Food Of The Gods, Chocolate

For more than 4000 years, people of the world have turned to the delicacy of chocolate for rituals, medicine, romance and sheer pleasure. By Christiana Kaluscha

February 27, 2019
Rebecca Murphy

Rebecca Murphy

February 27, 2019

Who doesn’t like chocolate? Be it in a cake, mousse, ice cream, in decadent chocolate truffles or in a hot chocolate drink. I used to make one of those drinks during cool nights on my watch on our sailing yacht. We called it ‘Lumumba’, hot chocolate with a good dash of rum, warms you through from top to toe!

My first encounter with cocoa beans was on the Caribbean island of Dominica. A local lady gave me a dark brown mass in the shape of a golf ball. Not sure what it was, I smelled it and looked at her questionably. She laughed and told me that it was cocoa “very good for drink, must put hot water and sugar”.

The locals dry and roast the cocoa beans, grate them and pound them into a kind of dough. Then roll the dough into small balls, the right portion for one hot chocolate.

The story of chocolate

For more than 4000 years, people of the world have turned to the delicacy of chocolate for rituals, medicine, romance and sheer pleasure.

The cacao tree is native to the Amazon Basin. The Olmec, Mayans and Aztecs first consumed cocoa as a bitter beverage rather than a sweet edible treat. They consumed the drink at ceremonies and human sacrifices.

The cocoa bean was a common currency throughout Mesoamerica before the Spanish conquest.

And though cocoa originated as a bitter drink in ancient cultures; today this wonder bean is used in all sorts of delicious ways.

Chocolate’s journey continues with the introduction of milk and sugar to the bitter drink and the invention of the solid bar of chocolate leading to chocolate’s popularisation through big British and Swiss companies such as Nestlé and Cadbury.

Cacao trees grow in a limited geographical zone, ranging from about 20° north and south of the Equator. Seventy per cent of the world crop today is grown in West Africa. A Swedish natural scientist gave the plant its botanical name Theobroma cacao (‘food of the gods’).

Cocoa has been produced in Vanuatu since the 14th century and is grown throughout the islands. Though Vanuatu remains a small player in the global cocoa trade representing less than one per cent of production.

During recent years Vanuatu has established its own chocolate factory and is producing hand crafted organic artisan chocolate, made from bean to bar in Vanuatu.

Six Proven Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

1. Dark chocolate is loaded with nutrients that can positively affect your health. Made from the seed of the cocoa tree, it is one of the best sources of antioxidants on the planet.
2. Quality dark chocolate (not the sugary rubbish) is loaded with nutrients that can positively affect your health. It is rich in fibre, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese and a few other minerals.
3. Cocoa and dark chocolate have a wide variety of powerful antioxidants. In fact, they have way more than most other foods.
4. The bioactive compounds in cocoa may decrease high blood pressure. Observational studies show a drastic reduction in heart disease risk among those who consume the most chocolate.
5. Studies show that the flavones from cocoa can improve blood flow to the skin and protect it from sun damage.
6. Cocoa or dark chocolate may improve brain function by increasing blood flow. It also contains stimulants like caffeine and Theobromine.
Dark chocolate is produced by adding fat and sugar to cocoa. It differs from milk chocolate in that it contains little to no milk solids. iron, magnesium, copper, manganese and a few other minerals.

Chocolate Pavlova with Raspberries (8 Servings)

This was adapted from Nigella Lawson — I changed the shape with 2 layers, use a little more chocolate, added salt and use less sugar. It makes a big, pillowy and very chocolaty Pavlova, delicious with the raspberry topping.

Chocolate Pavlova with Raspberries

• 8 large egg whites
• 1 ¾ cups caster sugar
• A couple pinches of sea salt
• 1 Tsp. Balsamic vinegar
• 1/3 cup good quality cocoa powder, sifted
• 100 g bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
To finish
• 2 cups heavy cream
• 3 teaspoons caster sugar
• 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 4 cups raspberries
• 30 grams bittersweet chocolate, to finish
• Some mint sprigs to garnish
• Heat your oven to 180 C.
• Draw 2 x 15 cm circles on a sheet of baking paper and flip the paper over so that you can see the line but it won’t get into the Pavlova.
• Beat the egg whites with a mixer until peaks form and then beat in the sugar a spoonful at a time until the meringue is stiff and shiny. Sprinkle the sea salt, cocoa, vinegar and then the chopped chocolate over the egg whites and gently fold everything with a rubber spatula.
• Shape the Pavlova: You can secure the parchment to the baking sheet with a dab of meringue underneath it. Mound the meringue into the two 15cm circles, smoothing the sides and top.
• Bake the meringue: Place in the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 150 C. The Pavlova will bake for 60 to 90 minutes, but most likely in the middle. When it’s ready it should look crisp on top and feel dry, but when you prod the center it should feel squidgy. Turn the oven off, leave the door slightly open, and let the meringue cool completely inside. You can leave it overnight. It can also be kept at room temperature until needed.
• To serve: When you’re ready to serve, invert the cooled Pavlova onto a big plate and peel off the parchment.
• Whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form.
• Pile it onto one of the meringue rings. Sit the second meringue ring on top; fill it with the remaining cream. Scatter with berries and shave chocolate over with a vegetable peeler and decorate with mint sprigs. Serve in wedges and keep leftovers in fridge.

Dark Chocolate Rum Truffles

These are my favourite home made truffles. Easy to make and hard to resist. You can add Cognac or Champagne instead of the Rum.

Chocolate Rum Truffles

Tip: A pair of disposable latex gloves will help your hands stay clean while rolling the truffles.

• 1/2-cup heavy cream
• 250 g good-quality (70 percent) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 1Tsp. pure vanilla extract
• 20 ml Rum
• 1 cup cocoa powder, for dusting
• In a saucepan, bring the cream just to a simmer over medium-low to low heat. Pour the cream over the chocolate in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand about 10 minutes to melt the chocolate. 
• Add the vanilla and stir until smooth. Set aside to cool to room temperature, 30 minutes to 1 hour. 
• Beat the chocolate at medium speed, using an electric mixer, until it is thick and light coloured. If the chocolate has cooled enough, it will be ready to form truffles right away. If the chocolate is still too soft to hold its shape when rolled in a ball, spread over the bottom of a baking dish and smooth the top. Refrigerate until firmed, but still scoopable, up to 2 hours. 
• Pour the cocoa powder onto a deep plate or shallow bowl. Use a melon baller or small ice cream scoop to scoop out balls of chocolate and gently roll into a ball. Place them on the plate with the cocoa powder and roll between 2 forks to completely coat with the cocoa powder. Then use the forks to carefully transfer them to a baking sheet lined with parchment or waxed paper. 
• If making the truffles a day or two ahead of time, let them stand at room temperature before serving.

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