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Cocoa – food of the gods

On grey winter days, a steaming cup of cocoa will lift your mood. But you need to watch out if you’re counting calories, because a lot of ready-made products are heavily laced with sugar.

 

If you use pure cocoa powder, on the other hand, you can decide for yourself how much sugar to add. Cocoa powder doesn’t dissolve easily in liquid, it’s best to mix the powder with sugar and a very little milk to make a thick paste and only then do you add your piping hot milk. As a rule of thumb, use a teaspoon of sugar and a teaspoon of cocoa powder for 150 ml milk. Add spices like vanilla, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon for a more exotic flavour.

Where do cocoa beans come from?

It’s a long journey from the original cocoa beans to the powder on your supermarket shelf. The evergreen cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao) is comes originally from the tropical forests of Central and South America. The botanical name comes from Greek and means “food of the gods”. The native peoples of Central America regarded the plant as holy. Today the cocoa trees are cultivated especially in West Africa, for example in Ivory Coast and Ghana. The cocoa fruit are yellow to violet in colour and grow directly on the trunk and branches of the tree. They take several months to ripen and they don’t all ripen at the same time. The ripe fruit are sliced off the tree and usually opened in the planting area so that the nutrients in the husks can be returned to the soil. The fruit flesh is allowed to ferment, when it turns brown violet. The seeds, the coffee beans, are removed, often by hand. They are dried in the sun, bagged up and transported for further processing.

First roast, then grind

The raw beans are then sent to the country where they will be processed. The beans are roasted at 130 to 150 degrees Celsius until they develop the typical dark brown colour and cocoa flavour. The roasted beans are broken into small pieces (nibs) and then milled to produce cocoa liquor (cocoa particles suspended in cocoa butter). This is pressed to extract about half of the cocoa butter. What remains is the cocoa presscake, which is ground to produce the cocoa powder that you buy in your supermarket. Different products are available with different fat content and you can also buy ready-mixed powder with sugar and even milk powder already added. Cocoa powder is an ingredient in couverture, puddings and cakes. Cocoa powder without sugar will keep for at least three years in a cool, dry, dark place.

Valuable nutrients

A mug of cocoa made with milk is pretty nutritious. For example, it covers around a tenth of an adult’s recommended daily intake of magnesium, iron and zinc and a fifth of the recommended daily intake of calcium and vitamin B2. Cocoa also contains substances like polyphenols and small quantities of stimulants like caffeine and theobromine.

 

Source: Heike Kreutz, www.bzfe.de