“I LOVE chocolate!”
I hear it said so often. It’s rare to find a person who doesn’t love chocolate, but do you really know about chocolate and where it comes from?
Most of us see it at this ready-to-eat stage and that is really all that matters. But at the Farmers’ Market in Olympia, Washington, I had a quick lesson in the story of chocolate.
This is how the cocoa beans look as they grow on the trees – not on branches, but on the trunk. They have to be cut away carefully so as not to damage the place where the stem joins the tree lest it spoil the next year’s growth.
At a booth in the Farmers’ Market where they sell chocolate, these cocoa pods were on display. The pods which contain many cocoa beans, come in several different colours, depending on variety and ripeness.
The pods are cut open and the leathery shell is discarded. The 30 to 50 cocoa beans inside are placed on a grate or in a bin for several days while the pulp between the seeds ferments and drains away. Then the beans are spread out to dry. At this stage, they may even be sprinkled with red clay mixed with water for polish and to enhance the colour and discourage mildew.
It takes about 400 beans to make a pound of chocolate. Below are cocoa beans with the husks still on. The husks will be removed, either by machine or by dancing on them in a way that is reminiscent of stomping on grapes to make wine.
Why does chocolate make us happy?
It’s said to be a good antioxidant and beneficial to cardiovascular health. But I don’t think that’s why almost everyone loves chocolate. Chocolate contains tryptophan which releases serotonin, which in turn triggers the parts of the brain that tell us we’re happy. (I’ve over-simplified. When I get my degree in organic chemistry, I’ll explain it more thoroughly.)
Mainly I like chocolate because it’s just plain good!
Forget about the calories.