A brief history of Chocolate!

This is quoted directly from pages 205-208 of the book Indian Givers, It is an excellent book and i highly recommend that everyone buy a copy. Order it from Powells or, if you must, from Amazon.com.

Indian Givers, Jack Weatherford 1988 Ballantine 0-449-90496-2.

When the British merchants lost control of the American tobacco market after 1776, they searched for a substitute crop to sell. They found the substitute in the opium poppy grown in their newly acquired lands in India and Burma. ...

While the British made fortunes selling opium to the Asians, and while the newly formed United States peddled tobacco to the world, the Spaniards pushed a seemingly much more innocuous drug found in America. This became known throughout the world as chocolate, the active ingredient in the beans of the cacao pod. ...

Europeans encountered chocolate when Hernando Cortes conquered the Mayas and Aztecs, who cultivated it extensively. The cacao bean served as the primary form of currency among Aztecs, who also consumed it in various delightful ways. Aztec cooks commonly whipped the chocolate with water and sometimes with honey to make a frothy, refreshing drink that they called chocoatl in the Nahuatl language. What excited the Spanish most about this plant was its narcotic properties. Like the coca leaves in South America, the cacao bean lessened the pains of hunger, gave a shot of energy, and let the user continue marching or fighting for hours. Because of these properties, the conquistadors immediately adopted it as an indispensable aid during their long military campaigns across mountains and through jungles.

The people back in Europe proved far less eager to accept chocolate, which to them looked far too much like rabbit feces. The pure chocolate tasted too bitter, and by tradition Europeans preferred black pepper, horseradish, and mustard for seasoning their vegetables and meats. The Europeans tried mixing chocolate with various spices such as mint and cinnamon to make it more palatable, but reputedly some experimenting nuns first mixed it with hot milk and added sugar to create the chocolate rage that continues today. Hot chocolate became particularly popular in the Catholic countries of the Mediterranean, where it stimulated the faithful on the numerous fast days when the church forbade food, but permitted drink. The Protestants in the north of Europe preferred coffee until England took over the tea plantations of India and Ceylon, and then they substituted tea for coffee.

The jagged, almost nervous stimulation produced by coffee and tea contrasted sharply with the smooth, sensuous high of chocolate. Consequently, chocolate acquired a strong reputation as an aphrodisiac that invigorated men and stripped women of their inhibitions. ...

Chocolate provoked such a strong response in Europe because it seemed so unlike any known food. Carolus Linnaeus classified it as Theobroma cacao, taking the genus name from the Greek phrase, "food of the gods". Scientists have since applied the word "theobromine" to designate the active ingredient in chocolate, the counterpart of caffeine in coffee or cocaine in coca.

Chocolate spread not merely because of its unusual qualities or because of its religious or sexual rolls. Behind both types of propaganda, an efficient Spanish monarchy held a monopoly over cacao production in its Mexican and Caribbean colonies and worked diligently to increase sales. Wherever the Spanish monarchy could, it suppressed coffee and tea trade in favor of chocolate.

The Spanish monarchy pushed chocolate into the Spanish Netherlands, and the Dutch quickly created an array of foods that mixed chocolate with various combinations of sugar and spices. All types of chocolate candies, cakes and tortes, puddings and pies soon became a permanent part of the European diet. Up to this point chocolate had been sold in large bars, which were rich in the cacao oil or butter as well as in the chocolate taste. The Dutch developed a new way of processing the chocolate so that the oil was removed and only the dry chocolate remained. This new product, cocoa, was easier to transport and store and it became a very popular drink for children, since in this more refined condition it lacked the aphrodisiac qualities thought to lurk in pure chocolate.

Once chocolate was mixed with sugar it became very difficult for the consumer to tell how much stimulation came from the chocolate and how much from the sugar. Consequently, bakers and candy makers frequently reduced the amount of real chocolate in favor of greater use of less expensive vanilla and artificial chocolate flavorings. Today the taste that most people associate with chocolate springs primarily from the vanilla and other spices mixed with the chocolate. Cocoa butter has yielded to flavored forms of vegetable shortening, and now people ingest real chocolate in such minute quantities that most of the narcotic effect has been sacrificed to the sugar rush that substitutes for it.


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