Monday, February 21, 2011

Separating the Light from the Dark

You never knew that Trader Joe's sold exotic chocolate!
This past week, as weather reporters warred over predictions of totals for the weekend snowstorm and I finally figured out how to transfer a Powerpoint presentation to a DVD, chocolate companies were delightedly counting their profits. This past Valentine’s week, American consumers once again went on a chocolate shopping spree that netted over $345 million, making up of 5.1% of chocolate’s annual sales. That’s more than 58 million pounds of chocolate candy boxed in cardboard hearts and pink tinfoil (it's still less than the 90 million pounds sold for Halloween). Statistics according to Neilsen Co.

Although giving gifts of chocolate has remained a steady Valentine’s tradition over the years, I have been unable to discover the connection between this dark candy and the holiday. Nevertheless, even the scientific name for the cocoa tree, Theobroma Cacao, harbors this fascination: translated from the Greek, it means food of the gods.
It even had a beautiful, colorful wrapper! Much better than pink.

Cocoa beans also happen to be one of the major exports of Papua New Guinea, placing it among the leading cocoa-producing countries in the world. The warm and humid climate of PNG is perfect for Trinitario cocoa trees to thrive. Cocoa beans grow inside pods that hang on the trunks of the tree. The pods are harvested manually, and the seeds are fermented 3–9 days. After they have dried, they are put in sacks and shipped overseas to those companies who live for the 14th of February.

As any chocolate lover will tell you, not all chocolates are created equal (Hershey's versus Ghirardelli's, anyone?). The flavor of this sweet treat will vary depending on soil, climate, specific regions, and even types of tree. So what does Papua New Guinean chocolate taste like? Most often, their chocolate is described as “fruity, full-bodied, with subtle undertones of spice and smoke.”

It is strange that something as nasty as coffee and as good as chocolate both come from crushed up beans...
Although that sounds poetic, I had no idea what it meant. So, when a friend of mine surprised me with a gift of chocolate, I was curious to try. According to my family’s expert taste-testing abilities, although this particular chocolate bar was 70% dark, its citrus flavor prevented any bitterness from emerging. It wasn’t terribly sweet, but a tiny piece was enough to gently satisfy a chocolate craving.

After all, in the beginning, the Lord created chocolate, and he saw that it was good. Then he separated the light from the dark, and it was even better. :-)