A Brief History of Chocolate | Arts & Culture

Chocolate truffles
Cheryl Carlin

When most of us hear the word chocolate, we imagine a bar, a box of candy, or a bunny. The verb that comes to mind is probably “to eat” and not “to drink” and the most appropriate adjective seems to be “sweet”. But for about 90% of chocolate’s long history, it was strictly a drink, and sugar had nothing to do with it.

“I often call chocolate the most famous food that no one knows anything about,” said Alexandra Leaf, a self-proclaimed “chocolate educator” who runs a business called Chocolate Tours of New York City.

The terminology can be a bit confusing, but most experts today use the term “cocoa” to refer to the plant or its beans before processing, while the term “chocolate” refers to anything made from the beans. , she explained. “Cocoa” generally refers to chocolate in powder form, although it could also be a British form of “cocoa”.

Etymologists trace the origin of the word “chocolate” to the Aztec word “xocoatl”, which referred to a bitter drink brewed from cocoa beans. Latin name of the cocoa tree, Theobroma cocoa, means “food of the gods”.

Many modern historians have estimated that chocolate has been around for around 2,000 years, but recent research suggests it may be even older.

In the book The real history of chocolate, authors Sophie and Michael Coe argue that the earliest linguistic evidence for chocolate consumption dates back three or even four millennia, to pre-Columbian cultures of Mesoamerica such as the Olmecs.

Last November, anthropologists at the University of Pennsylvania announced the discovery of cocoa residue on pottery excavated in Honduras that could date back to 1400 BC. drink of the time.

“Who would have thought, looking at this, that you can eat it?” Richard Hetzler, executive cafe chef at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, said as he displayed a fresh cocoa pod at a recent chocolate-making demonstration. “You would have to be hungry enough and creative enough! “

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when chocolate was born, but it’s clear that it was cherished from the start. For several centuries in pre-modern Latin America, cocoa beans were considered valuable enough to be used as a bargaining chip. A bean could be traded for a tamale, while 100 beans could buy a good turkey, according to a 16th-century Aztec document.

The Mayans and Aztecs believed that the cocoa bean had magical, even divine, properties that could be used in the most sacred rituals of birth, marriage, and death. From the book by Chloé Doutre-Roussel The chocolate connoisseur, victims of Aztec sacrifices who felt too melancholy to participate in the ritual dance before their death were often given a gourd of chocolate (tinted with the blood of previous victims) to cheer them up.

Sweet chocolate only appeared when Europeans discovered the Americas and tasted native cuisine. Legend has it that Aztec King Montezuma greeted Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes with a banquet that included a consumption of chocolate, tragically mistaking him for a reincarnated deity instead of a conquering invader. At first, chocolate did not suit the taste buds of strangers – one of them described it in his writings as “a bitter drink for pigs” – but when mixed with honey or cane sugar, it quickly becomes. became popular throughout Spain.

In the 17th century, chocolate was a fashionable drink throughout Europe, believed to have nutritional, medicinal and even aphrodisiac properties (Casanova is said to be particularly fond of this substance). But this remained largely a privilege of the wealthy until the invention of the steam engine made mass production possible in the late 1700s.

In 1828, a Dutch chemist found a way to make powdered chocolate by removing about half of the natural fat (cocoa butter) from chocolate liquor, pulverizing what was left, and treating the mixture with alkaline salts. to reduce the bitter taste. His product became known as “Dutch Cocoa”, and this quickly led to the creation of solid chocolate.

The creation of the first modern chocolate bar is attributed to Joseph Fry, who discovered in 1847 that he could make moldable chocolate paste by adding melted cocoa butter to Dutch cocoa.

In 1868, a small company called Cadbury was marketing boxes of chocolate candies in England. Milk chocolate hit the market a few years later, launched by another name that may tell you something – Nestlé.

In America, chocolate was so popular during the Revolutionary War that it was included in soldiers’ rations and used in place of wages. While most of us probably wouldn’t settle for a chocolate paycheck these days, statistics show that the humble cocoa bean is still a powerful economic force. Chocolate making is a more than $ 4 billion industry in the United States, and the average American eats at least half a pound a month.

In the 20th century, the word ‘chocolate’ expanded to include a range of affordable treats containing more sugar and additives than real cocoa, often made from the hardier but less flavorful varieties of beans (forastero ).

But more recently there has been a “chocolate revolution,” Leaf said, marked by a growing interest in high-quality, artisanal chocolates and sustainable and efficient methods of growing and harvesting cocoa. Large companies like Hershey’s have expanded their artisanal chocolate lines by purchasing from smaller producers known for their premium chocolates, such as Scharffen Berger and Dagoba, while independent chocolatiers continue to thrive as well.

“I’m seeing more and more American artisans doing amazing things with chocolate,” Leaf said. “However, I admit that I tend to look at the world through cocoa-tinted glasses.”

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The real history of chocolate


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