The history of chocolate dates back as far as 900 AD where it is believed that the Mayans of South America discovered cocoa. They found that beans inside the cocoa pods could be harvested and made into a liquid that then became a treasured Mayan treat. Despite its bitter taste, the Mayans held it with such high esteem that it was often referred to as the ‘foods of the Gods’. Following this, cacao quickly became the force of the Aztec economy. The demand for the cacao bean and the beverage it produced brought about a huge trade network throughout the region. Since the Aztecs could not grow their own cacao, they had to trade with the Mayans to get the bean. Cacao beans were very valuable and the Aztecs used them as money. They paid for food, clothes, taxes and gifts using their cocoa beans. As far as they were concerned, money really did grow on trees.
Chocolate is still deemed as a luxury food today and many people enjoy indulging on the luscious treat. However, there are two very different types of chocolate on the market. The first is conventional, heat processed chocolate including milk or dairy powder and the second is raw chocolate which is becoming popular in Uk. When making raw chocolate, the beans are not roasted which is a process used when making conventional chocolate. Instead the beans are left to dry off naturally outdoors or in a specially made dehydrator. By avoiding exposure to hot, oven temperature and making sure the beans never reach temperatures that excess 42 degrees, nutrients such as zinc, magnesium, copper and vitamin C are preserved and left intact. It is also claimed that uncooked cacao contains higher levels of antioxidants than the roasted variety used in most chocolate.
There are two different ways of making raw chocolate which either involves or eliminates the process of tempering. This is essentially the procedure of gently heating up the chocolate to a certain temperature and then cooling it down. Although this process is usually carried out during the production of conventional chocolate, it can also be implemented within the guidelines of being raw by not heating it above the 42 degrees. This process does ultimately alter the structure and the properties of the finished product which is why some raw chocolate recipes miss out this stage.
So why do chocolatiers temper their chocolate? There are several reasons as to why they include this process when making raw chocolate. Firstly it is claimed that the appearance of the chocolate improves, producing a glossy sheen that is maintained overtime. Secondly, the texture of the chocolate also improves so the chocolate stays solid overtime and doesn’t crumble. It also means that the chocolate is shelf stable so it is not essential to keep it in the fridge. However, chocolatiers have also highlighted problems with tempering chocolate. When tempering raw chocolate, it is often heated to temperatures around 120 degrees Fahrenheit. This is considered by some to be too high when fitting in with the common raw temperature ranges. So is it actually possible to temper raw chocolate?
There are a number of products available that are labelled as raw chocolate and appear to display the properties of a well-tempered chocolate. One of them is the IQ bar whic is an UK brand, gaining great popularity this year.
We spoke to Jane from IQ Chocolate to learn the story behind the business and what it is she really loves about chocolate.
Why did you start IQ?
My business partner, Kate and I had been working together for a while with two organisations. We felt the time had come to look for a business opportunity in which we could shape the future ourselves. Kate is a bit of a foodie and we are both interested in healthy eating and healthy lifestyles so we were both keen to do something based around this. At the time there had been an up-serge in the new Artisan Chocolate in the US as well as dark chocolate starting to achieve prominence in terms of being a healthy food. We decided that if we could bring the two together we could create something that we were genuinely excited and passionate about. From here, we did lots of market research, tasted lots of chocolate and extensively studied the market. We realised that we had an opportunity to bring something to the market that was different; a good quality, premium chocolate but at the same time was positioned as a genuinely healthy, natural food.
What is it that you love about chocolate?
As a child, chocolate was only given to me as a very occasional treat so it has always been something very special. As I have grown older, I’ve become more interested in healthy eating and I’ve realised that we have moved a long way from gaining nutritional benefits from supplements and that healthy food is typically very natural and very delicious. I then realised that chocolate was actually in that category and could be very natural and tasty. So I think it is that chocolate is something that is absolutely delicious but there is no guilt around it.
What is your favourite flavoured chocolate?
The original dark chocolate. Even though I have tried and tasted many different flavours, my chocolate bar of choice has always been this. I went for a walk on the weekend and sat in a very isolated spot in the middle of nowhere. Usually when I eat chocolate it is the broken pieces from production. But this time I picked up one of the dark chocolate bars. I had an uninterrupted experience of eating the chocolate bar from opening the wrapper and found myself reading the message on the wrapper. I just sat there eating this very pristine, unbroken bar and I remembered how delicious I thought it was when we were ready to put it on the market.
With regards to raw chocolate, what is the best health benefit?
When we first decided to set up this business we were entering a very crowded marketplace. We realised that consumers were very cynical about products that were positioned as healthy so we decided to have all the health benefits we believed that were in our chocolate validated through research with three universities. We also have an on-going partnership with Queens Margaret University in Edinburgh. This, along with regulations from the European Food Standards shows that we have reviewed all the health benefits we are claiming. We actually have 21 altogether so it shows that our chocolate is a complete super food. In my opinion and in terms of my diet it is probably the healthiest food I ever eat.
When it comes to raw chocolate, is there any advice you’d like to share?
We have found out from the research that antioxidants for example, in chocolate are compromised by high heat. We therefore keep our chocolate at a very low temperature and have also developed our own unique, gentle process and methodology which has been shown to retain all the nutrients. Whilst I say that you get health benefits from most dark chocolate, it is quite different from those you get from raw chocolate and in our case super food chocolate where the benefits are significantly enhanced. We don’t use any refined sugars in it either. We use sugar that is low GI so that has health benefits in its own right.