Features & Stories

Consuming Passions: Chocolate

Joy Skipper, a Registered Nutritionist and food writer, took the opportunity in lockdown to qualify as a Certified Chocolate Taster with the International Institute of Chocolate and Cacao Tasting. Here she reflects on her passion for chocolate and shares findings from her recent travels around southern India, visiting cacao plantations and chocolate makers.

By Joy Skipper

As a child I would visit my grandmother’s house every Sunday for tea. Although she lived in a small house, there was a pantry, and this was a delight to me – even as a young child I knew there would be special foods stored away in this tiny room. But as somebody who had lived through a war, my grandmother’s special foods were not expensive delicacies or exotic ingredients that were hard to find. They were foods that during the war she was unable to have, and now she wanted a stock of them in case it ever happened again.

One of those foods was Cadbury’s Dairy Milk – the biggest bars you could buy at that time, and they were piled high!  And every Sunday I was allowed one square of one bar – this was the start of my chocolate journey.

Skip forward a few decades and the world of chocolate has changed in so many ways (Cadbury’s has certainly extended its range!), and as a country we now recognise good quality food and want to know more about its provenance; where it has come from, who makes it and how it is made. Slowly we are also relating the food we put into our mouths to our health, and although chocolate can hardly be called a health food, good quality chocolate does have some health benefits (something I am constantly telling my nutrition clients!).


My chocolate eating habit also changed over those decades - I suppose my taste buds were growing up!  I was always looking for something purer, less sweet and with more flavour. I had to wait a little longer.  Despite the first moulded chocolate bars being produced in England in 1847, it took until the mid 1990s for the first good-quality bean to bar chocolate to be made from scratch. Craft chocolate makers started to undertake the entire chocolate making process themselves – from cocoa bean to finished bars (there are now over 30 makers just in the UK). And with the flavours that this new industry brought, Cadbury was relegated from my life forever.

As with most passions, there is no end to the lengths you will go to indulge them, so during lockdown in 2020 I trained as a chocolate taster with the International Institute of Chocolate and Cacao Tasting, thereby gaining the chance to judge fine chocolate from all over the world – the equivalent to a sensual geography lesson.


I recently returned from travelling around southern India, visiting cacao plantations and chocolate makers in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, to discover how rapidly the number of craft chocolate makers is growing there too. India was also dominated by Cadbury, their products having been imported to the country by the British during colonization, it’s now a daily habit for one in five Indians, and is slowly replacing mithai, traditional Indian sweets, at various celebrations such as Diwali.

Luckily there are now several smaller competitors seeking to challenge the dominance of Cadbury in India, and of milk chocolate too, aiming to increase the awareness of the delights of a more bitter flavoured dark chocolate. These new makers are also starting out at a time when there is a focus on supporting ethical practices and sustainability, with hope that a younger consumer will not have the nostalgia linked to Cadbury but will be more environmentally conscious when making their food choices.

Craft chocolate making is a world away from the industrial process that goes into a bar of Cadburys Dairy Milk, with flavour being at the forefront at every stage. Firstly, the maker will choose their beans from an array of varieties, knowing which beans will best suit the flavour they are aiming for.  Theobroma cacao is genetically diverse and difficult to classify, and all over the world it has been crossbred or cultivated to create thousands of hybrid strains. It’s possible to find numerous varieties within a single plantation, and farmers may not even know precisely which varieties they are growing! Certain varieties are associated with high quality chocolate, although the variety of cacao is often less important than the local soil, climate conditions, and the skills of the farmer and chocolate maker – what happens to the cacao once it has been harvested.


After harvesting comes fermentation, one of the first steps in developing flavour. The beans are surrounded by a pulp that is rich in sugar, which has the most amazing mango, lime, lychee flavour – although this bares no relation to the final flavour unfortunately, and these sugars – glucose, fructose and sucrose – are transformed into alcohol during fermentation. The alcohol turns into acetic acid that diffuses into the beans themselves. The fermentation process produces a significant amount of heat, up to 50°C after a few days, killing the germ within the beans, and triggers the release of enzymes within the bean, enzymes that are important for the development of chocolate flavours.


After 5-7 days of fermentation, the beans are moved to bigger trays that are laid out in the sun for drying, often on the ground, or in some cases on moveable trays that can go in and out of the shade to give some consistency during drying. The beans are regularly turned and continue to dry until reaching 7% moisture content. They are then cooled, sorted (removing any defective or broken beans that may affect the quality of the chocolate), bagged and transported to the chocolate makers.


From this point the chocolate maker can influence the taste and texture of the chocolate in several ways. Roasting the beans is a science in itself – it’s not just a case of switching on the oven and bunging in the beans! Roasting curves, like those used for coffee, are studied and analysed until the perfect curve for a specific bean, in a specific roaster is found. Known as the Maillard reaction, the chemical process happens when beans reach approximately 140°C dry heat, at which point sugars and amino acids reducing in the bean react.

The beans are now broken and winnowed – removing the shell and leaving what we would recognise as cacao nibs (which are themselves often used as a tasty and crunchy addition to top off a dish). To transform these nibs into chocolate, they are ground down into a liquid mass known as ‘cocoa liquor’ and at this point sugar, cocoa butter, milk powder (if making milk chocolate) and any flavourings or inclusions may be added. To further develop flavour, ‘conching’ takes place – a process during which certain volatiles are reduced and the flavours can settle and mellow.

Finally the chocolate is tempered, to give a glossy finish and a distinctive ‘snap’, before moulding and packaging. And just when you thought the process was complete, there is another added dimension – when making chocolate from bean to bar without artificial additives or preservatives, the flavour will continue to develop for weeks after it has been poured out of the grinder, so some makers may age the chocolate before allowing it to be tasted by us.

Little Hot Chocolate Mousses from Chocolate: Discovering, Exploring, Enjoying by Sara Jayne Stanes

Chocolate Orange Hazelnut Tart from The Modern Baker by Nick Malgieri

Chocolate, pear and almond tart from Lucy's Food by Lucy Cufflin

There is no doubt that chocolate is a popular choice for a lot of people, some may even say they are addicted. There is science behind the chemicals in chocolate that may be associated with enhancing our mood, but they are in such small quantities, it’s unlikely to cause an addiction. It may just be the pleasurable melt-in-the-mouth experience (chocolate melts at just below body temperature) that is too hard to resist – it certainly is for me.

But for me it’s not just about eating pure chocolate - when cooking I always want to start with the best quality ingredients, knowing that the flavour in the final dish will be more complex, so choosing great chocolate that is rich in flavour can make a big difference to most simple chocolate recipes. Indulgent Little Hot Chocolate Mousses is a great example of a simple recipe that is brought to life with complex flavoured craft chocolate – choose a chocolate that has fruit notes for this recipe.

You can also pair chocolate with other ingredients as you would with wine or cheese (both of which also partner well with great chocolate!). A bar rich in almond, cashew or hazelnut  notes gives more depth of flavour to a Pear and Chocolate Tart, or Chocolate Orange Hazelnut Tart.

And the ultimate chocolate indulgence for me is a rich, flavoursome hot chocolate drink, using a high percentage chocolate, dark muscovado sugar and spices, to really heighten that indulgent chocolate flavour.


Ready to explore the world of chocolate?

There are many books to choose from on ckbk’s Chocolate bookshelf. Try this a collection of comforting chocolate desserts, or one of the tempting ckbk chocolate recipes below to get you started.

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