The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Chocolate is a common ingredient in many kinds of sweets—one of the most popular in the world.

Chocolate is made from the fermented, roasted and ground seeds of the tropical cacao tree Theobroma cacao. The resulting product is known as "chocolate," an intensely flavored bitter food; this is the definition of chocolate used in many dictionaries. This product is defined as cocoa in many countries. In the American chocolate industry, cocoa is defined as the solids of the cacao bean, cocoa butter is defined as the fat component, and chocolate is the combination of the solids and the fat. This is usually sweetened with sugar and other ingredients and made into chocolate bars (the substance of which is also and commonly referred to as chocolate), or beverages (called cocoa or hot chocolate).

There are three types of cacao beans used in chocolates. The most prized, rare, and expensive is the Criollo, the bean of the Maya. Only 10% of chocolate is made from the Criollo, which is less bitter and more aromatic than any other bean. The cacao bean in 80% of chocolate is the Forastero. Forastero trees are significantly hardier than Criollo trees, resulting in cheaper cacao beans. Trinitario, a hybrid of Criollo and Forastero, is used in about 10% of chocolate.

Chocolate, when not produced in "bars" or other geometric shapes, is often produced in the form of little sculptures (usually of animals or people), for example as rabbit- or egg-shaped chocolates, near Easter, and other shapes for Christmas and Saint Nicholas.

Additionally, chocolate is often the main ingredient, or a major ingredient, in ice cream, cookies, cake, pie and other desserts. The word chocolate is of Nahuatl origin.


Different kinds of chocolate


Chocolate is an extremely popular ingredient, and is available in many types. Different forms and flavors of chocolate are produced by varying the amount of the ingredients.

  • Unsweetened chocolate: is pure chocolate liquor, also known as bitter or baking chocolate. It's unadulterated chocolate: ground roasted chocolate beans with no other added ingredients imparts a strong, deep chocolate flavor in all the sweets you add it to. With the addition of sugar however it's used as the base for American style layer cakes, brownies, frostings and cookies.
  • Dark chocolate: chocolate without milk as an additive, sometimes called plain chocolate. The US Government calls this Sweet Chocolate, and requires a 15% concentration of chocolate liquor. European rules specify a minimum of 35% cocoa solids.
  • Couverture or coating chocolate : is a term used for cocoa butter rich chocolates of the highest quality. Popular brands of couverture used by professional pastry chefs and often sold in gourmet and specialty food stores include: Valrhona, Callabaut, Lindt, and Schraffen-Berger. These chocolates contain a high percentage of chocolate liquor (sometimes more than 70 percent) as well as cocoa butter, at least 32-39%, are very fluid when melted and have an excellent flavor. In fact, chocolate of this quality is often compared to tasting fine wine because subtleties in taste are often apparent, especially when you taste a variety of semisweet and bittersweet couvertures with different percentages of sugar and chocolate liquor.
  • Milk chocolate: chocolate with milk added. The US Government requires a 10% concentration of chocolate liquor. European rules specify a minimum of 25% cocoa solids.
  • Semi-sweet chocolate: used for cooking purposes; a dark chocolate with lower sugar content.
  • Bittersweet chocolate : is chocolate liquor (or unsweetened chocolate) to which sugar, more cocoa butter, lecithin, and vanilla has been added. It has less sugar and more liquor than semisweet chocolate but the two are interchangeable in baking. The best quality bittersweet and semisweet chocolate is produced as couverture and many brands now print the percentage of chocolate liquor it contains on the package. The rule is the higher the percentage of liquor the more bittersweet the chocolate will be. Generally Europeans favor bittersweet chocolate and Americans opt for semisweet chocolate which has more sugar than bittersweet chocolate.
  • White chocolate : a confection based on cocoa butter without the cocoa solids.
  • Cocoa powder: , there are two types of unsweetened baking cocoa available: natural cocoa (like the sort produced by Hershey's and Nestle) and Dutch-process cocoa (such as the Hershey's European Style Cocoa and the Droste brand). Both are made by pulverizing, partially defatted chocolate liquor (unsweetened chocolate) removing nearly all their cocoa butter. Natural cocoa is light in color and somewhat acidic with a strong chocolate flavor. In baking use natural cocoa in recipes which call for baking soda (because it's an alkali). Combining the two creates a leavening action that allows the batter to rise during baking. Dutch-process cocoa has been processed with alkali to neutralize its natural acidity so it's darker often with a reddish cast. Dutch cocoa is slightly milder in taste and deeper in color than natural cocoa. Use Dutch cocoa in recipes that call for baking powder as its leavener.

Flavors such as mint, orange, or strawberry are sometimes added to chocolate. A chocolate bar is a bar of chocolate, frequently containing other ingredients as well, such as peanuts, nuts, caramel, or even crisped rice. Other chocolates contain alcoholic liqueurs. It is a common snack all over the world.

The definition of chocolate

Strictly speaking, chocolate is any product 100% based on cocoa solid and/or cocoa fat. Because it is used in a vast number of by-products, any change in the cost of making it has a huge impact on the industry. Adding ingredients is a question of taste. On the other hand, reducing cocoa solid content, or substituting cocoa fat with a non-cocoa one, reduces the cost of making it. There has been disagreement in the EU about the chocolate definition.

  • Some want to see the definition allowing for any cocoa solid content and any kind of fat in chocolate. This would allow a merely coloured and flavoured margarine to be sold as being chocolate. In some countries this happens, and a 50% to 60% cocoa solid dark-chocolate, with no additive, for domestic use, is hard to find and expensive.
  • Others want to stick to something closer to the strict definition above.

The history of chocolate

The Aztecs associated chocolate with Xochiquetzal, the goddess of fertility. In the New World, chocolate was consumed in a drink called xocoatl, often seasoned with vanilla, chilli pepper, and pimento. Xocoatl was believed to fight fatigue, a belief that is probably attributable to the theobromine content. Chocolate was an important luxury good throughout Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, and cocoa beans were often used as currency. Other chocolate drinks combined it with such edibles as maize gruel and honey.

The xocoatl was said to be an acquired taste. Jose de Acosta, a Spanish Jesuit missionary who lived in Peru and then Mexico in the later 16th century, wrote:

Loathsome to such as are not acquainted with it, having a scum or froth that is very unpleasant to taste. Yet it is a drink very much esteemed among the Indians, where with they feast noble men who pass through their country. The Spaniards, both men and women, that are accustomed to the country, are very greedy of this Chocolaté. They say they make diverse sorts of it, some hot, some cold, and some temperate, and put therein much of that "chili"; yea, they make paste thereof, the which they say is good for the stomach and against the catarrh.

Christopher Columbus brought some cocoa beans to show Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, but it remained for Hernando de Soto to introduce it to Europe more broadly.

The first recorded shipment of chocolate to the Old World for commercial purposes was in a shipment from Veracruz to Seville in 1585. It was still served as a beverage, but the Europeans added sugar to counteract the natural bitterness, and removed the chili pepper. By the 17th century it was a luxury item among the European nobility.

In 1828, Dutchman Conrad J. van Houten patented a method for extracting the fat from cocoa beans and making powdered cocoa and cocoa butter. Van Houten also developed the so-called Dutch process of treating chocolate with alkali to remove the bitter taste. This made it possible to form the modern chocolate bar. It is believed that Joseph Fry made the first chocolate for eating in 1847.

Daniel Peter , a Swiss candle-maker, joined his father-in-law's chocolate business. In 1867 he began experimenting with milk as an ingredient. He brought his new product, milk chocolate, to market in 1875. He was assisted in removing the water content from the milk to prevent mildewing by a neighbor, a baby food manufacturer named Henri Nestlé. Rudolph Lindt invented the process called conching, which involves heating and stirring chocolate ensuring the liquid is evenly blended.

Chocolate as a stimulant

Chocolate is very mildly psychoactive since it contains theobromine, small quantities of anandamide (an endogenous cannabinoid found in the brain), as well as caffeine and tryptophan. In small quantities, chocolate is a very potent stimulant for horses; it is thus banned as an illegal stimulant in horse-racing.

The primary stimulant in chocolate is theobromine, which is frequently confused with caffeine. Contrary to popular belief, chocolate does not contain significant amounts of caffeine, except when caffeine is added by the manufacturer.

Physicial effects of chocolate

In animals

In large amounts, the theobromine found in chocolate is toxic to animals such as horses, dogs, parrots, (and other birds and small animals) because they are unable to metabolize the chemical effectively [1]
. If they are fed chocolate, the theobromine may exist in their bloodstream for up to 20 hours, and these animals may experience epileptic seizures, heart attacks, internal bleeding, and eventually death.

Chocolate is actually toxic to all animals, but the average human being would have to eat about 20 pounds of chocolate in one sitting (a nearly impossible feat) to be affected.

Medical treatment involves inducing vomiting within two hours of ingestion, or contacting a veterinarian. Vets commonly treat seizure with diazepam or phenobarbitol , tremor with diazepam or methocarbamol , treat bradycardia with atropine, and treat tachyarrhythmia with propranolol, metoprolol or lidocaine.

The LD-50 (Lethal Dose for 50% of a population) of theobromine in canines is 330 mg/kg - the same LD-50 as for caffeine in humans. A typical 20 kg dog will normally experience intestinal distress after eating less than 240 g of milk chocolate, and won't experience bradycardia or tachyarrythmia unless it eats at least a half a kilogram of milk chocolate. If it does not expel the chocolate from its system because of the fat and sugar content, then it would have a 50% chance of surviving after eating 5 kg of milk chocolate. Dark, sweet chocolate has about 50% more theobromine and thus is more dangerous to dogs.

In humans

However, recent studies have shown that cocoa or dark chocolate has potent health benefits for people. Dark chocolate is full of the flavonoids epicatechin and gallic acid, which are antioxidants that help protect blood vessels, cardiac health, and prevent cancer. It also has been effectively demonstrated to counteract mild hypertension. In fact, dark chocolate has more flavonoids than any other antioxidant-rich food such as red wine, green and black tea, and blueberries. However, consuming milk chocolate or white chocolate, or drinking milk with dark chocolate appears to largely negate the health benefits. Chocolate is also a calorie-rich food, with a high content of saturated fat, so daily intake of chocolate also requires reducing caloric intake of other foods.

Why chocolate tastes so good

A chocolate fountain in a shop in Brussels, Belgium.
A chocolate fountain in a shop in Brussels, Belgium.

Part of the enjoyability of the chocolate eating experience is ascribed to the fact that its melting point is slightly below human body temperature and so it melts in the mouth. Chocolate also releases endorphins in the brain (like an opiate), which makes it nice regardless of taste.

How chocolate is made


Firstly, the cacao pods, containing cacao beans, are harvested. The pods are crushed and left to ferment for about six days, after which the beans are split from the pods and dried. Fine chocolate can be produced by drying the beans for about 7 days in the sun. Accelerated or artificial drying is quicker but produces inferior quality chocolate, such as that used in most mass produced products.

The beans are then roasted, graded and ground. Cocoa butter is removed from the resulting chocolate liquor either by being pressed or by the Broma process. The residue is what is known as cocoa powder.


Chocolate liquor is blended with the butter in varying quantities to make different types of chocolate or couverture. The basic blends of ingredients, in order of highest quantity first, are as follows:

  1. Plain dark chocolate: cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, sugar, and vanilla.
  2. Milk chocolate: sugar, milk or milk powder, cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, and vanilla.
  3. White chocolate: sugar, milk or milk powder, cocoa butter, and vanilla.

Usually, an emulsifying agent such as soya lecithin is added, though a few manufacturers prefer to exclude this ingredient for purity reasons and to remain GMO-free (soya is a heavily genetically modified crop), sometimes at the cost of a perfectly smooth texture.

Different manufacturers develop their own 'signature' blends based on the above formulas but varying proportions of the different constituents used.

The finest plain dark chocolate couvertures contain at least 70% cocoa (solids + butter), whereas milk chocolate usually contains up to 50%. High quality white chocolate couvertures contain only about 33% cocoa. Inferior and mass produced chocolate contains much less cocoa (as low as 7% in many cases) and fats other than cocoa butter. Some chocolate-makers opine that these "brand name" milk chocolate products can not be classed as couverture or even as chocolate, because of the low or virtually non-existent cocoa content.


The penultimate process is called conching. A conche is a container filled with metal beads, which act as grinders. The refined and blended chocolate mass is kept liquid by frictional heat. The conching process produces cocoa and sugar particles smaller than the tongue can detect, hence the smooth feel in the mouth. The length of the conching process determines the final smoothness and quality of chocolate. High quality chocolate is conched for about 72 hrs, lesser grades about 4-6 hrs. After the process is complete, the chocolate mass is stored in tanks heated to approximately 45-50° C until final processing.


The final process is called tempering. Since cocoa butter exhibits a polymorphous or unstable crystal formation, the mass must be cooled very carefully to encourage the crystals to stabilise in the right order to produce the desired properties of snappy bite, tender melt and a good gloss in the finished product. This is achieved by the tempering process. Firstly, the mass is cooled in stages from about 45°C to about 27°C and rewarmed to about 37°C followed by cooling down to its solid state.

The chocolate is then ready for sale as couverture (used for coating chocolates, biscuits and other coated products) or as the finished product, such as solid chocolate bars.

Chocolate in the media

Significant chocolate makers

Last updated: 04-29-2005 16:21:04