VAN HOUTEN’S 180-YEAR LEGACY
Among the chocolate brands available today, few can claim a legacy that goes back over 180 years. Van Houten has been manufacturing cocoa powder since 1828, when its founder, Coenraad Van Houten, pioneered a process to manufacture cocoa in Amsterdam, Holland. The result was a tastier and more soluble cocoa powder which spurred the growth of the hot chocolate drink industry.
Cocoa mass was treated with alkaline salts to remove the bitter taste and make cocoa solids more water-soluble; the resulting product is called “Dutch process” chocolate. Today, this process is known as “Dutching”. The final product, Dutch chocolate, has a dark color and a mild taste.
Riding on its success, Van Houten expanded rapidly and by the end of the 19th century, it had expanded into the United Kingdom, the United States, France and Germany. By then, the Van Houten name was synonymous with high quality cocoa powder.
Van Houten’s discovery, also paved the way for the subsequent manufacture of the chocolate bar. This eventually made volume production of chocolates possible and also made chocolates affordable, a fact that Chocolate lovers today are blissfully unaware of – as they can indulge in chocolates so easily whenever they like.
WHAT MAKES GOOD CHOCOLATES
As with any other food product – the quality of a chocolate starts with the ingredients. The purer the cocoa and the more natural the other ingredients are, the better the chocolate.
Some chocolate pioneers have amassed decades of chocolate expertise-this includes perfecting the art and science of chocolate making.
The chocolate making process is quite complex:
It all starts with the cocoa beans, which grow on the cocoa trees in tropical jungles from Brazil, to Indonesia, to the Ivory Coast and Ghana and are harvested by hand. The beans, which are the seeds of the cocoa tree fruit, are removed from their pods and placed in large piles to ferment for about a week. During this time the shells harden, the beans darken, and the rich cocoa flavour develops.
The Special Blend
Cocoa beans from different countries each have a distinct flavour. Every chocolate maker uses his or her own special blend to create their unique recipe.
Cocoa beans are roasted in large, revolving roasters at very high temperatures. A special hulling machine then takes the dry, roasted cocoa beans and separates the shell from the inside of the bean - called the “nib.” This is the part of the bean actually used to make chocolate. The nibs then are ready for milling, a grinding process which turns the nibs into smooth liquid called chocolate liquor - which, by the way, contains no alcohol.
The main ingredients in chocolate are the chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, sugar and milk which are blended together into a mixture. The mixture is dried into a coarse, brown powder called chocolate crumb, which is then further ground and refined until it becomes a thick liquid called chocolate paste.
The paste is poured into huge vats called conches, where the gritty particles are smoothed out from the crumb. This process can take anywhere from 24 to 72 hours.
Finally the paste is tempered or cooled in a controlled manner to the right texture and consistency, and other ingredients, like almonds or peanuts, can be mixed into the paste.
Every chocolate maker, whether a big company or an artisanal chocolatier, has his or her own “secret”
HOW TO SAVOUR YOUR CHOCOLATE
When you indulge in chocolate, you are taken on a pleasurable journey of discovery. Fine chocolate has several characteristics, which provide you with a different experience at every bite.
The ultimate connoisseur involves all five senses to appreciate his or her chocolate. Here are some suggestions to help you to derive the greatest pleasure and satisfaction from chocolate:
Good chocolate should have a consistent color, texture and a natural-looking finish, free of air bubbles and blemishes.
Savoring chocolate begins the moment you unwrap it and take in its deep aroma of fresh cocoa.
Your sense of touch will tell you how smooth or how even a chocolate bar is. When you touch the chocolate, it should not melt immediately in your hands, this is an indication of how well it has been tempered and stored.
What sound does it make when you break a piece off a chocolate bar? You want to hear a nice snap. Higher quality chocolates have higher levels of cocoa butter, smaller particle size and are well tempered which will yield a crisp, clean snap.
This is what matters most. Fresh chocolate has intense but refined flavors and subtle textures. Quality chocolate tends to have a long, pleasant aftertaste that lingers in your mouth. Allow the chocolate to rest on the tip of the tongue to savor its full flavor.