The Ultimate Chocolate Glossary: T


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The French word for a bar of eating chocolate.


A crucial stabilization process in the manufacture of most chocolate and all bonbons. Tempering involves heating the chocolate to a specific narrow temperature range, cooling it to a different narrow temperature range, and then heating it again to a lower and still narrow temperature range. Note that the minute particles of sugar and cocoa in the chocolate do not melt; only the cocoa butter melts. That’s important, because the heating-cooling-heating process allows cocoa butter’s crystalline structure to harden (when the chocolate cools a final time) in a particular way. The tempering process is the only means by which chocolate can achieve the beautiful shine and pleasant, smooth mouthfeel associated with good quality. Chocolate is in good temper if the cocoa butter particles have been mixed evenly and thoroughly throughout and the particles have cooled completely and uniformly. If chocolate is not tempered properly, it will have a dull, streaky surface and a tendency to undergo fat bloom. Poorly-tempered chocolate will also lack good snap when a bar is broken. Tempering can be done by hand, but it takes experience and skill to do this properly. Many chocolatiers prefer chocolate tempered by machine, as it’s less risky and saves time.


Pronounced tayr-WAHR, this is the French term for land, soil, or place. Loosely translated as “a sense of place”, it is the total effect of the micro-environment on an agricultural product. Chemical make-up of the soil and water; growing-season weather for the particular location; altitude; and the amounts of humidity and sunlight vs. shade are all elements of terroir. The term has long been used in coffee and wine to describe the characteristics that make each grape or bean an individual. Now, it is starting to be used to describe cacao beans.


The botanical name for the cacao tree, a tropical evergreen. The name, bestowed by botanist Carolus Linnaeus, means “food of the gods cacao”. The origin of this tree is the subject of much thorny controversy, but many scientists believe it first grew in South America. Now, the tree grows worldwide in the cacao belt, tropic regions that are within 20 degrees north and south of the equator. There are three leading varietals: criollo, trinitario, and forastero, but there are also literally thousands of hybrid species.


One of several hundred compounds that comprise chocolate, theobromine is a stimulant related to caffeine. Caffeine is also present in dark and milk chocolate.


A term that refers to the texture of chocolate. While some thickness is desirable in a chocolate, too much can make the mouthfeel seem thick or pasty. This is especially true with darker chocolates that contain more cacao solids. The surest remedy is to add extra cocoa butter to the chocolate. A thick texture can be caused by any of several other factors, too, including cacao beans with lower fat content (higher fat content beans generally don’t require the addition of extra fat from cocoa butter) and the non-use of lecithin in chocolate-making. Some manufacturers refuse to use lecithin in their chocolate, saying that it covers up subtle aromas and flavors. However, lecithin also adds fluidity to the chocolate, and a lack of it may make the chocolate texture seem too thick.


The seeds of a South American flowering tree, tonka beans have a wrinkled appearance and are very firm; they are said to be similar in flavor to vanilla, but with spicy, earthy tones instead of vanilla’s floral notes. The flavor is quite strong, and only a tiny quantity is necessary to flavor foods. Popular in France, Tonka beans were banned by the FDA in the US in the 1950’s and remain illegal to this day. They contain coumarin, which acts as a blood anticoagulant and can cause liver issues in rats at extremely high doses; it is therefore considered a drug. However, some chocolatiers in the US have been known to use tonka beans in their products. While it is unlikely that an individual would ingest enough coumarin through this practice to cause any harm, the beans remain unlawful, despite the fact that coumarin is found in chamomile, licorice, most types of cinnamon, and other herbs and spices.


The Italian word for nougat, pronounced toe-ROW-nay.


One of the three main varietals of cacao beans. While trinitarios are often said to be a cross between criollos and forasteros, it isn’t that simple. Chocolate researcher and author Maricel Presilla declares that the original parent trees “underwent not one but hundreds or thousands of crossings and back crossings”, adding that “It is not clear that trinitario itself ever was just one single strain resulting from one encounter of the two original parents”. The name is now used for many different varietals. Trinitario beans are named after Trinidad, thought to be their place of origin. The pods are colorful and can display a spectrum of colors from bright yellow to reddish purple. Some Trinitario species are highly prized, and the cacao produced from them is considered a flavor cacao, rather than a bulk cacao.

Trinitario beans combine the disease resistance and more robust nature of forasteros with the delicate flavor of criollos. Trinitarios are grown in all the areas where criollos are grown: Columbia, Mexico, Trinidad, Venezuela, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia. Trinitario cacao production accounts for 10 to 15% of the world’s annual production.


This term has multiple meanings within the confectionery industry. In France, a chocolate truffle is a small, rich chocolate made of ganache, sometimes flavored and usually rolled into a ball. Traditionally, the ball was rolled into any of a variety of coatings, such as finely chopped nuts, cocoa powder, or shredded or flaked coconut. The original truffles, rolled in cocoa powder, are named after their physical resemblance to the highly-prized fungi that grow around tree roots in France and Italy.

Chocolatiers today have expanded the concept of a truffle. Flavorings may range from tonka bean shavings to hot peppers to Early Grey tea, while coatings may include enrobing the truffle or currently-popular spices, such as paprika or sweet curry powder. The only problem with this is that the word truffle has come to signify any filled chocolate, at least in the US. More confusing still, when Jean Neuhaus invented the first hard exterior chocolate shell in 1912, allowing for soft fillings, he called them pralines—bot other chocolatiers referred to them as truffles because these early filled chocolates contained ganache as a center so frequently. Again, all of this underscores the complete lack of standardized terminology in chocolate.

This glossary would not have been possible without the kind assistance of my good friend Karen Hochman who runs the website: The Nibble. Karen gave us permission to base our chocolate glossary on hers. TheNibble is one of the Internet’s best resources for food articles, reviews, history, and just about anything when it comes to quality food. Please, if you have a few moments, visit my friend Karen’s website and you’ll be amazed at what a valuable resource it is. Thanks for all your help Karen!

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