Oh yes, October is a month to celebrate as it’s the one that contains Chocolate Week. But this isn’t really an excuse to chow down on a shed load of Dairy Milk. Chocolate Week is an opportunity to focus on good quality chocolate made with love.
Making good chocolate is a complicated process; the chocolate quality starts at the growing of the beans and goes all the way through to how the chocolate is tempered (the final stage of chocolate making which gives it the lovely sheen and silky texture). It’s why good chocolate costs more. The beans are sourced more thoughtfully, growers are paid more fairly and, of course, the resulting chocolate is much more complex and delicious.
There’s also more to chocolate and cacao than just what you get in a bar. The different parts of the cacao plant (technically called Theobroma Cacao) can be used in all sorts of interesting ways, sweet and savoury. I’ve been making lots of cacao nib pesto over the summer and cacao powder is a standard ingredient in my cupboard. Want to know more about the different parts of chocolate and just how you can use them? Read on…
Getting to know the different parts of chocolate
Let’s start with the end result: chocolate. Chocolate is a beautiful ingredient to taste on its own, but it’s also a flexible food that can pop up in dishes in other ways. Add a few squares to a chilli or curry for a deep richness, grate into a morning smoothie or mix with balsamic vinegar for an intriguing dressing.
I like to go dark as that’s the one with all the flavours. And you can go all the way up to 100% cocoa dark chocolate if you want a full and intense hit. There are also some really good quality high cocoa milk chocolates too, but I’ll be honest, I reserve those just for tasting or using in desserts.
2. Cocoa (or Cacao) Nibs
When you hear all the good stuff about chocolate, quite often it’s referring to cacao in its more unadulterated forms, including cacao nibs. Yes, chocolate (or cacao really) does actually have the highest levels of antioxidants per 100g of food and you can get a good hit of this from nibs!
Cacao nibs are the broken up bits of (often roasted) cocoa beans. Nibs are what your chocolate starts out as before they’re nibs ground with cocoa butter and sugar to get all creamy and lovely. On their own they have a roasted, bitter taste and are sometimes nutty or slightly fermented depending on the beans.
I like to throw nibs into carrot salads, vegetable curries or in with porridge or muesli. I also sometimes use them in place of nuts or chocolate chips in biscuits as I love the nutty crunch they add. I mentioned above I’ve been making lots of pesto with them this year, substituting half the pine nuts for nibs; it’s unusual and very delicious.
3. Cocoa Butter
Cocoa butter is the natural fat from cocoa beans (or nibs). The beans are about 50-ish percent fat, which is the same as almonds – and this fat turns up in some surprising places. This includes lots of beauty products as it’s really good for your skin.
The butter is extracted from the beans normally using something like hydraulic machinery and what’s left becomes cocoa powder.
Cocoa butter itself doesn’t have a load of flavour (though some types actually have enough that they can be used to produce good quality white chocolate) and is very creamy in texture. It starts melting at body temperature so will melt away in your mouth if you want to try a little.
I like to use it in slices or chocolate icings as it sets well at room temperature. It also gives icing a lovely sheen – though you only need a very small amount. Most baking recipes that call for coconut oil will also work with cocoa butter. And look for organic brands if you!
4. Cacao (or Cocoa) Powder
Last but not least is cacao powder. I’ve written before about the differences between cacao and cocoa powder before. I personally tend to use cacao powder over cocoa as I find it has a more chocolatey flavour and it’s not so bitter. A little bit goes a long way.
Cacao is another one of the good guys when it comes to chocolate as it has lots of heart healthy flavonoids. Various studies from Panama to Holland have highlighted its positive properties.
You could go traditional and have a soothing cup of cocoa before bed, but it’s also an interesting addition if you stir a little into a salad dressing or even in a glaze for roasted veg.
So when it comes to chocolate, this Chocolate Week think all parts of cacao as there are many ways you can include them in your cooking. And if you’d like a bit more chocolate inspiration, check out some of my cacao recipes…
What are you eating joyfully this month?