Chocolate is a confectionery that is prepared from cacao beans or the seeds of the tropical cacao plant. In fact an assortment of chocolate products is available on the market and they range from powdered cocoa used to prepare beverages to white chocolate. Majority of the markets actually offer a cross section of chocolate confectioneries to their clients. While chocolates are readily available in the common markets as well as grocery stores, one may also obtain them from specific companies that manufacture luxury or lavish chocolates.
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Chocolates are said to have several properties that are useful for our health. They are known to act as antidepressants, as tonics, stimulate various functions of the body, help in inducing euphoria as well as increase sexual desire.
Chocolate is prepared by blending cocoa paste, cocoa butter and sugar. Presently, we are aware of the exact chemical composition of chocolate. It is regarded as a virtually costless foodstuff, as it encloses all the three major organic substances - carbohydrates (diverse sugars and starch), vegetable proteins and fats (cocoa butter). However, the composition of these organic substances present in chocolate is not in the appropriate proportions. In addition to the main organic substances, chocolates also contain several minerals and vitamins. While potassium and magnesium are present in substantial quantities, it also encloses some amounts of sodium and calcium and trace amounts of iron. The vitamins present in chocolate include vitamins A, B1, B2, D and E.
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The process for preparing chocolate consumes plenty of time. The cacao plants are cultivated on plantations in tropical South America as well as many regions of Africa. In fact, the cacao plants are indigenous to South America. There are numerous assortments of the cacao plants and each one of them turns out chocolate having somewhat dissimilar tastes. In addition, to some extent, the flavour of chocolates also depends on the place where the cacao plant is cultivated, the manner in which the cacao seeds are taken care following harvesting as well as the manner in which the seeds are processed. In fact, the chocolate manufactures invest heavily to grow the best blends of cacao beans with a view to produce the precise flavours that are popular among the consumers.
Cacao beans develop in big cases or pods and are harvest when they mature. After harvesting, the cacao beans are left for fermentation. When harvested, the cacao beans have a highly astringent flavour, but they lose much of the bitterness during the fermentation process, which is followed by other processes, including roasting and removal of the casing. While roasting the cacao beans enhances their flavour, removal of the shell or covering brings the cacao nibs - the part of the seed that contains almost all the essence of the seeds.
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Soon after the removal of the cacao nibs it is essential to pulverize them to produce a substance called chocolate liquor. In fact, generally no one would prefer to consume chocolate liquor since it is an extremely fatty substance. The fat in chocolate liquor is attributed to cocoa butter enclosed by the substance. Normally, chocolate liquor has a granular texture and tastes bitter. In the next stage, the chocolate liquor, which is in a liquid form, is pressed to produce a substance called press cake. The press cake usually contains the basic cocoa solid substances. During this process, cocoa butter is drained out separately.
After having produced the press cake from chocolate liquor, the chocolate manufacturers have a number of alternatives. They can prepare cocoa by compressing the press cake further as it enables segregating cocoa solids prior to letting them dehydrate and then grounding them. Alternately, the manufacturers may also add some of the drained out cocoa butter to the press cake and blend it with sugar and other elements to produce the edible chocolate. To prepare edible chocolates, the press cake along with cocoa butter, sugar and other ingredients need to be passed through a process known as conching with a view to provide a soft and buttery confectionery that is bereft of even slightest coarseness. Milk can also be added to chocolate to prepare a milk chocolate that may have a variety of sweetness. To prepare white chocolate, cocoa butter is blended with milk and vanilla.
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Preparation of chocolate has a very fascinating history that is as appealing as the sweet itself. In the initial days, chocolate was prepared as a bitter-sweet beverage meant for drinking by the royals and the nobles of South America, the native of chocolate. When the early European travelers visited South America they were offered the chocolate drink. Fascinated by the flavour of the drink, these early European explorers carried the confection to Europe, where it instantly became a popular food. Gradually, the Europeans began to experiment with chocolate by adding sugar and other elements to change or improve its flavour. Eventually, they developed a process that enabled them to produce chocolate bars. This was a new preparation of the food, which was till then consumed as a beverage only. When the chocolate bar was developed, chocolate manufactures became aware of the assortment of possibilities of chocolate - from preparing candy bar varnishing to truffles. Thus, chocolate, which was once the exclusive drink of the royals and the aristocracy, gradually became a money-spinning business worldwide.
Taking the various ingredients used in preparing different forms of chocolate, it may be said that this confection possesses outstanding dietary properties. Even when chocolate is consumed in small amounts, it provides high levels of energy and, hence, athletes regularly consume chocolate to accumulate energy for their performances. Chocolate provides almost instant energy making it a popular food among people who engage in other physical sports. In fact, irrespective of physical or intellectual activities, chocolate is regarded as a food for exertion.
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It may be noted here that the various health benefit features of chocolate is actually attributed to the pharmacodynamic materials, which have effects akin to drugs, naturally occurring in it. In fact, four pharmacodynamic substances are present in chocolate and they include caffeine, theobromine, serotonin and phenylethylamine. Although these substances are found in insignificant amounts in chocolate, a trifle amount of each of these perform vital functions. Theobromine invigorates the central nervous system, assists in muscular movements and also possesses diuretic properties; it also has a tonic affect on the actions of the heart. In addition theobromine also motivates appetite and is known as an orexigan. Caffeine, on the other hand, augments the fight against exhaustion, promotes mental actions as well as enhances alertness. The chemical arrangement of phenylethylamine is very much akin to amphetamines (colorless, volatile liquids that are used as a stimulant for the central nervous system to treat precise conditions) and, hence, they enclose properties that stimulate neurotic individuals.
Serotonin is basically a neurotransmitter that enables communication among the nerve cells in the brain. This substance is discharged by the nerve endings and is found in the cortex or outer layer of the brain. When an individual is affected by certain cerebral conditions, such as nervous depression, the number of serotonin declines. Serotonin found in chocolate aids in resolving the loss of serotonin in the initial loss of the substance during any cerebral malady. Similarly, caffeine and saccharose present in chocolate kindles the stimulation of serotonin in the body. Before we end the discussion, it needs to be mentioned that consumption of chocolate offers a pleasant feeling and this results in the stimulation of endorphin (peptides resembling opiates found in the brain and other tissues of vertebrates) discharge. This, in turn, causes effects that are similar to consuming opium. Chocolate actually possesses innumerable properties that provide health benefits and the above mentioned description of the food's virtues may be considered as an endeavour to explain some of them in a simple manner.