For Inland 360
People around the world have been attracted to the cocoa plant-based confection for hundreds of years. The Mayan people were the first to document the consumption and use of chocolate. In the latter half of the 19th century, when chocolate became easy to mass produce in a solid form the world’s love affair truly began.
Chocolate lovers in the Quad Cities can learn more about the sweet treat at “The Natural History and Culture of Chocolate,” a presentation and chocolate tasting with Lauren Fins, a retired University of Idaho professor. The event is a fundraiser to showcase and raise money for ongoing renovations at Moscow’s historic McConnell Mansion.
The presentation spans from how chocolate was used by indigenous people to how it was domesticated and spread around the world to become the confection we eat today, Fins said.
Fins developed the presentation out of a project with students in an undergraduate course at the University of Idaho. Fascinated by what she discovered, she developed a graduate-level course focused on chocolate. She received a Fulbright scholarship to study chocolate in Costa Rica and spent seven months at the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center researching natural history and culture. She later returned to produce a booklet about chocolate that farmers could use in ecotourism.
“My idea was that, with chocolate being so popular, there were opportunities for ecotourism doing chocolate tours and if they did that, then they would be asked questions by the people who were coming,” Fins said. “So, these booklets were a way for farmers to have that information at the ready.”
At Friday’s presentation, people will put their knowledge to the test as they try to guess what country consumes the most chocolate per capita (hint: it’s not the United States) and get to taste approximately 10 different chocolates, including a sipping chocolate. Fins will lead the audience from white chocolate, which contains no actual cocoa solids, to a dark chocolate that contains approximately 70 to 72 percent cocoa solids. Included in the tasting will be flavored chocolates, such as chocolate with fruit.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “The Natural History and Culture of Chocolate” with Lauren Fins
WHEN: 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1
WHERE: McConnell Mansion, 110 S. Adams St., Moscow
COST: $50 general admission, $40 for Latah County Historical Society members
NOTE: Tickets can be purchased at the Latah County Historical Society or by calling (208) 882-1004. Admission includes drinks, appetizers and chocolate tasting.
How to identify and buy good-quality chocolate
“Taste is very, very individualized,” said Lauren Fins, a retired University of Idaho professor who studied chocolate on a Fulbright scholarship in Costa Rica. “A lot of what tastes good depends on what we grew up with; the flavors that make us feel warm and fuzzy.”
Look for a reasonable percentage of chocolate solids:
“If it has a fairly high percentage, then it’s going to have a real chocolate flavor. The less chocolate that’s in it, the more fillers there’s going to be. There’s going to be more sugar, more milk, more other stuff. If you buy chocolate that has more chocolate solids, cocoa solids, it will enhance the flavor. Now, if you get too high it’s going to be bitter. If you like that, fine. I find for me, anywhere from about 60 to 75 percent is a good proportion, but I’ve met people who love 85 and 90 percent chocolate. … If you get a whole lot below that it’s going to be very sweet most of the time. And if you get something that says ‘chocolatey-flavored’ that’s not real chocolate, so you want to make sure it has cocoa solids in it.”
The best thing is to be able to taste the chocolate before purchasing, Fins said, but that’s not always an option. If you open a chocolate bar and it’s got a whitish powdery surface then it hasn’t been stored well. Also, good chocolate will have a somewhat shiny surface and will make a nice crisp snap when broken.