[ For the Love of Chocolate ] ~ from Monterey Bay Herb Company
The world loves chocolate. If you’re the average American, you nibble on 12 pounds of it each year, most often at the end of a bad day, between meals or when retiring to meet the sandman. Chocolate is also a popular treat to enjoy on certain holidays, namely Halloween, Easter and, of course, the big one: Valentine’s Day. Flowers or a sparkly trinket are nice to receive, but nothing beats the brief indulgence of creamy, rich chocolate.

This may sound like sacrilege, but the flavor of chocolate can always be improved upon. In fact, various herbs and spices, even teas and dried roses, can lend the confection a unique flavor and texture twist. Whether your taste preference runs with white, milk or dark chocolate, there’s an herb-spice combination that will make you fall in love with the sweet stuff all over again.

[ For the Love of Chocolate: A Sacred Seed ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

a sacred seed

Chocolate comes to us from the roasted and ground seed of Theobroma cacao, an evergreen tree in the mallow family indigenous to Central and South America. The species is aptly named since its scientific name is obtained from the Greek “theos” and “broma” to collectively mean, “food of the gods.”

The beans were so highly valued by the ancient Mayans and Aztecs that they were used as a form of currency. With US chocolate sales expected to exceed more than 20 billion dollars in 20171, it’s clear that chocolate still stirs the economy almost as much as it does passion.

[ caco bean pods ]

"All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt."
—Charles M. Shulz

[ For the Love of Chocolate: Bitter Not Sweet ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

bitter, not sweet

For most of its history as a cultivated food, which dates back thousands of years in the Americas, chocolate has been prepared as a liquid. The Aztecs produced a beverage known as xocolātl, a Nahuatl word that translates to “bitter water,” which they considered to be a potent aphrodisiac. Reserved for the wealthy and nobility, the brew was also used in ceremonial practices.

Today, cacao seeds are used to make paste and powder to flavor cakes, cookies, puddings and various other confections. Thanks to the invention of the cocoa press in the mid-19th century, which extracted cocoa butter solids from roasted beans, and other improvements in mass production, chocolate took on the rich flavor and velvety texture that we enjoy as solid chocolate bars and candies.

"There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate." "
—Linda Grayson

[ caco bean pods in scoop ]

[ For the Love of Chocolate: Mexican Chocolate ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

mexican chocolate

The chocolate drink revered by the Aztecs little resembled what we think of as hot chocolate today. In fact, the beverage lived up to its name and was anything but sweet. To counter bitterness, the Aztecs commonly blended roasted cacao bean paste with honey, vanilla, chili peppers, anise seed and cinnamon – a far cry from miniature marshmallows.

Mexican chocolate, introduced to Europe by the Spanish, still consists of some of these ingredients with an emphasis on chili pepper, cinnamon and sugar. Unlike other types of chocolate, this variety is used for cooking, not nibbling. It's a key ingredient in mole, a thick chocolate sauce built on various types of chili peppers and blended with other flavorings, such as cloves, cumin, black pepper, garlic and anise.

"I've got this thing for spicy stuff. Now, if you give me hot chocolate with chili pepper, a book and a bubble bath, I'm a happy girl."
—Shiloh Walker

Some Mole Spices
Cumin Image
Cinnamon Image
Chili Pepper Image
Anise Image
Black Peppercorn Image

[ For the Love of Chocolate: Savor Different Flavor ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

flavor-infused chocolate

A few herbs and spices can be added directly to melted chocolate and molded or made into bark, such as sea salt, whole lavender flowers and ground or flaked chili pepper and pink peppercorns. Use these ingredients sparingly, however, or they may overpower the flavor of the chocolate.

Most other herbs and spices are more suited to the infusion method, which is very simple to do.

To make an infusion, combine 3 cups of white, milk or dark chocolate with one cup of butter in the top of a double boiler and gently melt, stirring often. Add your botanicals of choice, reduce the heat to the lowest setting (do not allow to boil), and infuse for an hour before straining. Mold or prepare the reserved infused chocolate as bark. Cool completely before serving.

Some Texture and Flavor Image
Pink Peppercorn Image

Sea Salt Granules Image

Lavender Flower Image

Chili Powder Image

Chili Pepper Flakes Image

Spice Suggestions to Pair with Milk, Dark, and White Chocolate

[ Milk Chocolate Pairings ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

milk chocolate pairings

Milk chocolate is so-named because it contains less cocoa solids and is blended with cream and sugar. The result is a softer bite and a creamy, smooth texture and taste. It is also much sweeter than dark chocolate, so choosing between the two is literally a matter of taste. Herbs and spices that go well with milk chocolate include… tarragon, rose petals, coriander, mace, curry powder, and lavender.

[ Milk Chocolate Pairings ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

[ Dark Chocolate Pairings ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

dark chocolate pairings

Although dark chocolate contains more of the original cocoa bean than its milkier counterpart, just how much can vary considerably. Made smoother by diluting cocoa solids with cocoa butter instead of milk or cream, dark chocolate may contain a total cocoa concentration that ranges from 35% up to 100%. The higher the number, the less sugar and more bitter taste. Herbs and spices that go well with dark chocolate include… cardamom, fennel, lavender, cinnamon, spearmint, basil, chipotle, and ginger.

[ Dark Chocolate Pairings ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

[ White Chocolate Pairings ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

white chocolate pairings

Unlike milk and dark chocolate, white chocolate is void of cocoa solids and is instead produced with milk, sugar and cocoa butter. It has a sweeter taste (and more calories) than either milk or dark chocolate and, due to a high concentration of milk solids and cocoa butter, it is the creamiest of chocolate varieties. Herbs and spices that go well with white chocolate include… cardamom, pink peppercorn, sea salt, lemongrass, vanilla, basil, and lavender.

[ White Chocolate Pairings ] ~ from Monterey Bay Spice

Recipe Ideas