is-the-best-in-the-world’ thing was just great marketing by those cunning Belgians in the 1980s. As we’ve already established – well, as you can certainly deduce from the climate – no cacao is grown in Belgium.
The Belgians haven’t contributed greatly to the chocolate world in terms of production techniques or innovations. The phrase ‘Belgian chocolate’ simply refers to chocolates made with imported chocolate in Belgium. There’s no distinct style, there’s no distinct flavour, there’s no guarantee of quality. It’s all spin. Most other countries don’t do it – have you ever heard of ‘British chocolate’? – but hey, fair play to the Belgians for getting away with it for so long. It’s bluffing on an international scale, and they deserve full credit for it.
70% chocolate is always the best
Possibly the most common assertion from those who don’t know better is that the higher the percentage of cocoa solids, the higher quality the chocolate.
They’re wrong, as you’ll delight in pointing out, courtesy of your newfound expertise. In fact, it’s one of the most misleading things about chocolate, as 70% cocoa solids does not indicate good quality or good flavour. No percentage does. You will find great 70% chocolates on the shelves and truly terrible ones. The number alone doesn’t mean anything. Not only could they be terrible beans to begin with, but the additional 30% could be made up of vegetable fats, artificial flavourings, sweeteners, chalk, bits of bird’s nest, barbed wire…you get the drift. There are many other things that dictate the quality and the flavour, but the amount of cocoa solids isn’t one of them.
Why has this misconception taken hold? Well, many recipes call for 70%, which certainly suggests that it’s a guarantee of quality, and many of the most acclaimed bars in the world, such as Valrhona’s, are typically 70% cocoa solids. So, when someone announces this as ‘fact’, enjoy the following few seconds of glory. Simply shake your head with a weary smile – it’s not their fault that they’re not as worldly-wise about chocolate as you – explain why they’re incorrect, and suggest instead that they just buy the best dark chocolate that they can afford.
White Chocolate is not chocolate
Technically, this is correct. White chocolate contains no cocoa solids and therefore is not chocolate. It is, though, made of cocoa butter – a minimum of 20% – plus milk powder – a minimum of 14% – and sugar. The rest can be made of things such as vegetable fat, and vanilla is often added for flavour.
Some chocolatiers – such as London’s acclaimed Paul A Young – argue that, as long as it’s made with all cocoa butter rather than vegetable fat, it should count as chocolate, which is also a rather nice corollary for any white chocolate pontificating you are able to do.
Chocolate is an aphrodisiac
We’ve already mentioned Montezuma’s belief that chocolate helped him keep his reputed 500-plus wives happy (not to mention his 4,000 concubines) – and, one assumes, not just by giving them a box every now and again. Montezuma’s reliance on chocolate resulted in the notion that the substance had aphrodisiac qualities among its other mystical – or otherwise – benefits.
The Mayan and Aztec belief that chocolate was sobeneficial in so many ways extended to Spain, after Cortés introduced the court to the stuff. The Spanish then – and the rest of Europe – continued to associate chocolate with love. That, possibly, is why it’s still now so strongly associated with romance and St Valentine’s Day.
Chocolate, as we’ve already established, is a marvellously complex thing, and one that will continue to keep the scientists busy for a while. As mentioned previously, chocolate contains theobromine, a mild stimulant of the central nervous system. It also contains many other things, including phenylethylamine, and it helps to stimulate serotonin.
Now, you could get all scientific on these substances but, let’s be honest, if you wanted to do that, you wouldn’t have purchased this particular book. As soon as we start mentioning things like ‘phenylethylamine is a natural monoamine alkaloid and a trace amine’, you’ll either run to Google in a panic, or close the covers, put the book on the shelf and find something less challenging and sleep inducing.
Mind you, it is a lovely phrase to drop into a conversation about chocolate if you can remember it. What you really need to remember about phenylethylamine and serotonin is that they are both mood lifting agents. These substances are released by the brain naturally when we are happy. They are also released naturally by the brain when we are experiencing feelings of love and lust. The body reacts with a rise in blood pressure, an increase in heart rate and an improved mood.
While it can’t necessarily be proved that chocolate is an aphrodisiac, it certainly mimics the feelings of falling in love/lust and also gives an energy boost. It’s thus understandable that chocolate has this reputation.
Chocolate is high in caffeine
Chocolate contains many stimulants – to recap, as they’re great words to learn, theobromine, phenylethylamine and serotonin. It also contains caffeine, but not in particularly significant amounts. As covered before, eating chocolate may perk you up, but it’s probably not the caffeine: a typical 100g bar contains up to 30mg of caffeine. A regular-sized cup of coffee contains up to 100mg of caffeine.
Chocolate is bad for you
Sadly, no amount of science, bluffed or otherwise, is going to justify a chocolate-heavy diet.
While there are health benefits in chocolate, 14 Mars Bars a day will not help you work, rest or play, nor can you go to work on a Creme or Easter egg. A small daily amount of well-made, well sourced dark chocolate (with a reasonable percentage of cocoa solids) can do you some good, though.
Cocoa butter is high in stearic acid. It’s a saturated fat but, conversely/wonderfully, unlike other saturated fats, research shows that stearic acid doesn’t appear to raise cholesterol.
Chocolate is also a source of magnesium, copper, iron and zinc, plus polyphenols which have been linked to a decreased risk of heart disease.
With regard to teeth-rotting arguments, chocolate alone will not cause cavities. Cavities are caused by acid which is formed when bacteria in the mouth metabolise sugars and starches from ANY food; it’s the acid that eats through the enamel. The problem is not getting busy enough with a toothbrush, rather than any particular foodstuff.
In better news, however, there’s some evidence to suggest that the naturally occurring phosphates and protein in chocolate may actually protect tooth enamel. Also, the fat content of chocolate – thank you, cocoa butter – means that chocolate clears the mouth quicker than other sweet treats, thus reducing the length of contact with the teeth.
Again, this isn’t carte blanche to eat – or prescribe – 23 Creme Eggs a day. It is still all things in moderation…
Some people will argue that chocolate gives them a headache. You could argue that there’s no scientific link between chocolate and migraines, quoting a 1997 study by the University of Pittsburgh, but, even with evidence on your side (well, a vague knowledge of a small bit of evidence), successful bluffing is also about knowing where to stop.
As for chocolate causing spots…it doesn’t. Many dermatologists argue that diet as a whole plays no significant part in the development of acne. Unless, one assumes, you rub 23 melted Rolos into your pores.
The same goes for weight gain. All things are fine in moderation, and that includes chocolate. Another good reason to eat a well-made chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa solids is that it gives so much flavour in small quantities. Eat it slowly, savour, enjoy the health benefits and, hopefully, you won’t crave larger amounts. That’s the theory, anyway. The reality is very different but, sadly, despite extensive research, it doesn’t hold true that if a little bit of chocolate does you good, then a whole lot of chocolate must be even better for you.
For a full sweet course on the world’s favourite confectionery, reach immediately for The Bluffer’s Guide to Chocolate ®.