What is dark chocolate and how is the cocoa treat made?

19 Mar 2020

Dark Chocolate

High levels of cocoa are a requisite for a delicious dark chocolate flavour, but what else does it contain and how does it affect the flavour?

Humans have been consuming dark chocolate for over 3,000 years. Central and South Americans first used the seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree to make a drink, which was then used by the Aztecs and the Mayans for ceremonial and medicinal purposes. It wasn’t until the 1850s that British Chocolatier Joseph Fry transformed the dark chocolate drink into the solid form we are now familiar with. Even today, our dark chocolate uses almost the same ingredients that he did.

What is in dark chocolate?

Insteading of adding hot water to make a cocoa drink, Fry added cocoa butter and sugar to cocoa to create the first chocolate bar, and this process is still used today. Now, an emulsifier like soya lecithin is often added to create a velvety smooth texture; it stops the cocoa butter from separating from the moisture and cocoa solids in the chocolate. It also prevents the chocolate from ‘blooming’, which is when a white layer develops on top of the chocolate.

How is dark chocolate made?

Cacao beans are harvested, fermented and dried before being roasted to develop their flavour. The cocoa nibs are then separated from the shells and then finely ground into a cocoa mass (also known as cocoa liquor). Put this under a large amount of pressure, and you get the two key ingredients for chocolate; cocoa butter and powder.

Dark chocolate can be made by just adding extra cocoa butter to the unprocessed cocoa mass, which is then conched. Conching is a process of rolling and kneading the cocoa mixture while heating it, and has a huge influence on the final flavour and texture of the chocolate. This is where extra cocoa butter and an emulsifier is added to make the mixture even smoother.

The final stage is to temper the chocolate, which is where the melted chocolate is slowly cooled to around 28℃ before being poured into moulds. Tempering chocolate is what gives its glossy appearance and distinctive snap.

What does it taste like?

This varies wildly depending on the dark chocolate you’re eating. The cacao plant, the process and the amount of sugar and cocoa butter used all have an influence on the flavour of the chocolate.

For example, our 85% dark chocolate selector has deep chocolatey notes, but with low levels of acidity. This is because of the extra-long conching process, which gives it a mellow flavour and makes for a smooth introduction to dark chocolate.

We had some fun with our dark 90% chocolate selector. We used coconut nectar instead of sugar to give it an intriguing sweetness, balancing the deep rich tones of the cocoa.

Our keen eye for detail also means we carefully consider the texture of our chocolate. Without the addition of milk to give it creaminess, we need to balance the high levels of cocoa with cocoa butter to maintain a smooth melt. Using too little cocoa butter can result in a chalky texture, something we avoid at all costs.

What can I use it for?

Eating! A square – or two – of dark chocolate is delicious enjoyed with a cup of coffee, or melted and drizzled over some fresh fruit.

Due to its strong flavour and rich colour, dark chocolate is great for baking, and can be used to create a glossy ganache or an intense chocolate mousse. Don’t feel limited to desserts though – dark chocolate’s savoury notes means it adds another level of depth to spaghetti bolognese, chili con carne or even a traditional Mexican Mole.

Don’t be afraid of dark chocolate’s bitter reputation. We grow some of our own cacao beans on our St Lucia plantation, so we have an in-depth knowledge of how to make chocolate, from roots to wrapper. We carry out the best process, use the best ingredients, and add nothing artificial, ever. Our dark chocolate selection is waiting for you.