Chocolate Loves Science

Chocolate pleasures the palate, as it seduces the eyes. In print and on the internet. Which science journo John Bohannon took advantage of when he deliberately used bad science to try and break the internet (and point out to others why covering scientific studies should not be the same as spreading gossip) with the headline kidnapping claim that consuming chocolate can be a weight loss shortcut.

In addition to highlighting gullibility and dream fulfillment yearnings, Bohannon’s stunt also brings to the fore the reality that science and chocolate are often engagingly entwined. Sometime it’s not in a positive way, such as when Arizona Senator Flake mounted his barricades to shrill and (try to) kill a $135,000 grant supporting chocolate’s preservation.

Other times science and chocolate are unattractively meshed in the most attractive of tales (even if they are still kinda heartwarming) such as when empathy among rats was proven with the choice of drowning pals over nibbles of chocolate.

Admittedly, not all science is great science. There are the pseudo-scientists to consider, such as those Australians who put their mouths where their brains are and tested a vegemite — chocolate concoction.

However, there are also cocoa “doctors” (sponsored by Mars) trying to help Indonesian cacao farmers fending off a potential chocolate shortage; there are scientists x-raying bloom (the white dust that can form on a chocolate bar); and there are those scientists in England trying to stave off extinction of cacao species with research that the Flakester is trying to limit.

While keeping chocolate extant rather than extinct is important, you have to admit that it is not as immediately exciting as when cacao and science spark the imagination as they do for Good Mythical Morning‘s Rhett and Link when they harmonize CHOCOLATE POWERED ROBOTS FROM BEYOND THE MOON!


#science #politics #robots #media

Happy (Chocolate) New Year…soon

chocolate ideal picSkipping over holiday pieces (at least for the time being) let’s talk 2015 and chocolate trends.

This fruit of the gods is a tried and true pleasure, a long-time luxury with an incredible history that has its ups and downs (as in “white” chocolate).

Still, somehow, great is not good enough. The search is always on for the new, the trendy, the tomorrow. Why? Something about human nature not worth trying to understand here.

Anyway, hearing the breath of Janus getting closer, the most important new year news will definitely be that the “we’re running out of chocolate” hysteria is overblown. The world market is changing, but don’t panic yourself into hoarding a domesday supply of drugstore crapchoc in your apocalypse shelter … yet.

As support for keeping calm, Big Chocolate is planning to still go about its business. Barry Callebaut predicts it will be crunch, acidity and shimmer making chocolate pop, and is expanding its sourcing footprint by moving into Chile, among other new growth territories. Cargill posits transparency in labeling, leading to the PR spin highlighting that what was “bad” with chocolate is actually “healthy” for you. Everyone is fighting over the Chinese market, and there is a frothingchocolate and tea trend. Finally, going all in on the mercenary, restaurateurs are focused on how to cobble a few more bucks per 2015 table with the sales pitch that restaurant chocolate is for sharers.

Rather than look to the business world for guidance, the new year could be the time to confront the difficult facts in chocolate’s backstory such as child slavery in the chocolate fields. Not the worst resolution for the new year is — in the spirit of the gods who first planted cacao seeds on earth — to resolve to help in ways big or small.

Perhaps with conscience salved it will make the search for the new and novel even more enjoyable. Trends are, of course, concepts that enough others have discovered so the idea has spread and one can feel like an insider before masses partake and “it’s, like, soooo over, yesterday, deceased, and penny-eyelidded.” Quirky chocolate-related foodish ideas that recently popped their heads out of the corners of cuisine and might (or might not) take off include
cinammon mini-biscuits with chocolate gravy, and cocoa baguettes.

Those wishing to conspicuously consume for 2015, should keep on the lookout for more fancy-schmanzy, you-are-buying-story-much-more-than-taste chocolate bars such as the current $100 and $260 options.

If the trend thing is too much and you would rather not yet look forward and perhaps learn from history in order to repeat/not repeat it, here’s a quick look at where the science and culture of chocolate is so far:


#chocolate #2015trends #HappyNewYear #BigChocolate #foodies

Choco-Tour 2014

cacao poulain posterLike chocolate itself, vacations are a recipe of ingredients both fantastic and real. Getting away, or just thinking about it, should taste of a dreamy unreality that rewards the mind for the body’s slogging through dog days of sun-blanching, humidity-drenching summer or cat (?) days of icy, sleety stormy soul-freezing winter.

This being the time of year when people take their summer or dream of their winter retreats, it seems right to consider traipsing from the more traditional path of choco-tourism (admittedly a naif travel niche) to span the cavernous divide between chocolate consumers such as a few Dutch captured-on-film, who have never seen the cacao fruit

and cacao farmers, who never tasted the “fruit” of their labors (in a report-gone-viral with something of a staged feeling to it)

Let this be a start for your vacation — the one taken or just planned. Consider the variety of options between enjoying the first world comfort of a Hotel Chocolate, a plantation servicing the British chocolatiere celebrating it’s tenth anniversary, that lets you wander the fields and going hyper-native in Brazil, exploring the romance of cabruca farming (an old-fashioned and ecologically sensible style, planting cacao under old growth forest) .

There’s also the socio-politico-economic-historical version of a world choco-tour exploring how the recent world market price increases are creating new market niches, including making specialty cacao a possible Haitian benefit and a causing an ironic turnaround that now has previously dismissed Ghanaian beans smuggled into the Cote d’Ivoire

Not last, not least consider an online or in-person visit taking in something like China’s Chocolate Happy Land

However, if your imagination and wallet can only take you so far and you need something real in your life (and real as in now), fight the dog days of summer (and think about the frozen, sleety winter of 180 degrees on the calendar) by taking a chocolate vacation, courtesy of the classic Serendipity3 Frozen Hot Chocolate recipe, courtesy of ABC’s Good Morning America.

Ingredients
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup nonfat dry milk powder
4 tablespoons of different cocoa powder
Pinch salt
1 cup milk
3 cups ice
whipped cream and semisweet chocolate (to taste and encouraged excess)

Directions
Combine the sugar, dry milk powder, cocoas, and salt. Blend mix, milk and ice until smooth Pour the milk into a blender. Add the dry mix and ice. Blend until all the ice is crushed and the drink is smooth. Top the drink with whipped cream and shavings from a semisweet chocolate bar.

Chocolate Wealth Vs. Taste

$1 million chocolateThe focus of much of the world’s attention — at least in terms of chocolate billionaires — is on newly sworn-in Ukrainian (and Roshen’s chocolates) President Petro Poroshenko. Noteworthy: he is not in a financial/taste-satisfying class all his own. Other chocolate billionaires populating the Forbes list of the world’s richest include Italy’s (and Nutella’s) Michele Ferrero, with an estimated $27 billion collection of chocolate moolah, and the Virginia sibs John, Forrest Jr., and Jacqueline Mars (as in Milky Ways,Snickers, M&Ms, etc.) who weigh in collectively at about $60 billion.

Other than making us big-bucks-envious, however, those aren’t the most interesting chocolate billionaires… or based on much of what they have built their fortunes on the ones with the greatest taste. Those with the greatest attraction are usually small blobbish balls of (usually but not always milk) chocolate, caramel and crunch (various nuts, rice cereal); they can also be brownied. There is a bit of tradition that they not just be inflation-adjusted, but actually differ from “chocolate millionaires” in that the millionaires get their crunch with shortbread cookie and not nuts. However, inside “the Google,” recipes for the millionaires and billionaires are all mixed up (something we can never imagine happening on a Forbes list), with pretty much anything involving caramels and chococolate and some kind of crunch .

Oddly, and with what we can only assume is an unintended slight at either very wealthy people (or a particular order of shelled reptile), to some these billionaires/millionaires are also turtles.

Anyway, we’d be happy to be the subject of the generosity of the people, but are currently working on some new recipes … and, of course, the correct naming.

Choco-Tourism Wars

cacao pods_treeAll wars should be chocolate wars.

Just found the press release, and October is “Chocolate Heritage Month” in Santa Lucia, a hey-why-not-visit isle of fun in the eastern Caribbean featuring cacao plantation tours, chocolate making from scratch, and a chocolate infused gourmet meal and a (non-chocolate, but by color keeping with the theme) sulphur springs mud bath.

As far as tourism goes that is nowhere near as exciting as visiting the site of a possible, extended chocolate war. Ecuador and Peru have been causing each other’s soldiers death almost since the time of Simon Boliver — who ironically wanted only to united South America — most recently in 1995, with “final” peace arriving in 1998. However, choco-dollars are at stake and they have moved their competition to battlefields of cacao forests.

Peru, which celebrated itself a few years ago with the largest flag ever made from chocolate is hoping not just that its farmers will switch from growing coca to cacao, but also for big things from people who want to look around on their own

or take the guided tour, just so long as they become one of the projected 1.2 million touristas to embrace Peruvian chocolate.

Ecuador cites its Mayan and ancient chocolate lineage as the lure for those going on a tasting tour or through the semi-official cacao route project (funded partially by the USAID).

Pick a side. Take a trip. Select weapons and ready, aim, taste.

Chocolate Museums and (maybe) Barbecue

cacao poulain posterBased on customer words bouncing off the glass display cases in the front of the store this week it seems everyone in and around Riverside is hitting the road for short and long Memorial Day weekend travel plans. Alas, not us. We’d like to travel, but store’s open. So, when things go slow this Memorial Day weekend we heading to museums around the world.

Chocolate museums, of course.

Unfortunately, not everyone is as accommodating as San’s Francisco Exploratorium museum which provides its chocolate exhibit in an easily explored online form. As a result, a quiet time might be the perfect time to work our way through a New York Daily News article on the world’s top chocolate museums to see what links besides the Cologne Chocolate Museum (which we already knew about) that we can dig up. Alternatively, there is also a more extensive list from the Chocolate Wrappers site [], which has its own seemingly-abandoned Facebook “museum” to virtually visit.

Somewhat related to today’s UEFA Cup championship match setting German compatriots Borussia Dortmund at the throat of last year’s runner-up Bayern Munich, we are also thinking of pitting the Eupen, Belgium-based online offerings from the Antoine Jacques museum against the Brussels, Belgium, Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate for some sort of chocobragging rights.

Anyway, that’s the current plan. However, if the weather turns wonderful and we still aren’t drawing in customers, it may be time to start planning the Memorial Day cookout, thinking inspired by Dying for Chocolate postings of chocolate barbecues recipes they’re recommending.

In other words, chocolate virtual can be entertaining, but chocolate victuals are sustaining.

Chocolate News Ramble

chocolate head_phrenologyIt’s science and health morning at CAC.

Recent research from Ph.D. candidate Pase out of Swinburne is that dark chocolate creates a sense of calm and contentedness. Obviously, we like where the research is going, but hope he will expand to some insights and empirical good news beyond the obvious that thirty straight days of drinking excellent cocoa makes those who do feel better than those who don’t.

A step back from such a Dr. Obvious statement are results proffered by health/nutrition/cacao(?) expert Doctor Janeth Aidee Perea, Director of the Center of Research in Food Science and Technology of the Industrial University of Santander (Colombia). Speaking at the Fifth Latin American and Caribbean Meeting on Cocoa and Chocolate, now wrapping up in Havana, Perea sends out to the world the pronouncement on the health benefits of cacao ingestion that, the bitterer the betterer (it’s an antioxidant thing).

In addition to reading the report and realizing we missed out on what could have been a great trip to Havana to hang out with Perea and a few thousand of his nearest and dearest, there is also an envy-inducing article making the rounds by a journalist feasted, fattened and flattered for a few days at the Hotel Sacher [earlier: , that makes the point that chocolate outside the system — as in the hotel’s spa treatment au chocolate also promotes calm and contentedness.  (Maybe we could post a video at Kickstarter to study this?)

As for things we would enjoy seeing, we end the morning’s ramble with the headline grabbing announcement that a beautiful woman (model Petra Němcová in this case) announces she likes chocolate as a daystarter as a way to keep herself looking beautiful. Although, not to be too cynical about it could all just be a PR product placement as she does mention favorite line “>her favorite line. …not that being so jaundiced will keep us from being encouraged by the reality and fantasy that constantly delighting in dark chocolate can calm and content us, could get us an invite to Havana or may even provide an out-of-body Viennese experience as we return to work.

Skimming Chocolate Headlines

chocolate shreds balls sticksChocolate is good. Wonderful. Marvelous. Sublime, even. But even though cacao has hundreds of years of history, what becomes chocolate isn’t yet perfect every time, partly explaining why it still holds fascination. Everybody who does something new with it may take it (us) one step closer to #cacaonirvana — if there be such a place. So, on an April day when winter and spring struggle for weather domination in a way that seems to be keeping most people at home, we went internet browsing to seek out chocolate news.

Somehow the news seemed to facesmack us in pairs. There was the most genteel of thoughts with the romance of the Vienna Ritz-Carlton’s chocolate sommelier pouring his warm criollo cacao bean brew afternoon to early evening. Oddly, that news mashed-up with the announcement that syrup producer Bosco is expanding its “chocolate” palette by introducing a “mocha,” as its first new flavor in almost 10 years.

Regarding introductions, there were notes about the upcoming London opening of the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory musical [see earlier: Charlie and the Chocolate Novel]

and its sorta real-life corollary with the May opening of Hershey’s Great Chocolate Factory Mystery, a “4-D experience” created with Jim Henson’s Muppet factory workers.

Both of those are aimed at mass audiences, hile those who aspire to an experience a bit more elite will probably be more enthusiastic with the outsized in price and snobppeal, Rabot Estate Marcial 70 per cent dark chocolate bar and its reported notes of shiraz wine, antique oak, roasted cocoa and stewed spiced plums and hyper-marketing of terroir. Perhaps the cacao aficionados who want to take the next step with the bar will be to revel in it on the way to or from an event and stay at the recently opened Chocolate Boutique Hotel in in Bournemouth, a B&B with 13 chocolate-themed rooms?

As for news that might suggest an interesting future for chocolate there is an attempt to patent 3D printing of chocolate suggesting all sorts of patent, copyright and technological squabbling. Putting some oomph into our optimism there was an agreement by megachocohemoth Mondelez (think Kraft/Cadbury) is bowing to Oxfam and other pressurers in promising to try and do right by women working cacao plantations.

Finally, we came upon folks tracking the “holy grail” of all chocolate thinking folk. Researchers think they might be on the trail of all goodness, low- or no-calorie bliss with a fruit-infused chocolate.

Which somehow signals that it’s time to get back to work. Enjoy!

#Chocolate: Sense and Taste, Not Just Tastebuds

chocolate shreds balls sticksA canyon separates chocolate taster wishing to pleasure his or her soul from self-medicating inhaler attempting to fill psychological divots (or potholes) with the immediate pleasures of cured cacao. A thinner line separates the informed taster from the off-putting snob. (Fair warning: read further, learn, taste and talk elegantly and intelligently of what you imbibe at your peril.)

Every bit of chocolate has its unique flavorprint, reflecting lineage, topography, weather, soil, processing, and post-production care. To get a sense of just the beginning of those complexities, consider the infographic created by artist Sean Seidell.

Chocolate infographic_SeidellTo try and puzzle all that might mean to you — to turn you into your own cacaommelier — you will have to suffer through the tasting a lot of chocolate. To put a little bit of science into it do your tasting (whether just one type or a comparison) in a room free of distractions and complete with a between-taste palate cleanser of water and crackers. Experiment with a piece larger than crumb, but not as large as you would choose if this were just for enjoyment and if you’ve been keeping it cold wait (if you can) until the chocolate is room temperature. Turn on all senses.

Sight
Consider the chocolate’s color, structure and shine. White marks or dustiness (“bloom”) are a sign of poor tempering by the manufacturer. Similarly, there should be no visible air bubbles, or swirling or inconsistencies across the face. The surface should offer at least a slight reflection of light rather than a dull matte finish with a range of “brown rainbow” of hues ranging from tints of pinks, and oranges to purple and black.

Touch
Is the surface smooth, rough, grainy? The former is preferred, although some tongues do have more fun with the extra tingles from the latter.

Hearing
When you break the chocolate does it make the preferred sharp snap? That snap is also likely to be accompanied by the also preferable clean break (no crumbs). A higher milk chocolate content will tamp down the snap and clean break.

Smell
Discover the aromas by holding the chocolate directly under your nose or letting it sit on your tongue and breathing out. The mind may be surprised by hints of honey, vanilla or even flowers or tobacco. If it helps, you can consider this the foreplay prior to the engagement of your full taste sensations.

Taste
And when you are ready begin the tasting, by letting it slowly melt (the flavors should evolve) and wash over all taste sensitive points on your tongue. Find where on the range of flavors — sweet to bitter, spicy, earthy, fruity — your particular piece lives and whether it moves from one point to another. To the extent possible, avoid the temptation to chew and explore for yourself how the flavors evolve from first fruit ethers to lingering afternotes. (If comparing different chocolates, begin with the lowest percentage of cacao and work your way up, comparing between five and 10 different chocolates at any one session.)

With your bite nearing its finish it’s time to note how the flavor has evolved. Is the chocolate bitter? Heavy? Light? What tastes remain and what has vanished from the tongue map? Finally, and nobody else can tell you this, was it the best sensory experience for the moment or did it leave you wishing for a different chocolate love?

(So as not to just get caught up in the experience and perhaps replicate or intentionally improve on it, consider a small off- or online notebook stocked with notes, discoveries and maybe even wrappers.)

If by chance all of this helps you discover a lifelong passion you wish to turn into a profession, the Wall Street Journal helps out with directions on the path that could lead to certification as one of the worlds top cocoa-bean graders:

Making Money Hard, Baking Money Easier

franklinsHey, let’s make some money with cacao … we thought.

We figured (at first) that since we are testing public interest in the product every day, maybe, with a few hints of what traders are thinking it would be pretty easier to pick up enough coin to open a second store … or maybe even buy ourselves a cacao plantation … or perhaps just retire to a hammock and the fanning by giant leaves.

So we took a look at a past post, It Can Melt in Your Wallet, Not in Your Mouth, and thought about throwing money at the big players, Nestle (OTC: NSRGY.PK),
Hershey Company (NYSE: HSY) and Barry Callebaut AG (OTC: BYCBF.PK). There’s also the path of letting people who know what they are doing (or at least get money for knowing, which is not the same thing) invest for us in a fund devoted to the chocolate biz like iPath Dow Jones-UBS Cocoa Subindex Total Return Sub-Index Total Return (NYSE: NIB) or iPath Pure Beta Cocoa ETN (NYSE: CHOC), which is where our eyes began to glaze over, our brain began to hurt and the realization that we could also lose everything we invested set in.

The better idea, we recognize is to make money the way we know how. With a chocolate money cake — basically any baked item with a money inside … paper money not recommended. So, to the lab to work on an adaptation we take from an adaptation we found with thanks to the Food Librarian and are turning into

Cinnamon Chocolate Bundt Money Hungry Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
  • 1/3 cup cocoa
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup stevia
  • 1 t baking soda
  • Sprinkling of confectioners sugar
  • 1 ¼ cup honey
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup plain yogurt – Whisk together until no lumps remain.
  • 1 ½ tsp vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • coins
  • wax paper

Instructions

  1. Get new coins or scrub up old ones until they shine. Wash thoroughly and soap and, when dry, wrap in wax paper.
  2. Mix together water, oil, butter and cocoa in a pot over medium flame until it starts to simmer, remove from flame and add vanilla and honey.
  3. Whisk flour, salt, cinnamon stevia, baking soda
  4. Mix together milk and yogurt until thoroughly combined and stir together all wet and dry ingredients in one bowl.
  5. Stir in eggs.
  6. Pour ½ batter into greased Bundt pan Drop coins in. Pout in remaining batter. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 30 minutes (but check before and after timer goes off to see if interior allows for an inserted instrument to slide out cleanly.
  7. Dust with confectioners sugar.

Enjoy and we hope you’ll be richly rewarded.