Patric Chocolate: Sure, We Have a Chocolate-Making Bias (or) What IS a Chocolate Maker Anyway?

It has been mentioned in this blog before that only a handful of American companies actually make chocolate .This fact isn’t peculiar to the United States however, it may just as easily be applied to many other chocolate-making countries.

“What?” you may find yourself saying “But can it be true that the company behind the manufacture of my favorite organic, fair-trade, 70% dark chocolate may really not be the company whose name graces its label?” The reality is that you may have a better chance of striking gold in your own backyard than stumbling across a bar of chocolate made by the company who has branded it. Alright, maybe there is a little bit of exaggeration going on here, but the truth isn’t too far off, and if one looks to the labels of the chocolate bars in question for hints regarding whether this is truly the case, all that is likely to be found is further confusion.

Here are some examples of a few titles used by chocolate companies:

“Chocolate maker,” “chocolate manufacturer,” and “chocolatier.” And of course, if you add the word “artisan” to any of these, then you will find many additional combinations just by doing a simple Google search.

What does it mean, however, to use each of these labels? Does it mean that a company actually makes chocolate starting with cocoa beans and carries out every part of the complicated and lengthy chocolate-making process in their own facility, resulting, in the end, in a marketable chocolate product? Though certainly possible, it is not likely.

First, let us deal with the term “chocolatier.” Chocolatiers produce chocolate-based confections either manually or on an industrial scale. However, very rarely do they make the raw product—chocolate—that they use for these confections. There are quite a few chocolatiers, though, who blend different finished chocolates to create bars with intriguing and original profiles. And certainly, as long as these companies do not claim to be making their chocolate, then there is no room for complaint. Yet, there are dishonest individuals in every group.

An extreme example of this dishonesty occurred in recent memory, when one chocolatier, selling perhaps the most expensive chocolate per pound anywhere in the world (up to $2000/lb), had worded things in such a way that it seemed, by most accounts, that they did make their own chocolate. However, it was eventually discovered and brought to light, due to some careful sleuthing, that in fact they didn’t make their chocolate at all. The truth is, that the chocolate that they did use was being sold by its actual manufacturer for up to seventy-five or eighty times less per pound in bar form. Many people felt that this was more than misleading; they felt that it was unethical.

Dishonesty can be found anywhere, however, and there are also practices with which one could take issue regarding non-chocolatier companies who package chocolate bars without actually making their chocolate. This category actually includes the vast majority of chocolate companies, and there is a French term that can be applied to them: “fondeurs.” This word translates as chocolate “melters,” and it speaks to the actual process carried out by these companies: they melt and mold chocolate into bar form. Of course, just as with chocolatiers, there is nothing wrong with chocolate melters per se, and there are certainly some good-quality products produced by such companies, but the problem is that many of these companies choose marketing language that suggests that they do, in fact, make their own chocolate.

One might ask oneself, though, why it even matters who does and doesn’t make chocolate. After all, the most important aspect of chocolate is its flavor, the quality of chocolate defined as a combination of aroma, taste, and mouthfeel. And can’t chocolate bars blended by chocolatiers or packaged by melters taste amazing? Certainly, but part of taking chocolate more seriously, in an effort to better appreciate its complex flavor qualities, involves an attempt to understand the full process that led to its creation. This is the goal of a chocolate connoisseur or chocophile.

This learning process includes finding out what the origin of the cacao used in the chocolate is, what the chocolate-making philosophy of the company is, and how this impacts processes, (i.e., what is the roasting profile, how long was it conched, what type of refining setup is used, is it aged, etc.) among many other variables. To learn answers to these questions allows one to readily and accurately compare and contrast chocolates from various chocolate makers, the same chocolate maker, various countries, different styles, etc. All of this understanding, of course, leads to an even greater appreciation of an already delicious product. So, the bar that is at first just simply delicious, once it is understood how it was made and how it compares to other chocolates on many different levels, becomes either more or less impressive and flavorful as the case may be. The intellect certainly does come to bear on sense impressions, and what we do or don’t understand can alter the flavor of a product for better or worse.

In fact, the more that one learns about chocolate, the more that one’s previous preferences gradually come to be altered as new and more fulfilling chocolates are discovered.

Consequently, knowing if a company actually makes its chocolate is important, and, as we have seen, this knowledge may be able to impact flavor perception after all. But now comes the question: how do we know when a company makes its own chocolate? If it isn’t being advertised one way or the other, how can we tell? Furthermore, when a company says that it is a chocolate maker, can we actually know that this term has some pre-defined meaning? Unfortunately the answer seems to be no. This term and others are thrown about with such ease that it isn’t possible to tell much about companies that use them. Even companies that do make some of their own chocolate may outsource an even larger quantity of it. Another possibility is that one company roasts and refines the cacao, and then this product (cacao liquor) is then refined with added sugar in another location, molded and packaged. Similar confusion can exist with the word “artisan.” Though artisan chocolate makers certainly do exist, we can hardly take the word of them all when they use this term. Short of the English-speaking world bringing into common usage the French term “cacaofèvier,” which translates roughly as a “cocoa-beaner,” or a person who makes chocolate from cacao itself (bean to bar), finding the truth will take a bit of work, a bit of intellectual elbow grease, so to speak.

Luckily, this intellectual work also involves a great deal of chocolate tasting! One can be as organized or as laid-back as one would like in tasting various chocolates, and taking notes on them, but it is a good idea, when a new chocolate is discovered, not only to read up on it on the company’s web site or packaging, but also to visit chocolate review sites. One such site is Seventy Percent.com, another that I hear will soon be accessible to English speakers is www.theobroma-cacao.de and there are many other online resources that discuss chocolate companies, their methods, and their products. Even doing a Google search for the product and trying to find out what other people and web sites have to say about it can help. Finally, writing to the company in question can definitely have an impact. The more that companies see that consumers are concerned about all of the details behind their chocolate, the more the culture of secrecy in the chocolate world will have to melt away. Demand that chocolate companies, whether they make chocolate or not, be clear about their processes. They might not want to divulge every last detail, but their goal should be to educate chocolate consumers, not to keep them in the dark. Over time, one can hope that such openness in chocolate business will grow, and will lead to a more educated chocolate-loving public. After all, as an educated chocolate consumer, one receives far more pleasure from each bar than the average person, and who could complain about that?!

Do You Have a “Chocolate Gut”?

Recently, quite a few people have been writing about the supposed addictive properties of chocolate. In fact, in mid-September Dr. Peter Rogers addressed members of the British Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual Festival of Science in York, England, regarding the findings of two such studies in particular.

Dr. Rogers noted that though chocolate can increase pleasure and lead to a reduction in stress and tension, that it does not appear to be addictive.

Enter Sunil Kochhar of the Nestle Research Center in Lausanne, Switzerland. He has co-authored a study that seems to tell a different story. Kochar believes that chocolate may, in fact, be addictive to humans…well, not really humans, but rather addictive to the bacteria that thrive inside the gut of humans.

Kochhar compared the blood and urine of 11 chocolate-eating men with 11 men who never ate chocolate (interestingly it took him a year to find 11 men who never ate chocolate).

What Kochhar found is that there were many different chemical differences between the two groups, and that some of them could be attributed to bacteria in the gut. Though more research needs to be done, it seems that some bacteria may crave chocolate and somehow impact the desire of their human host for that food.

As for Patric Chocolate’s view on chocolate addiction, we believe that it can be simply explained:

Chocolate is incredibly delicious!

A bit more detail:

Chocolate is perhaps one of the most complex foods in terms of flavor. It is so complex that scientists, even moving into the 21st century, aren’t entirely sure what makes chocolate taste like chocolate. It is the intricacy of the texture, tastes, and aromas that lead to such great value from chocolate consumption, especially as higher quality chocolate is gradually coming to be available more often to more people. Ask almost anyone to choose between their favorite chocolate and any other item, and they will almost always choose chocolate. The experience is that powerful; Chocolate truly can be a sensory revelation.

To read more about Sunil Kochhar and his findings, view AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein’s piece here.

History of Fine (Bean to Bar) Dark Chocolate: A 3000-Year Voyage and Then Some…

For those of us who have come to truly appreciate fine dark chocolate, though we know that the market for such a product has not always been as large as it has become, still, it seems hard to imagine a time when there was not yet one single bar of this exquisite food in existence. The truth is, however, that until innovation in the 19th century, fine chocolate simply could not have existed, and even after these changes, fine chocolate really didn’t come into its own until the latter quarter of the 20th century. That said, though the mechanical capability to produce fine chocolate may have been born in an instant, it has taken 3000 or more years of human involvement with the plant called Theobroma cacao (the cocoa tree) to get us to where we are today in terms of fine chocolate.

As for all of the important steps that have gotten us from point A to point C (that’s ‘C’ for chocolate!), there are many chocolate-related timelines that can be found online, but often they focus more on fine chocolate-coated confections or perhaps on mass-produced chocolate items, than they do on fine chocolate per se. These other timelines, therefore, stray from our goal, which is to detail the events that, bit by bit, allowed the final creation of the delectable fine dark chocolate bars by bean to bar chocolate makers. So, on toward chocolate!!

(Note: This timeline is a combination of comments from Patric Chocolate and source material from various references. Sentences including source material will be marked by numbers that correspond to the appropriate reference at the end of this post.)

Pre-Spanish Conquest: Discovery

Circa 1000 BCE – circa 1500 CE: It is thought that the Olmecs, and then later the Maya, were the first to make use of the toasted and ground cacao seed in a hot, spiced beverage, rather than just as a vehicle for the pulpy fruit surrounding it (1). This recognition that dried, toasted, and perhaps fermented cacao seed could be transformed into a delicious product, with a flavor and aroma almost wholly unlike those of their raw form, is indeed a moment of genius. Though we may never be able to say thanks to the Olmecs who figured this out, we certainly are indebted to them. Later, between 900 CE and 1500 CE, the Toltecs and then the Aztecs also began to consume the toasted and spiced cacao beverage, but contrary to popular belief, they were not the first peoples to do so (1).

Spanish Conquest Period: Transmission

Circa 1528-1544: Starting in this period, transport of cacao to Spain with a quick spread to Italy (circa 1606), France (circa 1615) and England (circa 1650), and recognition of cacao as a flavorful beverage, began the chocolate cogs turning outside of Meso-America (1,3). Putting cacao in the hands of such a widely diverse group of people, who were culturally so far-removed from the Maya, surely led to a great deal of the innovation that we would see in the years to come.

1525: Spaniards transported the excellent quality Mexican criollo cacao to Trinidad, a country that would later become home to the hybrid trinitario cacao after 1727 when a “blast” (either disease or hurricane-related) led to a cross-breeding of the remaining criollo with forastero-type cacao from eastern Venezuela (5). Trinitario-type cacao is now generally considered to be of excellent quality in terms of flavor and aroma.

1634: The Dutch seized a small island off the coast of north-western Venezuela from the Spanish. This act allowed them to open trade routes from western Venezuela and eastern Columbia with many European nations, resulting in excellent-quality Venezuelan criollo cacao first being known outside of Spain (5). Today, cacao from the western half of Venezuela is still considered to be of high quality despite various breeding regimes that have changed the genetics, flavor and aroma of this cacao. In fact, it is from the south of Lake Maracaibo in western Venezuela that Porcelana cacao, a criollo with a smooth porcelain-colored pod, is thought to have originated.

Post-Conquest Period: Innovation

1815: Van Hooten’s discovery of a way to extract cocoa butter from roasted and refined cacao in order to create cocoa powder led to an unintended, but very important, side-effect in the creation of the by-product cocoa butter, an ingredient that is quite important for dark chocolate bars with less than a 70% cacao content and for many other chocolate products, including milk chocolate (3,4).

Post-1834: Mexican criollo that had been transported to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) by the British, was soon taken to Madagascar for planting. In Madagascar, levels of production have remained small, and perhaps this fact has contributed to the high quality of cacao that is still grown there (5).

1847: Fry, in the UK, was the first to create a factory based upon an innovative combination of cacao, sugar and cocoa butter, resulting in the very first chocolate bars (3,4). Added cocoa butter decreased the feeling of graininess in the solid chocolate products, though, by no means was this yet fine chocolate. Keep this in mind when watching period-pieces that take place prior to this time; they sometimes include nobility eating modern hand-dipped-chocolates, something which would not have been possible.

1879: Rudolphe Lindt discovered the impact of conching on chocolate, which resulted in a much smoother product (1,3,4). This discovery led to a chocolate that embodied the modern perception of fine chocolate, both due to further particle refinement and rounding, and to better homogenization of the sugar and cacao particles within the cocoa butter, coating them with a luscious layer of molten cocoa butter. Lindt’s conching also led to flavor refinement, due to the mechanical action of the large granite roller on the chocolate, as just described, but also due to the subtle frictional-heating, and later additional external-heating, of the conche pot, which allowed for volatilization of unwanted flavor and aroma components, as well as very subtle chemical changes within the chocolate itself. And so 1879 was an important year for fine chocolate indeed!

Twentieth Century: The Beginning of a Golden-Age

1920’s-Present: Research on cacao-growing, harvesting, fermentation, drying, roasting, and conching began to grow at universities in France, Germany and the United States. With new forms of research equipment, more accurate findings have led to a much better understanding of the development of chocolate flavor. There have been claims that there are between 300 and 600 chemical components in chocolate, making it one of the most complex foods in the world. Yet, with all of this growing understanding, scientists still have not determined what chemicals lead to the quintessential “chocolate” flavor. Some chemicals that are known to have some impact on chocolate flavor are volatile fatty acids, pyrazines, aldehydes, alcohols, esters, and sulfurs among others. However, it seems that a full understanding of chocolate flavor and aroma is still a long way off.

1930: The Cocoa Research Scheme was instituted in Trinidad at the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture; it has since moved to the University of the West Indies and is now known as the Cocoa Research Unit (CRU) (6). The CRU continues its work on the research of cacao in relation to the International Cocoa Genebank in Trinidad (more below).

1953: Beginning with Maurice Bernachon, and continuing with his son Jean-Jacques Bernachon, this small French chocolate company has consistently focused on manufacturing fine chocolate for sale as bars and also for use in their other fine chocolate-based products (2). All these years they have resisted drastic national and international expansion and continue to maintain their headquarters in Lyon, France. Bernachon Online

1982: The International Cocoa Genebank, Trinidad (ICG,T) was founded by the Cocoa Research Unit in Trinidad on a 33 hectare site. This genebank includes “one of the most diverse collections of germplasm in the world,” and it serves the CRU in their efforts to “conserve, characterise, evaluate, utilise and distribute cacao.” (6,7) Such research and conservation is important due to potential extinction of certain cacao genotypes through problematic breeding programs over the last century that have resulted in greatly decreased cacao quality world-wide. In fact, by many accounts, pure criollo cacao is virtually extinct, composing much less than 1% of the world-production of cacao. Whether this number is accurate or not, it is certain that criollo would be in danger of total annihilation without programs like the ICG,T.

1984: Bonnat, a French chocolate maker, offered the first single-origin dark chocolate bars 100 years after the company first opened its doors (2). Bonnat Chocolatier

1985:
Valrhona, a French company founded in 1924, began their single-origin Gran Cru line of chocolate as a supply for chocolate professionals. Then, starting in 1986 and continuing to the present, Valrhona began releasing blend and single-origin bars for the public too (2,3). Valrhona

1988:
François Pralus took over the French-based business that his father had started and began focusing his energy on an extensive line of single-origin dark chocolate bars (2). Chocolats Pralus

1989:
Swiss chocolate-giant Lindt released their 70% Noir dark chocolate bar, the first bar sold in supermarkets to promote the actual cacao percentage (3). Products like this exposed the mainstream to chocolate that they never knew existed, and educated them enough that they finally knew how to ask an important question: “Where can I get more?”

1995: Italian company Domori began production of dark chocolate bars with a focus on single-origin and even single-tree-variety chocolate bars processed in their unique style (3). Domori

1997:
Italian company Amedei began production of fine dark chocolate in the form of single-origin and blend bars with a primary focus on cacao from different areas of Venezuela (3). Amedei

1998: Michel Cluizel, chocolate maker at a French chocolate manufacturer of the same name, introduced a line of “nuanciers,” or chocolate disks that showcased the same beans with a variety of percentages, or on the other hand, beans from different origins with the same percentage. Michel Cluizel then went on to create a line of single-origin bars of his own (3). Michel Cluizel

Twenty-First Century and Beyond: Into the Future

1997-Present: The American Fine Chocolate Movement

Although not an organized movement, since the late 1990’s, a growing number of relatively small chocolate makers have been opening their doors here in the United States. Though not all of the companies share the same goal regarding fine chocolate, there are those who work hard to offer excellent-quality dark chocolate bars born from their own passion and love for the chocolate medium. Patric Chocolate counts itself proud to be one company within this growing group, and we hope to, through a careful focus on the quality of our products, inspire future generations of fine chocolate makers, here and abroad, just as we have been inspired by our predecessors and peers. We like to think that, despite the more than 3000 years it has taken to get here, the history of fine chocolate has only just begun!

(Disclaimer 1: Though only four cacao-growing countries have been mentioned above, in truth, there are excellent-quality fine chocolate bars made from almost countless different origins. It was not possible to focus on every country, so only a handful of well-known countries tied to quality production were mentioned.)

(Disclaimer 2: Patric Chocolate, in the timeline above, does not imply a personal or business association with any of the above-mentioned chocolate companies, nor does Patric Chocolate indicate any endorsement by the above companies. The statements made about these companies are factual as far as can be determined based on the resources cited below. Additionally, by providing links to the sites of said companies, Patric Chocolate does not necessarily guarantee or endorse the information or products available at those sites.)

References:

1: The True History of Chocolate by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe.

2: 100% Chocolate by Katherine Khodorowsky and Doctor Hervé Robert.

3: The Chocolate Connoisseur by Chloé Doutre-Roussel.

4: Industrial Chocolate Manufacture and Use edited by Samuel Beckett.

5: Chocolate Production and Use by L. Russell Cook

6: Cocoa Research Unit

7: International Cocoa Genebank, Trinidad(ICG,T)

Interesting Chocolate Facts (and Photos)

At the recent chocolate talk and tasting here in Columbia, MO, we discussed a number of items about chocolate that are not commonly known. Some people found these points to be quite interesting, and so we decided that we should share them with all of the Patric Chocolate blog readers as well.

#1: Smooth and refined European-style chocolate bars have only existed since the invention of a machine called the “conche” in 1879 by Rudolphe Lindt, the man whose name still graces bars of Lindt chocolate. For the 3000 years, or more, that chocolate had been consumed prior to Lindt’s invention, it was consumed almost wholly as a drink, either hot or cold, and mixed with water and various spices.

#2: The scientific name of the tree that bears cocoa “beans,” is Theobroma cacao, and was named by Carolus Linnaeus in 1753. Theobroma means “food of the gods,” and the word “cacao” is based upon the Mayan pronunciation of the tree–kakaw–which itself was borrowed from the Olmec civilization before them.

#3: (Get ready, this one is a bit long and a little technical) The fruit of a cacao tree is usually called a “pod” though it is botanically not a pod at all. Those who have wanted to be more specific have called the cacao fruit an indehiscent drupe, which means that it is a “stone” fruit, or fruit surrounding a hard, shell-covered seed (a drupe), that doesn’t fall from the tree or release its seeds on its own accord (indehiscent). However, despite this common wisdom, a colleague, Steve DeVries of DeVries Chocolate in Denver, CO, recently pointed out that he had discovered that cacao, though indehiscent, is not a drupe at all. Upon reflection, this discovery seems obvious as the cacao fruit is filled with many pulpy, fruit-covered seeds, and not covered with a hard shell of any sort as is the seed of a peach, or plum, fruits which are true drupes. A photo of an open pod:

(July 2006–Click the Photo for a Larger View)

So, Patric Chocolate began to wonder what the accurate botanical classification of a cacao fruit should be, if not a drupe. With this in mind we stumbled across a paper by Douglas Lehrian and Gordon Patterson of the Hershey Foods Corporation, in a book published in 1983, that mentions quite clearly that the cacao fruit is a berry! We were a bit hesitant to rely on this information alone, with the large amount of seeming uncertainty and confusion surrounding the question of the cacao fruit, but after checking back with DeVries, who himself verified with some experts in the field, it seems that we can be relatively sure that the cacao fruit is indeed a berry. Who knew?

#4: So, now that we are pondering what it means for the cacao fruit to be a berry, it actually makes quite a bit of sense that this would be the case, as many of the chemicals found in other berries, such as the blueberry, are also found in cacao fruit. Some of the most well-known of these chemicals come from a class called polyphenols which are powerful antioxidants. In fact, the same polyphenol that gives blueberries their blue-purple color is responsible for the purple color in raw forastero cacao seeds, though most people will never have the opportunity to see a purple cacao seed, as the colorant is converted into a colorless compound during a post-harvest fermentation process long before the seeds are ever made into chocolate.

#5: Finally, another item of interest that is not well known, is that unlike the average fruit tree, which grows fruit in many parts of its canopy, the cacao fruit actually grows primarily on the trunk of the cacao tree, and to some extent on the primary branches, a behavior termed “cauliflory.” Here are a few photos to give you a better idea of this peculiarity:

A photo of a particularly old and very large cacao tree during a trip to Tabasco State, Mexico:


(July 2006–Click the Photo for a Larger View)

A photo of a much younger tree, also in Tabasco State:

(July 2006–Click the Photo for a Larger View)

A close-up of a Porcelana pod during a trip to Zulia State in Venezuela.

(December 2006–Click the Photo for a Larger View)