Calling all chocolate lovers

It's official - sweet toothed Britons are the chocoholics of Europe

As a nation, our love of chocolate accounts for nearly a third of total European consumption. Dark, milk or white, bar or box, there is a type of chocolate to suit every taste. And here in the UK it seems we can’t get enough of this tantalizing treat.

A brief history

The world has been tempted by chocolate since around 1100 BC and it was the Maya people who discovered that grinding and mixing cocoa beans with water produced a pleasantly bitter drink. The first cocoa bean plantations were actually established near the Gulf of Mexico. Chocolate factories began to appear in Europe in the early 18th century, and chocolate was again only consumed as a drink and, due to its exorbitant price, mainly by the aristocracy. The first dark chocolate bar was produced in Switzerland in 1819, and Nestlé started making milk chocolate bars in 1875.

From bean to bar

The delicate cacao tree only thrives in tropical regions. Africa produces around 90% of the world’s chocolate, and premium beans are grown in the Caribbean and Central America. Once picked, beans ferment for a few days before they are dried and packed ready for shipping to chocolate-makers around the world. The beans are then roasted before blending, grinding and mixing takes place. At this stage other ingredients such as milk and sugar are also added. A process of refining follows to ensure taste and texture is correct. The finest product also goes through a stage of tempering, which creates a smooth, glossy and totally irresistible chocolate.

Chocoholic tips

1. The best chocolate is labelled as ‘single origin’ with the cocoa beans coming from just one plantation.

2. When sampling chocolate, listen for the snap of the bar, and for the full experience don’t forget to inhale the aroma too.

3. The taste of cocoa from a good quality chocolate should linger in your mouth for as long as 20 minutes.

4. Dark chocolate goes well with red wine, particularly Côtes du Rhône, and milk chocolate can be paired with a chardonnay.

5. A small square of dark chocolate adds depth and flavor to stews and gravies.

6. Dark chocolate is the easiest to digest so ideal after a meal, particularly when combined with peppermint.