The food of God and gift of the Valentine, cocoa

Theobroma this genus consists of about twenty species of evergreen trees that can be found from tropical America. The trees can grow naturally as understory plants in the forests. Theos means God, while broma means food. It refers to the seeds of Theobroma cocoa as the food of God, which is the chocolate.

Theobroma cacao, commonly known as cocoa or cacao is native to the tropical forests of Central America. This tree can grow up to thirty feet or more. Commercially, cocoa tree plantations generally kept smaller in terms of tree size to facilitate harvesting. Plants of this genus have unlobed and alternate leaves. Cocoa tree has pointed and glossy green leathery leaves that are oval and long in shape, which is sized about ten inches.

It produces five-petalled flowers arising directly from the trunk and branches. The flowers are small, which are borne in the late spring on the trunk and larger woody branches that are creamy yellow. The fruits formed from successful pollination are large and fleshy that contain many seeds. The fruit is usually large and ribbed pods with the dimension of twelve inches and eight inches in wide. The pods are green in color before maturation and turn into a rich and glossy reddish-brown when it is ripened. Generally, one cocoa pod consists of roughly thirty to fifty white pulp-covered seeds. The fruit seeds need to take four to six months to ready to be used to make cocoa and chocolate with the active compound called theobromine.

It is a favorite gift to give the loved one. However, it is not restricted to lovers, but also colleagues. On Valentine’s day (14th February), women give men or male co-workers chocolate. The chocolate can be used as a symbol of relationship or thought to smooth work relations, respectively. A month later it is the men’s turn (14th March, which is known as White Day) by giving white chocolate as the return to the women around them like a mother, significant one, or female co-workers.

Undoubtedly, chocolate is a luxury food classified as a complex emulsion, which gives a range of stimuli that activate the pleasure centers of the human brain during consumption. It is a semi-solid suspension of the fine solid particles made from seventy percent of sugar and cocoa being in a continuous fat phase. The largest world chocolates production countries are the United States, Germany, Switzerland, and Belgium.

The enzymatic and microbial fermentation is the key to induce physical and chemical changes in the beans about five to seven days in the manufacturing process. From there, the browning reaction takes place in which the polyphenol with proteins as well as peptides gives the crucial characteristic of cocoa, which is the color. The moisture content of the beans should be reduced from sixty to eight percent through drying, preferably sun drying with different airflows, which is then transported to the manufacturing site under controlled storage conditions to avoid the growth of the mold.

Next, the beans will be roasted before after winnowing with shells broken by high-speed impact against metal plates. After that, cotyledon grinding takes place to facilitate the heat transfer in nib roasting. Moreover, the moisture contents became less than three percent in roasting using liquor roasting that employed prior liquefaction. From here, flavor-active aldehydes with chocolate notes are produced through a Maillard reaction of amino acids. Commonly, the manufacturing process of the chocolate involved mixing, refining, and conching of chocolate paste that produce smooth textures of products that match the modern confectionery and elimination of oral perceptions of grittiness.

Commonly, chocolate at the molten stage has moisture contents of 0.5-1.5 % mainly found in cocoa solids, which will not affect the chocolate flow. Therefore, such a trait made it a great tool, which can be used in many culinary, primarily patisserie. For instance, the use of milk crumbs instead of milk powder involved different blending techniques and processing methods to cooperate it into the final product. A “coat” as in chocolate fountain, a colorful coat made of white chocolate and different food colorings, chocolate powder, chocolate “bowl” for desserts, chocolate bar, chocolate drink, coating for many desserts, as well as chocolate sculpture.

However, chocolate is considered as one of the dairy products as one of the ingredients is milk. This is because the water inside the chocolate binds sugar particles and milk solids rather than liquid milk is added to chocolate that contributing about twelve to twenty-five percent. People who suffer from lactose intolerance should avoid having chocolate as the milk content consisting of five percent of lactose. The milk fat from the milk is the main factor influencing the shelf-life of chocolate as it is susceptible to oxidation easily. It has a continuous fat phase in which sugar and other solutes are being hydrophilic and lipophobic will not be appropriately dissolved. Therefore, the surfaces of the solutes must be coated with fat. Natural surfactants like gums, lecithin, soluble polysaccharides as well as a synthetic compound such as carboxymethyl cellulose can be added in the product.

Chocolates can be categorized into dark, milk, and white chocolate that differ from each other in terms of cocoa solids, milk fat, and cocoa butter with different carbohydrate, fat, and protein ratios. Among all, world production is dominated by Theobroma cacao Forastero, which has small color beans that are flattish. On the other hand, T. cacao Criollo is rarely to be involved in the production.  Three percent of the world’s chocolate production comprises flavored bean, T. cacao Trinitario, which is the hybrid of Criollo and Forastero that is disease resistant. Alkalization can be conducted that is known as a treatment using cocoa nibs of liquor with alkali solutions. This process is used usually used to improve the solubility, in baking, or coatings that produced chocolate at the pH of 7.2 to 8.1. Chocolate from Malaysia, Ivory Coast, and Brazilian is known as acidic chocolate with sour, bitter, and moldy notes.

Despite high lipid, sugar contents, and calories, chocolates are undoubtedly making a positive contribution to human nutrition by providing antioxidants, mainly polyphenols that include flavonoids like epicatechin, catechin, and notably the procyanidins. Furthermore, white chocolate differs slightly from milk and dark chocolates as it does not contain cocoa nibs. Thus it has a shorter product shelf-life due to the absence of antioxidants. The key to making chocolate a particular food is because it has unique melting behavior at a specific temperature in which it is solid at ambient temperature and on ingestion melt to undergo dissolution in oral saliva. It gives a final assessment of texture after phase inversion.

We often came across advertisement or scenes in the drama that chocolate cheers people up, what are the scientific reasons to support them? Many pieces of research had proved that chocolate gave some heath effects for centuries before it is labeled and criticized as unhealthy food. This is because of its fat content and sinful consumption that led to acne, caries, obesity, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, as well as diabetes. However, it is not true as the mentioned health problems are the result of overconsumption of chocolate. The active compounds present in chocolate positively affect aging, oxidative stress, blood pressure regulation, and atherosclerosis.

Chocolate is the third highest daily source of antioxidants for Americans. Furthermore, it can be used to fight cardiovascular diseases because it has a rich source of antioxidants, which acts as a crucial role in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis. The antioxidative activity is shown to inhibit plasma lipid oxidation. Moreover, the study had found that the blood pressure of those people who had dark chocolate is significantly lower than those who did not have the chocolate. This is probably due to the presence of flavonol in the chocolate and the indirect effect on nitric oxide in the blood vessel that aids in blood pressure regulation. Besides, it has aspirin-like effects on platelet function by decreasing the platelet aggregation as well as platelet adhesion.

If one wants to go for antidiabetic effects of the chocolate, one must have the flavonol-rich chocolate with low or no extra sugar added. It has antidiabetic activity due to the presence of flavonol that may reduce insulin resistance. It has anti-obese effects as the phenolic compounds in the chocolate reduced the expression of various genes that are associated or linked with the transport and synthesis of fatty acid in the liver. Then, in some in vitro studies, it is found that chocolate has antitumor activity, but it is not clearly understood at this stage. Furthermore, chocolate makes you happy! It helps to promote serotonin production, which is known as a calming neurotransmitter. Apart from that, chocolate contains several bioactive compounds that promote alertness.

It is undeniable that chocolate plays a significant role in gifting that has several beneficial effects on our health. Scientists had predicted that chocolate would go extinct in the year 2050. Could chocolate be a novel therapy for the treatment of health disorders in the future? Well, it just depends on what are the additives that are being added into the chocolate during the manufacturing process.

Further readings:

Afoakwa, E. O., Paterson, A., & Fowler, M. (2007). Factors influencing rheological and textural qualities in chocolate–a review. Trends in Food Science & Technology18(6), 290-298.

Afoakwa, E. O., Paterson, A., Fowler, M., & Ryan, A. (2008). Flavor formation and character in cocoa and chocolate: a critical review. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition48(9), 840-857.

Latif, R. (2013). Chocolate/cocoa and human health: a review. Neth J Med71(2), 63-8.