Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Language of Cacao, Cocoa and Chocolate

Tons and tons of chocolates are bought and received the world over not only on Valentine's Day and other special holidays, but each and every day. It is a favorite gift item that many enjoy receiving, even those who say they are on a diet. Chocoholics cannot get enough chocolates and the sight of little kids with chocolate covered faces is truly adorable. But not many of the chocolate-loving population really wonder where chocolates come from or what the difference is between the terms "cacao" and "cocoa". All they know is that it is darn good stuff.

Chocolate as a way to everyone's heart

Chocolate comes in many forms. When one hears the word chocolate, the chocolate bar is probably one of the images that comes to mind. Chocolate is available in a variety of shapes, forms, sizes, tastes, and textures. It can be solid, semi-solid, or liquid. Chocolate can easily be molded and manipulated. During Valentine's Day, chocolate roses are a common site in bakeshops and gift stores. Nuts, candy, marshmallows, cookies, rice cereals, fruits and fruit peels, liqueurs and other ingredients are combined with chocolate to come up with treats that can be good for both the body and mind when eaten in moderation. Some swear that chocolate is an aphrodisiac that can heighten intimacy.

This wonderful gift of Mother Nature can also be used in savory cooking. In Mexico, some variations of their popular "mole" (chili based sauce) use a hint of chocolate. A number of creative chefs (and cooks) from across the globe incorporate this magical ingredient in their cooking. Diners have a different gastronomic experience when indulging in chocolate infused cuisine.

One of the best ways to enjoy chocolate is by having a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter's night. Or is it having a cup hot cocoa on a cold winter's night? Is there a difference between hot chocolate and hot cocoa? How about between cacao and cocoa?

Cacao and cocoa, same or different?

The term chocolate is not synonymous to the word cacao or even to the term cocoa. Chocolate, whether raw or processed, is made from cacao seeds. When referring to cacao and cocoa, some believe that the words cacao and cocoa are interchangeable in usage. Others say that cacao and cocoa refer to two separate things. Whichever stand is right is not really the concern of chocolate lovers. But, if you love chocolate, it would be good to know more about these terms.

Cacao, as mentioned early, is the seed from which chocolate is born. Cacao seed specifically comes from the Theobroma cacao tree. The said tree is found in Mexico and locations within Central as well as South America. Cacao seeds have been in use since 1100 BC. People from these areas used to enjoy chocolate beverages, which they called xocolātl, meaning "bitter water." The word xocolātl is Nahuatl, the language spoken by the Aztecs. The seeds need to go through a process of fermentation before it can be enjoyed because in raw form, cacao tastes bitter and unpalatable.

Cocoa, as far as some sources are concerned, was a result of a misspelling committed by some English trader in the early days of global trading. Others believe that cocoa is simply the Anglicized form of the word cacao. According to The Great Book of Chocolate, the cacao bean, once processed, yields cocoa powder. This powder turns into paste when mashed then pounded in order to extract cocoa butter. Pulverized the rest of it results in the dry powder. In Britain and in some other countries, cocoa is synonymous to the term cocoa powder.

Someone once said that according to French chocolatier Jacques Torres, the word cocoa has no meaning for him. There is only cacao, nothing else. Other chocolate makers say that cacao and cocoa are interchangeable terms. However, when using the word cocoa, qualify it by saying cocoa bean, cocoa tree or cocoa powder to be sure. It's really confusing, this cacao and cocoa debate. To be safe, always refer to the plant from whence chocolate comes from as the cacao tree and the seeds as cacao seeds. If you want to refer to the powder, say cocoa powder. That's probably the best thing to do in this chocolate linguistics issue.

Hot chocolate or hot cocoa

Is it merely semantics or is there really a difference between hot chocolate and hot cocoa? When you are drinking hot chocolate, you are enjoying melted solid chocolate combined with hot milk and sugar. It is usually thick and creamy. Hot cocoa on the other hand uses cocoa powder mixed with water, sugar and some cream or milk. This makes hot cocoa less luscious than hot chocolate. Calorie-wise, hot chocolate is deadlier on the waistline due to the cocoa butter plus the type of milk used. Hot cocoa is less fattening because cocoa powder has less fat.

Chocolate-related terms

·      Cocoa liquor is the liquid form of pure chocolate containing cocoa solids and cocoa butter. It is the result of the processing that cocoa beans go through. When the beans are finally ground, these become a cocoa mass or cocoa paste that when melted becomes the cocoa liquor.

·      Cocoa solids are more popularly called cocoa powder or cocoa. This low-fat component is extracted from the cocoa bean and is responsible for the flavor and color of chocolate.

·      Cocoa butter is the fat extracted from the cocoa bean. This pale yellow, edible vegetable fat is also known as theobroma oil. It is the component that is responsible for allowing the chocolate to melt effortlessly.

·      Unsweetened chocolate is pure chocolate containing cocoa solids and varying proportions of cocoa butter. When cocoa liquor is molded into blocks you have unsweetened chocolate. Other terms used interchangeably with unsweetened chocolate are bitter chocolate and baking chocolate.

·      Milk chocolate is sweet chocolate with cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, sugar, milk/milk powder.

·      Dark chocolate has a high percentage of cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, and sugar.

·      White chocolate is not actually chocolate since it contains no cocoa solids. What is does have is cocoa butter, milk solids and sugar.

How do you say chocolate?

The French say "chocolat," while the Dutch say "chokolade." The Germans say "schokolade," the Italians say "cioccolato," the Czechs say "cokolada" and the Swedes say "choklad." In Norway you hear "sjokolad," in Poland "czekolada," in Iceland "súkkulaði" and in Hungary "sokoládé."

The Chinese say "qiao ke li," the Filipinos say "tsokolate," the Japanese say "chokoreeto" while the Indonesians say "coklat." These are just some of the many ways chocolate rolls off the tongues of chocolate lovers across the globe. If you go beyond Earth and you hear "yuch," then you are probably listening to a Klingon say chocolate in their language.

Two chocolate manufacturers, serving literature and language in their own way

Galaxy Chocolates, a chocolate manufacturer based in the United Kingdom, has been at the forefront of making reading accessible to more people especially in the U.K. The company has been working with members of the British book industry for a number of years. The chocolate manufacturer sponsors the annual Galaxy National Book Awards. Accolade is given to British authors who are the best of the best in their specific categories for a particular year. Galaxy Chocolates has also created and sponsored several book clubs, provided book reviews and book synopses, and concocted marketing promotions to entice more people to read and enjoy both a good book and tasty chocolates.

Baci chocolates nestle a whole hazelnut in a yummy hazelnut-chocolate embrace. It was marketed for young lovers back in the early part of the 20th century. An Italian company based in Perugia called Perugina makes it. Each piece of chocolate is wrapped in an elegant silver foil with blue stars and the word Bacio ("kiss") on top. What makes this chocolate special apart from its incredible taste is the paper scroll found inside the wrapper hugging the chocolate. Each scroll contains special notes expressing love or friendship. Quotes, proverbs, maxims, sayings and more are now featured on the scrolls born from the minds of classical authors, contemporary writers, Western and non-western thinkers, philosophers and artists. Each note is written in several languages including, but not limited to, Italian, English, German, and Spanish. Each multilingual note makes for great reading and is a great introduction to other languages.

Chocolate knows no language

American GIs back in World War II had chocolates in their ration packs. They were meant for their personal consumption. However, they often ended up in the hands of young children in villages where these soldiers were serving at the time. This tradition of giving away chocolates to locals continued during the various wars the Americans figured themselves in. The chocolates made the locals smile. It was like a language of friendship; a good way for soldiers to get the trust of people around them. Even if a soldier and a local speak two totally different languages, once the soldier brings out a chocolate bar, the local already knows what it can only mean...a delicious treat and a newfound friend.

Today, chocolates continue to be part of the US military ration. Whether the soldiers eat their chocolates to gain energy or give them away to spread the love, chocolates are great morale boosters for one and all.

Being the great host that he was, Montezuma, emperor of the Aztec's when Spain first set foot in Mexico, offered Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés xocolātl. This was around the 16th century. The Europeans eventually added sugar to chocolate thus transforming the once bitter ingredient into a sweet tasting and rich product. And since then, Europe and the rest of the world have been enjoying this food once offered to the Aztec gods.

Whether it is Valentine's Day, Easter, Christmas, Hanukkah or birthdays, chocolate will remain to be part and parcel of the gift giving tradition humans participate in and enjoy. Make sure you know a bit of chocolate trivia so the next time you are asked what cacao is or if you want hot cocoa rather than hot chocolate, you know what to say.

Photocredit: Wikimedia Commons