Your Chocolate STARting Point

 Chocolate Starting Point

Introduction to Chocolate

The Scoop on Choc. (Synopsis)

Making Chocolate

Selection – Tasting – Connoisseurship

Food – Health Benefits

Resources – Fun Facts – Side Notes

Introduction to Chocolate:

How it all began and how it is what it is


     Blood has been shed and thousands of slaves of no will of their own have literally worked their lives away in the dark history of chocolate.  Dynasties have been created — and fallen; fortunes amassed, espionage, sabotage, blackmail, political corruption, and even at least the partial reason of some wars are laced in the history of chocolate.  But is this to be expected from “the food of the gods?”  Yes, this is what the ancient civilizations called it.

     Indeed, the history of chocolate is interesting, intriguing, and remarkably vast.  However, much of it can’t be adequately verified.  If you become familiar with how big chocolate is as business, you’d realize that there is clear room for motives of a marketing advantage to report that your company “was the first to do this or that with chocolate,” or “comes from a long history of doing good in the community.”   Unfortunately, many of the chocolate companies are the only ambassadors of supposed archives and passed on information.   This is not to say that the information and archives that they share are not true.  Veritably, much of it has been reasonably proven to be true.  But not all of it.  We won’t get too much into the history, but rather point to the sources most likely to hold accurate clues for those who are seeking such information… See AW recommended chocolate history sources.  If you follow Advice Watch, you probably know the rule of thumb is that AW only cites info that has been verified from at least two reputable or reliable sources and that doesn’t have any known credible conflicting information.  Unfortunately, history is one of those topics in general that often has such conflicting info; and the history of chocolate is particularly susceptible to unsubstantiated claims.  There is some dominant and widely accepted intellections about the history of chocolate thereof however, and we will stick to those, while leaving out the info that is irrelevant or more questionable.

     Moreover or nevertheless, a brush of history is necessary to fully understand and appreciate the value and process of chocolate; including being an educated shopper it!  From consuming, to making, to tasting,  —knowing where the sources of cacao bean (seed) came from in harvesting, where the tree that springs the bean is native to, and where the craft of certain types of chocolate making originated, all can help you make informed choices as a consumer.

     To begin, eating chocolate is relatively new in the long history of chocolate.  It was originally a brew only to be drank.  Only the very rich could afford to ingest it for most of its history.  Just like tobacco, in some civilizations, it (the cacao seed used for making chocolate) was used as money.  Thus, if you were ingesting chocolate, you were literally eating (drinking) your money, and only the very rich could afford to do that.  Although, priests and other “noble men” were sometimes given chocolate to drink as a gift or favor from kings.   Also, warriors and soldiers were given chocolate because it was thought to give them energy in battle and sustain them in long marches.  But it seems some things never change;  in the late 1930’s, Milton Hershey either convinced the military to provide chocolate to all U.S. troops in their D-rations or a Quartermaster’s Corp. named Paul Logan approached Hershey to do so (the information is conflicting comparing different sources) and to this day, chocolate is a basic issued food given to military troops.

     An important note in the history of chocolate is that Coenraad Johannes van Houten invented what is known as Dutch Chocolate by treating cocoa mass with alkaline salts, otherwise known as Dutch processed cocoa.  This is one method of taking out the bitter taste and making chocolate more water-soluble.   Though he (Coenraad) is also often credited with inventing the method of pressing the fat (which is the cocoa butter) from the cocoa beans, it was his father Casparus van Houten Sr. who earlier did such.  Certainly, Dutch processing would not be possible without first pressing out the cocoa butter first.  However, it is not a needed process to alkalize the cocoa mass (Dutch process) particularly in modern times.  Dutch processing removes beneficial enzymes and other micronutrients from chocolate, but those who consume chocolate strictly for the taste will probably not mind this.

     Somewhat ambiguously, the story has it that Joseph Fry invented the first chocolate bar in 1847 by adding melted cocoa butter back into Dutch processed cocoa.  Then a short time later, by the mid 1860’s, a company called Cadbury’s was selling chocolate candies in England using Fry’s techniques.  All around this same time period, what was then the original Nestle proprietorship introduced milk chocolate to the market.  This all may be subjective or hearsay, but it all collaborates to the time and place to envision the scene…  By the 1870’s, England was producing palpable “chocolate” beyond the brew, and chocolate was now (then) something that people ate as well as drank.

     But England is only where the craft of chocolate bar making as to be eaten as such, originated.  Chocolate itself did not originate from there.  And perhaps more importantly, the source of chocolate – the Theobroma Cacao tree which produces the cacao seed pod is not a native species to anywhere near the geographical region of England…

     Scientists believe that the species of the Theobroma Cacao tree is originally and utmost natively centered in the Andean highlands of Peru and Ecuador.  (See:  SeedMap.org’s Cacao Origin )  Perhaps ironically, this most original species of the cacao tree that originally grew there (the Forastero) is generally considered to be the inferior product to the greater populace of chocolate connoisseurs in comparison to what is commonly known as the other two types of cacao trees (the Criollo and the Trinitario… and perhaps another: the Nacional – in what some contend is the 4th primary species).

     The Theobroma Cacao tree was reportedly first introduced to Africa in 1824 being transported in ships by Portuguese conquistadors for the streamlined slave labor that they took advantage of.  It was the first time the entire cacao tree itself was transported to another country.  Though the cacao tree is not native to Africa, the region does – in some areas have the optimal climate, sunshine (or lack thereof under a canopy of taller trees), irrigation, and soil with many similar environments to South America to endow cacao trees with flourishing seed pods.  Lush green tropical rainforest areas is where cacao trees seem to thrive the best.  Some contend that  upon examination of how geologists believe that the African region was once part of what is now known as South America wherein the Amazon and Peru reside, it makes sense;  and therefore further contend that it may make sense then, that the cacao tree would have spread naturally anyway by bird droppings to what is now known as Africa if the continents hadn’t broken apart.  Yet the highly prized Criollo trees have been much more susceptible to disease on the African continent.

     So let’s examine the source:   “Theobroma” translates to mean ‘food of the Gods’ from Latin.   While “Cacao” is  Spanish, from Nahuatl (more Aztecan) of cacaua, with a root form of cacahuatl  meaning: “bean of the cocoa-tree.”  Thus, one can see how the word “chocolate” is derived from the ancient Aztec language word/s:  xocolatl;  from xococ meaning bitter and atl meaning water; because remember — that chocolate was something originally only drank, and in its most basic form is very bitter tasting.  The cacao species is actually just one of the known 22 species of the Theobroma family, while “the chocolate tree” was the first named source.  Moreover, the chemical/supplement known as theobromine comes from the word Theobroma.

      So with an enlightenment on history, can such knowledge be applicable to chocolate selection for either shopping for it or making your own?  Perhaps…

  • If you know where the bean is native to, where it has been shown consistently to grow the best, where it has grown but failed, and other relevancies, it could help in a selection from which country or region you would want your cacao bean sourced from in which you would like to sample chocolate from, or import ingredients from to make your own chocolate.

  • If you know where the craft of certain types of chocolate making originated from, the question becomes: “Are they more skilled by their experience and passed-on traditions and techniques in making such kind of chocolate?”

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