Many people in America are self-professed chocoholics. They crave that dark, sweet, creamy fix that sends their taste buds into a nirvana of flavor. Chocolate addiction is a badge that millions of people across the globe wear with pride. What is it about the humble cocoa bean that has held our sweet tooth in captivity for over two thousand years?
Food historians usually agree that cocoa beans were discovered in Central America around 400 BCE. The native Aztecs ground the beans into a powder, added a little dried pepper and mixed it with water to create a stimulating drink. They believed that cocoa was a gift from the gods to give them supernatural energy. With a jolt of cocoa’s natural caffeine and a zap of peppery heat, no wonder they felt an otherworldly buzz!
European explorers in the Americas were enchanted with the robust bean and introduced it to their homelands. Soon, people across Europe became enthused with the foreign elixir that Aztecs called chocolatl, which means “bitter drink”. It evolved into our modern day “chocolate”.
If you have ever tasted pure chocolate, you know that it has a pungent bitterness. Innovative home cooks found that mixing the ground cocoa with sugar not only made it more palatable but deliciously sweet and decadent. Chocolate was enjoyed as a drink and a unique flavoring.
It was not until the 19th century that an English candy maker discovered that by mixing cocoa back with its rendered fat (cocoa butter) and adding sugar, he could make a yummy mixture that could be molded into any shape he wanted. The chocolate bar was born, and it created an international sensation. Soon, candy makers were making filled chocolates and coating other tasty treats with a layer of chocolate. It started a culinary affair that is unmatched today.
I am not ashamed to admit that I am a chocolate aficionado as you probably are. Chocolate is an indomitable weft in our society’s fabric that is irresistible. Just a whiff of chocolate makes us feel nostalgic and long for a bite. It is responsible for the success of a plethora of iconic chocolate products, from hot chocolate drink mixes to candy and baked goods.
Since most chocolate goodies have generous amounts of sugar, eating too much can lead to health problems, including obesity and tooth decay. There can be too much of a good thing. Fortunately, recent scientific research has good news.
Before you cancel your lifetime chocoholics club membership, medical experts say that a moderate amount of chocolate is good for us. According to scores of scientific studies, dark chocolate contains antioxidants that may protect our cells. Some studies suggest that eating a bit of dark chocolate may contribute to good heart health and brain function. The key is moderation.
Chocolate is an incredibly versatile ingredient and I keep my pantry stocked with cocoa and baking chocolate bars. Name just about any dessert, and chocolate makes it better. Whether it is cakes, pies, pastries, filled chocolates or a comforting candy bar, chocolate reigns supreme on America’s dessert table.
Lately, I have been experimenting with the other culinary side of chocolate. It is the perfect yang to the savory yin of barbecue rubs as it brings out the natural sweetness of the meat. Some of the best barbecue sauce recipes contain a healthy dose of chocolate. Chocolate is also usually the featured ingredient of sweet & salty treats which are all the rage now.
Borrowing from the Aztecs, Mexican-inspired dishes often blend chocolate with hot chilis for an imitable taste sensation. Mole is a traditional Mexican sauce that mixes chocolate and savory spices. It makes meat dishes juicy and superbly tasty.
One of my favorite chili recipes (included here) incorporates smoky nuances of chocolate with piquant peppers. Many famous chili brands add a little chocolate for a unique flavor boost. If you have ever enjoyed a steaming cup of Mexican-style hot cocoa, you were probably amazed at how deliciously hot peppers and chocolate pair. The Ancient Aztecs are to thank.
Chocolate has gone beyond yummy ice cream shakes and malts. While visiting a local gastropub in my neighborhood, I sampled a chocolate martini that was pure bliss. Bless whoever created chocolate liqueur! The cocoa-rimmed martini glasses and the chocolaty-colored cocktail was as attractive as it was tasty. I am also sharing my version with you.
Be an adventurous chocoholic and try some of my smart recipes for your family that features chocolate in a new light. Discover how it enhances the flavors of meat and melds well in other savory dishes. In moderation, even a decadent bite of premium chocolate becomes a health tonic!
Here are a few of my chocolate forward dishes - I have tested all of them - they are very easy and are a sweet or savory way to satisfy your craving for chocolate