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

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.

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)

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.

Vegetables for Chocolate…and we don’t mean zombies

broccoli dipped chocolateAll hail! It’s summer and the garden is flooded with vegetables — technically, the edible parts of plants that are not the sweet wiht the, fleshy parts surrounding seeds often called fruits. We’re thinking of them with chocolate, but first, a  quick serenade from the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra.

Amongst the vegetables (or fruits as some have it), sadly, are no cacao pods. That doesn’t mean we can’t imagine chocovegetable concoctions. Before going sweet it is worth a savory mention. The Christian Science Monitor spells out the chocolate vinaigrette dressing over a peach salad, a borrow from Matt Kadey’s No-Cook No-Bake Cookbook . Kadey’s conceit is that the recipes are for when it is too hot to turn on the oven, but a chocolate salad dressing sounds like it could work any time.

A couple other mashups from around that possibly could start a meal, although it would have to be as part of a unique menu are a toffee drizzled sweet corn and fried eggplant with chocolate dollops.

For the corn, either boil stripped ears or (we prefer) immerse unstripped ears in cold water for about 30 minutes or so and then put over grill on indirect heat for 15-20 minutes before stripping. Put the cooked ears on a lined baking sheet, drizzle toffee topping (stir over low heat until completely melted 1/2 cup stevia; 1/2 cup agave or honey; 1/2 cup – one stick – butter; and 8 oz chocolate) before refrigerating another half hour prior to serving.

For the Italian-inspired fried eggplant with chocolate topping, we are inspired by Manhattan (via San Francisco) mom Sharon Beesley, who blogs about learning things as she wanders around her new neighborhoods.

A couple other ideas we’ll be whipping up include the ode to carrots and chocolate in an Epicurious-inspired Chocolate Orange Carrot Cake. Also, depending on what is coming in on the vine later this summer, there is also a good chance that some Chocolate Spice Tomato Soup Cupcakes will get whipped up, an idea owned (so far, at least) by Nicole Weston (@bakingbites)

Although it’s cheating on the idea of only working with veggies straight out of the garden, there is also the somewhat-related chocolate popcorn recipe serving as a pretty good summertime movie-watching staple. It gets remixed a bit every time, but currently stands as

1/4 cup popcorn kernels
1 ounce dark chocolate
Dash coarse salt
Dash cinnamon
Dash and dash again stevia

Air pop or microwave popcorn. Sprinkle and shake to mix salt and cinnamon and stevia. Melt chocolate in microwave in 10 second spurts so not to burn. Pour chocolate over popcorn, stir a couple times to mix up and refrigerate for five minutes.

Finally, although they are no Vegetable Orchestra, there is still something sweet about closing thoughts on chocolate and vegetables with an ode to chocolate and broccoli from the ever-video young Ashley and Mary Kate Olsen

Chocolate Banana Dinner Menu Fantasy

chocolate and bananaThere is something about a chocolate covered banana that is always decadent, ever-titillatiing to particular sites in the mind. Sadly, that particular stimulation is not always equaled by the gustatory pleasure.

The report that the Philippines is encouraging its banana farmers to diversify their lands with cacao tree plantings encouraged a consideration of the pairing’s limits. If something is good enough for the grower, shouldn’t it be equally providential for the baker (a sauce, goose and gander sort of thing)? And if it is good in one combination, shouldn’t many combinations be even better?

In other words, can you create a whole banana–chocolate meal that might possibly take in all the new production of the Filipino multi-farmers? Turns out we couldn’t, at least not one we’d really enjoy indulging in — which doesn’t mean we didn’t try, although maybe not long enough.

Probably great chefs should turn their minds and palates to solving “the problem” of bringing to savory dishes the taste and healthy benefits of ingredients generally enjoyed from the sweet side of the menu. But so far, while a meal can be created in name, we’re really just talking about multiple dessert courses … not that this would be a wholly bad thing. For example, you could start a meal taking your taste buds from B to C with soup.

Consider the chocolate–banana soup adapted by The Purple Frog Cook from a Jacques Torres creation.

The natural complement to the soup would be the whole what monkey muffins baked up by the suburban Chicago Spanish teacher behind, which she refers to within context as dietetically not completely unacceptable

Why am I calling these healthyish? Well, the low-ish fat and whole wheat flour of course. And the bananas. Fruit makes everything healthy, right?

Entree course could be sushi. Borrowing from the vegan devotees at Vegalicious, the feature would be “Banushi,” a vegan banana chocolate sushi using puff pastry instead of a seaweed wrapper, and in doing so suggests some off-label use in a different context as a delectable, healthy substitute for the banal-if-tasty-to-some cocktail party staple of pigs in a blanket. (Yes, there is an easy joke to be made here about people devouring enough to be “pigs” outside the blanket, but we’ll forego it.)

For liquid refreshment, it is possible to fit with the theme, although The Thirsty Zymurgist, who posted the idea of the banana-chocolate pour combining Young’s Double Chocolate Stout and Well’s Banana Bread Ale found it more than a few sips from stupendous.

Dessert — should you even be able to crawl back to the table for this course — will be fittingly represented by a BBQ Banana Chocolate Finisher. The banana is split lengthwise with the peel still encasing it, a quality chocolate is splintered and stuffed in the middle and whole is roasted over dying coals (or a warmed oven) until the peel has taken on a mostly black coat; peel and serve.

Dinner and appetite surely over, even if there is some residual happiness from helping out the Filipino farmers to such a great extent.

Woes of Too Many Travel Choices

TO travel in order to learn about chocolate or to savor it? That is the question currently plaguing (?) the darkest-of-night worries of our assistant baker (and scrub down fool) Theo Panadero.

On the one hand there is the San Diego Natural History Museum’s Chocolate: The Exhibition, which has among its online educational resources their Chocolate Challenge. The exhibit tself, a traveling one originally organized by Chicago’s Field Museum, is both historic and fun.

On the other, there is this past Sunday’s inspiration from The New York Times Travel Section of A Chocolate Tour of the Caribbean. As if the idea of traveling between islands and from cacao highlight to chocolate-consuming decadence wasn’t enough to make it seem like a trip to take, the online feature has its own online picture gallery to tempt just an over-the-line little bit more.

Of course, if Theo should decide to venture a bit further afield (and on his own money — just to be clear and upfront so he doesn’t get any ideas from reading this), we did just see the press release from Brooklyn, New York’s Madécasse Chocolate Company, a former Peace Corps members’ idea for promoting great chocolate and helping to encourage greater peace in Madagascar, talking up their “discovery” of some “extinct” criollo gene. The release and some of the claims may be a bit hyperbolic, but it’s for a good cause and we do still hope it works to draw attention to the chocolates and Madagascar cacao farmers.

Anyway, Theo, we’re sorry you’re up so late/early with such worries … but they are also worries that we wish were all that consumed everyone.

*Image is from a vintage” Chocolat Poulain, a company that successfully aimed its mass market chocolate at kids that was founded by 23-year-old Frenchman August Poulain in 1848 and now owned by Cadbury Schweppes.

Happy (Belated by Two Days) Peruvian National Chocolate and Cocoa Day!

It’s hard to keep up to cacao-date. For example, embarrassingly, we’re behind the curve with appropriate felicitations as Peru inaugurated on October 1 their new “tradition” of a National Chocolate and Cocoa Day.

The impetus for the day is to celebrate Peru’s millenium-long tradition of cacao cultivation and create a greater appreciation for farmers working the cacao pods of the tropical forest, forgoing the easier money from coca production. (Hopefully, also avoiding not taking the cheap chocolate path offered by USAID.) This is a country still discovering new varieties of the cacao bean in the rainforest covering about 60 percent of the country; a country with about 80,000 hectares under cultivation, from which about 90 percent of the harvest is exported (at a current growth rate of about 15 percent a year), providing income to about 30,000 families directly and an estimated 150,000 others indirectly. Trees from Peru could even have been the source spawning Africa’s chocolate riches.

Anyway this is all a bit of an extended “our bad” for not having anything prepared appropriate to the day. Instead, for this year anyway, we point you to Peru Delightsand their recipe for chocolate, sacha, inchi truffles … certainly a traditional dessert to at least the extent of the holiday we happily and belatedly celebrate.

Colombian Coca/Cocoa Conundrum

It’s not the usual policy choice that rises to national political discourse, but where do the presidential candidates stand on the subject of sub-par cocoa versus cocaine? Do they see a third way?

Colombian farmers are being encouraged to convert from coca to cocoa production. Unfortunately, the move from starting the cocaine chain to initiating chocolate is foundering over a slump in cocoa prices worldwide unmatched by the price of raw coca. One solution is to plant the CCN-51 cocoa as the CIA is encouraging Peruvian farmers to take on — a controversial policy as the particular strain is easier to grow, but a “bulk cocoa” far down far down the taste ladder from the native fine white (yes, “fine” and “white”) chocolate.

So —and accepting that one government should be mixing into the agricultural policy of another nation — the problem is whether the United States should be encouraging a non-native, cheaper chocolate species that could eventually drive out a finer tasting domestic? What to do, what to do? (And, no, we are not suggesting solving the problem by smuggling the cocaine in chocolate candy as did one enterprising NYC airport baggage handler.

Mr. Obama? Mr. Romney? Care to comment?

Considering the Attractions of Mexico’s Sweetest Museum

Should we go home?

Well, not really home, but back in time to Chocolate’s ancestral home. The recent news about the Mayans use of chocolate as a spice 2500 or so years ago and, of course, the ongoing kerfuffle over their 21 December “prediction” of the end of time put them in front of mind. The idea visiting the new Ecomuseo del Cacao in the heart of old Mayaland and on The Tikul Plantation, a 300-hectare criollo cocoa farm.

A bit over an hour south of the archaeological exploration of Uxmal, cocoa-growing is all about. The heart of the visit we imagine will be the tour of the grounds, with its sprinkling of info tidbits on how the Maya cultivated cocoa, the eye candy of the orchid gardens and, of course, the preparation and imbibing of the muse of the gods.

Maybe January for the vacation? That is if we can get to the other side of that nasty and somewhat disheartening end of the world prediction. Even if we make it through the apocalypse there is always the store to worry about. We could take the trip without leaving home, but it can’t possibly taste or smell as good as actually being there.

Mainstream vs. Manna

Cocaine vs. Chocolate! Pretty obviously, we come down on the side of the latter.
However, …
we also come down on the side of not promoting cheap chocolate to the detriment of manna for the cherubim. And there we, apparently, run into conflict with United States government policy. Canadian news sources report Peruvian cacao farmers upset with USAID support for chalky tasting chocolate, because it is easier to grow and can be pulped into dime-store grade cash register chocolate bars.

Drug policy — cutting off cocaine at the source — is running up against quality food and farming policies — promoting unique, flavorful and healthful cacao pods that may not be found anywhere else on earth.

We do hate to say it, but maybe the policy could be tweaked — so to speak.

Savor the Savior

Chocolate as the food messiah is a bit too overhype-hype [Earlier: Headlines Eat It]. Cacao as the panacea to deforestation, is also too, too much. However, as balance to the dark side, planting cacao to supplant cattle ranching in the Brazilian Amazon is taking place and does offer bits and pieces of hope against the crush of deforestation.

Rays of optimism come from CAPPRU, an agricultural cooperative located in São Felix do Xingu. As detailed in a recent post a few of the more adventurous took a shot at switching from ranching to farming.

What they found — or at least seem on their way to confirming — is that “… the cattle could bring in about $2,500 per year while the cacao would bring in about $10,000 per year. “And with cacao, the farmer also gets other products from the shade trees, like açai and other fruits, Brazil nuts, rubber, and wood.” It should be noted that those amounts don’t appear to include the need for the farmer to work more intensively and with more employees and costs than the rancher or that they have to worry about the local monkeys eating the fruits of their labors.

So, keep on the lookout for the CAPPRU label. We do and will!