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Chocolate is a typically sweet, usually brown food preparation of Theobroma cacao seeds, roasted and ground. It is made in the form of a liquid, paste, or in a block, or used as a flavouring ingredient in other foods. Cacao has been cultivated by many cultures for at least three millennia in Mesoamerica. The earliest evidence of use traces to the Mokaya (Mexico and Guatemala), with evidence of chocolate beverages dating back to 1900 BCE. In fact, the majority of Mesoamerican people made chocolate beverages, including the Maya and Aztecs, who made it into a beverage known as xocolātl Nahuatl a Nahuatl word meaning "bitter water". The seeds of the cacao tree have an intense bitter taste and must be fermented to develop the flavor.
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After fermentation, the beans are dried, cleaned, and roasted. The shell is removed to produce cacao nibs, which are then ground to cocoa mass, unadulterated chocolate in rough form. Once the cocoa mass is liquefied by heating, it is called chocolate liquor. The liquor also may be cooled and processed into its two components: cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Baking chocolate, also called bitter chocolate, contains cocoa solids and cocoa butter in varying proportions, without any added sugars. Much of the chocolate consumed today is in the form of sweet chocolate, a combination of cocoa solids, cocoa butter or added vegetable oils, and sugar. Milk chocolate is sweet chocolate that additionally contains milk powder or condensed milk. White chocolate contains cocoa butter, sugar, and milk, but no cocoa solids.
Cocoa solids are a source of flavonoids and alkaloids, such as theobromine, phenethylamine and caffeine. Chocolate also contains anandamide.
Chocolate has become one of the most popular food types and flavors in the world, and a vast number of foodstuffs involving chocolate have been created, particularly desserts including cakes, pudding, mousse, chocolate brownies, and chocolate chip cookies. Many candies are filled with or coated with sweetened chocolate, and bars of solid chocolate and candy bars coated in chocolate are eaten as snacks. Gifts of chocolate molded into different shapes (e.g., eggs, hearts) have become traditional on certain Western holidays, such as Easter and Valentine's Day. Chocolate is also used in cold and hot beverages such as chocolate milk and hot chocolate and in some alcoholic drinks, such as creme de cacao.
Although cocoa originated in the Americas, recent years have seen African nations assuming a leading role in producing cocoa. Since the 2000s, Western Africa produces almost two-thirds of the world's cocoa, with Ivory Coast growing almost half of that number.
Several types of chocolate can be distinguished. Pure, unsweetened chocolate, often called "baking chocolate", contains primarily cocoa solids and cocoa butter in varying proportions. Much of the chocolate consumed today is in the form of sweet chocolate, which combines chocolate with sugar.
Milk chocolate is sweet chocolate that also contains milk powder or condensed milk. In the UK and Ireland, milk chocolate must contain a minimum of 20% total dry cocoa solids; in the rest of the European Union, the minimum is 25%. "White chocolate" contains cocoa butter, sugar, and milk, but no cocoa solids. Chocolate contains alkaloids such as theobromine and phenethylamine, which have physiological effects in humans, but the presence of theobromine renders it toxic to some animals, such as dogs and cats. Chocolate contains "brain cannabinoids" such as anandamide, N-oleoylethanolamine and N-linoleoylethanolamine. Dark chocolate has been promoted for unproven health benefits.
White chocolate, although similar in texture to that of milk and dark chocolate, does not contain any cocoa solids. Because of this, many countries do not consider white chocolate as chocolate at all. Because it does not contain any cocoa solids, white chocolate does not contain any theobromine, so it can be consumed by animals.
Dark chocolate is produced by adding fat and sugar to the cacao mixture. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration calls this "sweet chocolate", and requires a 15% concentration of chocolate liquor. European rules specify a minimum of 35% cocoa solids. Semisweet chocolate is a dark chocolate with a low sugar content. Bittersweet chocolate is chocolate liquor to which some sugar (typically a third), more cocoa butter, vanilla, and sometimes lecithin have been added. It has less sugar and more liquor than semisweet chocolate, but the two are interchangeable in baking.
Unsweetened chocolate is pure chocolate liquor, also known as bitter or baking chocolate. It is unadulterated chocolate: the pure, ground, roasted chocolate beans impart a strong, deep chocolate flavor. It is typically used in baking or other products to which sugar and other ingredients are added. Raw chocolate, often referred to as raw cacao, is always dark and a minimum of 75% cacao.
Poorly tempered chocolate may have whitish spots on the dark chocolate part, called chocolate bloom; it is an indication that sugar and/or fat has separated due to poor storage. It is not toxic and can be safely consumed.