A Chocolate Glossary
Welcome to the Koko Buzz glossary page – continuously under construction. My hope is to provide clarity to the vast and sometimes confusing array of terminology used in the chocolate world. If there are additional terms that you would like to see here, just send me a note.
Note: since this page is under construction, I apologize in advance for any typo’s or misspellings (my specialty). We’ll get it all ironed out over time.
Arriba or Arriba Nacional – A fine flavor bean grown in the upriver sections of the Guayas River in Western Ecuador. Technically the bean variety is simply Nacional, but if grown and fermented in certain regions of Ecuador – notably Los Rios, Manabi and Quevedo, they will take on a certain terroir or characteristic of the region and this flavor profile is called “Arriba.” Arriba is characterized by florals such as orange blossom and jasmine.
Artisanal (artisan) Chocolate – This implies hand-made and / or small batch production. Since machinery is always used to make any consumer chocolate product, hand-made is a bit of a stretch. However, many small producers, including the handful of bean-to-bar makers in the USA are closely involved in every step of production including bean selection and in some cases, fermentation. Of course, truffles and other confections usually do require significant hands-on work.
Cacao – used to describe the tree, fruit (pods) and seeds from the tree Theobroma Cacao.
CCN-51 – A hybrid of Nacional and Trinitario that is more resistant to disease and higher yielding than nacional. CCN stands for Collection Castro Nacional.
Certified Organic – USDA certifies that chocolate meets organic standards for how the ingredients are grown and processed. The requirements include periodic inspections and rigorous record keeping, among other things. Since chocolate production is a global business with cacao grown around the world in the “cocoa belt,” other certifying organizations also come into play such as those from Europe. The implication is that a certain level of quality is maintained and fraudulent claims of “organic” will be prevented. Critics will point out that there are many small farmers and producers who cannot afford the fees for USDA inspection and certification. These farmers may be practicing the same level of organic agriculture as some certified operations, but without the recognition from certification. It would be a mistake to ignore organic producers who are not certified. Still, consumers like the confidence that comes from the certified organic logo.
Cocoa – technically refers to the seeds (beans) after they have been removed from the pods and fermented and then to any product downstream of this point. However, it has become common to refer to everything including the pods and seeds as cocoa pods rather than the more accurate term cacao.
% Cocoa (% cacao) – refers to the total of all cocoa sources in a chocolate including cocoa mass, cocoa liquor and cocoa butter. Simply put: anything that came from the cacao tree counts towards % cacao. The balance of the chocolate is usually sugar or sugar and milk solids for milk chocolate. Minor ingredients in dark chocolate might include vanilla and soy lecithin, an emulsifier.
Cocoa Belt – Cacao grows almost exclusively in a band 20 degrees north and south of the equator. Although the origin of cacao is thought to be the amazon river basin, trees have been transplanted around the world to fill this belt. Now cacao cultivation can be found throughout the Carribean, Central America, Southern Mexico, coastal Africa, Indonesia, other parts of Southeast Asia, Hawaii and northern regions of South America (not a complete list).
Cocoa Bloom – see Fat Bloom and Sugar Bloom
Cocoa Butter – the fat in cocoa beans.
Couverture – chocolate sold for making pastries, confections and for baking having greater than 35% cacao content and usually sold in large quantities. Couvertures typically have a higher cocoa butter content to allow them to more easily flow and coat truffles and the like. Yes, you can eat couverture straight. From the French word “to cover.”
Chocolate Liquor – the thick liquid produced by grinding cacao nibs. This is the starting material for all chocolate products. A confusing term since there is no alcohol in chocolate liquor.
Conching – a process invented by Rudolph Lindt where the chocolate is mechanically worked under controlled temperatures for up to three days. Conching develops flavor, reduces volatile acids, reduces particle size, and reduces water content. It also creates a more intimate mixture of cocoa particles coated with cocoa butter which lends a smooth mouth feel and improved flavor. A common misconception is that more conching is always better, but like with any food, more cooking is not necessarily better, but it is up to the chef (or chocolate maker) to decide how much is enough.
Dark Chocolate – Technically, any chocolate that does not contain milk. There is no legal definition that would, for instance, control labeling and advertising claims.
Dutch Processing (Dutched Cocoa) – a process invented by Conrad Van Houten where cocoa liquor is treated alkali in order to reduce acidity and produce a milder flavor for mass-market cocoa powder. Since it is a chemical process that distorts and mutes the flavor from the cacao, it’s not used for true fine chocolate and is distained by those who seek natural and organic products.
FairTrade CertifiedTM – A trademark certification administered by Transfair USA to verify that producers adhere to fair trade principles including: a fair price is paid for beans, cacao is grown in an environmentally sustainable manner, and safe labor conditions exist in alignment with accepted international standards. As with organic foods, a product may be fairly traded, but not certified. Most premium and artisan chocolate bar makers are dealing directly with the farms that supply their cacao and pay many times the prevailing commodity prices for their beans.
Fat Bloom – If chocolate gets too warm for too long, the cocoa butter will start to separate out and you will get a whitish, grey-white or tan haze the surface. This is a fat bloom or cocoa butter bloom. Don’t panic! It won’t hurt you and, in all but the most extreme cases, it won’t affect the taste of the chocolate. It just doesn’t look too pretty. If chocolate is poorly stored for too long, flavor will be affected. Fat bloom can also happen when chocolate melts and is then cooled again or it can occur in improperly tempered chocolate.
Fermentation – After removing them from the pods, cacao beans and pulp are left to ferment in wooden boxes or banana leaves for a period of about five days, on average. During this time, the temperature rises killing the beans and preventing germination. Natural bacteria and yeasts convert polysaccharides (sugars), proteins and polyphenols into the flavor precursors of chocolate. This in itself is necessary, but not sufficient to produce chocolate flavor. Roasting is necessary to complete flavor development.
Forestero – a bulk cacao bean that is high yielding and resistant to disease. Robust flavors. These trees have been planted extensively in West Africa and make up 70 to 90% of the world’s cacao production (estimates of cacao production depend upon who you ask).
Naçional – a fine flavor bean that is technically a type of Forestero, but shares many favor characteristics with Criollo. See also Arriba Nacional.
Roasting – beans are roasted at temperatures starting at 210 F and going to just above 300F to develop their flavor profile. Sugars, proteins and other chemicals are browned and caramelized to produce flavors we recognized as chocolate. This process is also known as the Maillard reaction. Roasting also makes it easier to break the shells during cracking and winnowing. Cocao is roasted at a much lower temperature than coffee and is more sensitive to small variations in temperature, so chocolate makers need to take extreme care to taste and monitor the beans during roasting.
Refining – A process whereby chocolate liquor is passed through a series of steel rollers to reduce the particle size of the cocoa mass to less than 20 – 50 microns. The chocolate must be cooled to prevent the cocoa butter from separating out. Sugar, vanilla and milk (if needed for milk chocolate) are added during refining.
Semisweet Chocolate – implies a higher sugar content than bittersweet chocolate, but no agreed-to standards exist to distinguish the two. To be called either Semisweet or Bittersweet, the chocolate must have at least 35% cocoa content according to the FDA.
Single Estate Chocolate – Chocolate made from beans grown in a single estate (plantation). You might find favors that are characteristic of this single plantation and also may vary from harvest to harvest along with the growing conditions for that season. All single estate chocolates are by nature single origin. Example: Valrhona Palmira.
Single Origin – chocolate from a single country or region within that country. (e.g. Amano’s Ocumare from the Ocumare de la costa region of Venezuela). Often distinct flavors of that region can be discerned vs. bars that attempt to achieve a certain consistent flavor from year to year by blending cacao from various regions.
Sugar Bloom – Sugar crystals on the surface of chocolate as the result of humidly condensing on the surface, dissolving sugar from the bulk of the chocolate and then re-depositing the sugar as crystals when the water evaporates. Sugar bloom will not hurt you, but may be an indication of poor storage of the chocolate. If chocolate is poorly stored for too long, flavor will be affected.
Tablets – a term used in some parts of Europe for what Americans call “bars.”
Terroir – The expression of geography in the flavor and aroma of the chocolate. A certain terrior can be associated with a particular country, province, town or plantation and is thought to result from the climate, soil, flora and fauna, etc. of each place. It’s a French loan word from the root Terre, meaning land and is most often used in the wine world.
Theobroma Cacao – the botanical name for the cacao tree. Latin for “food of the gods.”
Trinitario – Native to Trinidad, a hybrid of Forestero and Criollo. Considered a fine flavor bean. Starting in the early 1800’s, it has been transplanted to Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Fiji, Samoa, Singapore, Madagascar, and Tanzania.
Vintage Chocolate – Chocolate usually from a single-origin or single-plantation cacao that was harvested in a particular year. Some feel that vintage chocolate can be aged to further develop flavor just as with wine. Example: Valrhona Palmira.
White Chocolate – Cocoa butter and sugar with no cocoa solids.