The History of Chocolate
Well, we’ve covered a brief history of wine so we should really take a look at the story of how chocolate came to be. This is particularly so following the success of ‘Scribbles with Chocolate’ - the forerunner to this literary offering.
Okay, chocolate is produced from the seed of the cacao tree - or to be precise - the Theobroma cacao tree. Apparently, the seeds of the cacao tree are quite bitter and must be fermented to develop the flavour into what most of us would recognise as chocolate.
Cacao has been cultivated in Mexico and South America for over three thousand years in the area we refer to as Mesoamerica. The Mesoamerican people are one of the first known civilisations to make chocolate beverages along with the Aztecs. They live in an area lying between central Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. This is the area where, prior to Columbia’s discovery of America, some societies flourished but remained relatively unknown to the rest of the world until the Spanish colonised the Americas in the 15th and 16th centuries. And it was the Spanish who first exported chocolate from this area to Europe. This is also a region occupied by the ancient and enigmatic Mayan people and it is interesting to draw out the following connection when studying this area, namely, the Mesoamericans were one of the first civilisations to develop independent writing - just like the Sumerians on the other side of the globe.
Moving on, the first recorded commercial shipment of chocolate to Europe was in a shipment from Veracruz to Seville in 1585. But as chocolate became more popular, demand grew and the first chocolate house opened in London in 1657. In 1689, noted physician and collector Hans Sloane developed a milk chocolate drink which was initially used by apothecaries, but later sold to the Cadbury brothers in 1897. The interest here is that mankind was examining different products of nature. In ‘The Conchenta Conundrum’, my first Davies King novel, you will recall how the research segment of the pharmaceutical industry spent much time - and still does - searching for and testing various plants and species in order to discover and develop what we now know to be the drugs and tablets that we use in everyday health care. So maybe that was how chocolate was originally discovered - by someone experimenting with the product of the cacao tree thousands of years ago.
As it is, a couple of centuries passed and the chocolate-making process did not really change. But behold, the Industrial Revolution impacted and brought many changes in food production. A Dutch family made mass production of shiny, tasty chocolate bars possible. Mechanical mills were created that squeezed out cocoa butter, which in turn helped to create hard, durable chocolate. When new machines were produced, people began experiencing and consuming chocolate worldwide.
In the 19th century, an Englishman, John Cadbury, developed the product further and made the solid chocolate that we now take for granted. But as methods of processing changed, so did the area of production for now two thirds of the world’s production of cocoa comes from Western Africa with the Ivory Coast producing half of it.
Gifts of chocolate moulded into different shapes are now established holiday gifts. We have chocolate bunnies and eggs at Easter, chocolate coins on Hannukkah, Santa Claus and other such shapes on Christmas, and chocolate hearts or chocolate sweets in heart-shaped boxes on Valentine's Day. And, of course, we can also drink chocolate either as a hot or cold beverage. Indeed, the very word ‘chocolate dominates everyday life. Consider that in 1963, Roald Dahl published a children's novel titled 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory', and in 1999, 'Chocolat', a 1999 novel by Joanne Harris, was adapted into a film receiving an Academy Award and a Golden Globe nominations for 'Best Picture.'
But let’s get to the nitty-gritty of chocolate.
Milk chocolate is sweet chocolate containing, as an addition, milk powder or condensed milk. On the other hand, white chocolate contains cocoa butter, sugar, and milk but no cocoa solids. So you can see how by changing the ingredients slightly, we end up with chocolate of various colours. By the way, dark chocolate compliments red wine and champagne and white wine compliment lighter coloured varieties.
It’s somewhat fascinating to research the benefits of chocolate to the human race. Cocoa solids contain alkaloids such as theobromine and phenethylamine, which have physiological effects on the body. It has been linked to serotonin levels in the brain. So, chocolate eaten in moderation, it is argued, can lower blood pressure in human beings. However, the theobromine makes chocolate toxic to some animals, especially dogs and cats. But it’s so tasty and has become one of the most popular foods in the world.
So, a sip of wine, a square of chocolate, and ... Relax.