EuroFOO: Chocolate

by Suw on September 24, 2006

Last weekend I went to Brussels to take part in EuroFOO, a two day event held by O'Reilly to get together a diverse set of people so that cool and constructive conversations can happen. I have been publishing most of my notes over on Strange Attractor, but somehow it would seem wrong to publish these session notes there instead of here.
Because this session, run by Tor N??rretranders, was about chocolate. Here are my very rough notes taken during the session.
Chocolate is one of the few examples of a food whose full potential was first revealed in industrial manufacturing. Industrial age has resulted in a decline in food quality for most foodstuffs, except chocolate which was improved by better technology.
agriculture + industry = high glycemic index
Means converts to blood sugar very quickly. Problem is that it provokes hormone reactions, insulin, which removes blood sugar, so we eat and get hungry from eating. We now, on the whole, eat a lot of high GI food.
hi GI = metabolic syndrome
People becomes overweight, diabetes, high blood pressure, lots of problems particularly in the US are related to high GI food.
But chocolate is good for your health… even though chocolate is 'candy'.
Two studies published. Italians fed chocolate to people in labs and measured their insulin leavels. Dark chocolate makes your blood pressure go down and stabilises insulin levels. White chocolate does not.
Second study in Holland, free-living people (i.e. not in lab), one group didn't eat chocolate, one was normal, and the other had a high chocolate intake. High choc intake had half the mortality of the non-chocolate group.
The reason is that the chocolate bean is high in anti-oxidants, which are a self-defence mechanism for plants. 8% of cocoa powder is anti-oxidant. Good for blood vessels.
But bad for dogs and horses.
Choclate history (note: dates may be incorrect as I was hurriedly writing them down and I'm not good with numbers)
1000 – Mayans, use chocolate beans, to eat and as currency (cf gold chocolate coins!)
1528 – Introduced to Europe by Colombus, as a drink.
1815 – Changed it from a drink into a solid when the press was invented to create the coco mass, so that you can separate the butter and the powder.
1847 – Fry and Sons, discover that if you put more butter into the chocolate liquid it will becomes solid at room temperature.
1875 – Found you could add milk powder.
1878 – Lindt develops conching, which is a process of taking chocolate powder and mix it in the butter and the acids evaporate to increase quality.
1894 – Chocolate bar becomes commercial object.
Unusual edible substance: solid but will melt in the mouth. Never chew chocolate: Only amateurs chew. Storable yet edible, needs no preparation from the buyer, and can be stored at room temperature.
Has to do with anti-oxidants. Has shelf-life of a year.
Chocolate is a matrix of the butter and you can add othe rthings, i.e. small particles of cocoa and sugar or dried milk. So the butter will hold two or three other substances.
Cocoa powder expensive, sugar cheap, cocoa bitter, so… make it with lots of butter, or other vegetable fats, lots of sugar, not much chocolate powder, and it makes it cheap.
Can even make chocolate without cocoa powder – this is white chocolate. it has no powder at all, just butter. Low quality, no anti-oxidants because they are in the cocoa powder. don't want the sugar, don't have to worry about the fat because it's not bad for you.
1985 – a French company said there must be a market for quality chocolate.
1989 – Lindt introduced the percentage bar, 70% intro in 1989. Then the 85% and now even 99% (very bitter). So all companies are trying to put % signs, but others are trying to erode the meaning of the %.
Tor never eats lower than 85%, but found some of the 90% and 99% 'childishly easy to eat', but the % tells you how much is not sugar. So that doesn't tell you what the 85% is, so some companies are using cocoa butter, not cocoa powder, to fill in the 85%, and this results in lower quality chocolate.
So that corrupts the meaning of %.
You want a lot of powder, meaningful amount of fat, and something else than sugar. Can we put in something that's not sugar that we can put in chocolate? Stevia, perhaps, a mad sugary plant, can get it in powder. [Kevin says that Stevia behaves differently to sugar when it's cooked, so it's good for sweetening things like coffee, but it can't replace sugar in all circumstances.]
Bean types, and percentages of the bean crop:
1% Criollo – traditional cocoa bean, high quality
14% Trinitario – reasonable quality
85% Forastero – high yielding, stable, efficient crop that's not tasty, low quality.
Now you have chocolate snobbery.
But need to have better quality chocolate, and get more of the value chain happening in the producing countries, so that the producers make more money (currently the manufacturers in the West get most of the profit).
I have to say, I loved this session. Tor brought some different types of chocolate to taste, and it was amazing to tell the differences between the different brands and the different % chocolates. I don't think there was anyone who didn't enjoy the 85% Lindt, nor were there very many who liked the 99% because it was so bitter and, strangely, non-chocolatey. Fascinating stuff. I wish I had more time to investigate chocolate.

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