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The Universal Love Affair with Chocolate

A Brief History of the World’s Most Pre-eminent Sweet Treat 

“Caramels are only a fad. Chocolate is a permanent thing.”
Milton S. Hershey

It’s hard to imagine a world without chocolate. The experience of eating chocolate is unlike anything else. It’s like drowning in a moment of delicious, dark-brown bliss. Chocolate can boost one’s mood, provide comfort in times of stress or sorrow, supply that burst of energy during a mid-afternoon slump and serve as an aphrodisiac. Scientific studies have even shown that chocolate produces some of the same chemical reactions in the brain as falling in love.

How did this love affair with chocolate begin?

Although we usually think of Switzerland, France or maybe Belgium when we think of chocolate, and while some of the finest chocolate can be found in these countries, its birthplace is actually located in another part of the world.

During the 14th century, a Spanish Conquistador by the name of Hernando Cortés set out to overthrow Montezuma’s reign over the Aztec dominion of Tenochtitlán (where Mexico City is located today). Although Cortés’ conquest was successful, he did not reap the spoils of war that he was hoping for. Instead, his was a discovery that would lead to a romance enjoyed the world over. The Aztecs had a special brew they called: “xocolatl”, made from cocoa beans.

Earlier, Christopher Columbus had introduced the cocoa bean to to the Spanish court of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabela. It did not catch on, however. As reported in Chatal Coady’s book, The Chocolate Champion (Running Press, 2006), apparently the cocoa beans were found bitter and too peppery and were rejected by Spanish nobility.

Some twenty years later, Cortés got busy and started experimenting with “xocolatl” by adding sugar and vanilla. This concoction was served to Charles V, the Holy Emperor of Rome while Cortés’ regaled him with stories of Montezuma and the Aztecs. As he drank the deep blend of bittersweet flavors, he must have known that something new and precious had entered the world. Chocolate was born.

Cortés’ first melted fusion of sugar, vanilla and chocolate, catalyzed European enthusiasm over cocoa. Soon all of Europe began churning out their versions of the sweetened chocolate beverage.

Some Highlights of Chocolate’s Illustrious Past:

To take advantage of the sudden demand for chocolate, cocoa plantations were established in Trinidad, Haiti and even as far as West Africa. Cortes finally started to see some return on his investment.

Spain monopolzed the cocoa market for the next 100 years and the luxury of chocolate was available only the rich, upper class.

By the middle 1600’s, cocoa’s popularity had spread from Spain to Austria, France, Italy and Germany. It was introduced to into Italy in the early 1600’s by fellow Italian, Antonio Carletti.

 Smack dab in the middle of the 17th century, in 1650, chocolate arrived in London.

The therapeutic benefits of chocolate were touted by Henry Stubbe, a physician under the employ of King Charles. However, as in the case of Spain, only the wealthy could afford to buy it.

By the early 19th century, in 1819, the Swiss chocolate industry began in Vevey, Switzerland.

We may have the Belgians to thank for those chocolate Easter bunnies because, in

1840, the first Belgian chocolate factory was built. This factory made chocolate into bars, pastilles and figurines.

In the 19th century, the Quakers built the world’s two most renowned chocolate factories: Cadbury and Rowntree.

Within a few centuries, chocolate had evolved through various processes. These included the adding of cocoa powder to cakes in England (around the mid 1600’s) and the extraction of cocoa butter from roasted cocoa beans (19th century) by Van Houten, a Dutch chemist. The innovation of cocoa butter, when mixed with cocoa powder and sugar, eventually resulted in chocolate’s most recognizable form: the chocolate bar that we know today.

Chocolate: Baking’s “Must-Use” Ingredient

It is no surprise, given its famed and celebrated history, that Chocolate has become an indispensible ingredient in modern-day confectionary creations. But what is it, really, about chocolate that satisfies like no other ingredient?

Its taste. Obviously. Chocolate is a complex flavor. It is bitter, yet layered in its mysterious richness and, when blended with other ingredients, has a versatility beyond compare.

There’s something about the silky, brown appearance of chocolate that beckons the senses. You want to sink your teeth in it.

Let’s not forget the aroma of chocolate. Whether it’s the smell of a chocolate cake while it’s baking in the oven or the alluring scent of warm fudge wafting through the kitchen, chocolate smells wonderful.

The texture of chocolate, too, is something unique. It can add confectionary glue to almost anything. Cookies go from bland to sublime, cakes become so tempting they’re called “Devil’s Food”, and the pie options are endless. The candy category is in a class by itself, of course.

Imagining a world without chocolate would be a sad prospect, to say the least. Valentine’s Day would have no heart-shaped boxes containing truffles and chocolate encrusted creams. Easter wouldn’t include the delight of biting the heads off those oversized chocolate rabbits. And what would birthday cake be without chocolate frosting? When the dessert tray comes around at the end of a fine restaurant meal, a gaping hole would loom in front of us, where chocolate desserts should be.

And, in the absence of human romance, that single most-craved substance would be woefully absent. A world without chocolate would be, in a word: lamentable.

My name is Samuel Brown and I am the owner and manager of MyCookieCutters along with my wife Lisa. It’s an online store that sells cookie cutter sets and. Our children: Troy, Lydia and Catherine happily enjoy Lisa’s homemade treats. She has been a baker for ten years and whenever she isn’t creating new, culinary marvels in the kitchen, Lisa helps me run MyCookieCutters

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