The evolution of chocolate

Europeans came into contact with chocolate when Montezuma introduced the conquistador Hernán Cortés to xocolatl. Antonio de Solís, Philip IV’s official Chronicler of the Indies, described Montezuma taking a chocolate beverage after meals, as part of a sumptuous daily ritual.

“He had Cups of Gold, and Salvers of the same; and sometimes he drank out of Cocoas [i.e., coconut shells], and natural Shells, very richly set with Jewels.[…] When he had done eating, he usually took a Kind of Chocolate, made after the Manner of the Country, that is, the Substance of the Nut beat up with the Mill till the Cup was filled more with Froth than with Liquor; after which he used to smoak Tobacco perfum’d with liquid Amber.”

The first recorded shipment of chocolate to Europe for commercial purposes was in a shipment from Veracruz to Seville in 1585. Sometime during the 16th century chocolate became a hot and more liquid drink. It was brewed in a pot resembling the one used for that other exotic drink of the period: coffee. The process of preparing the cocoa itself was refined in monasteries, which soon established a monopoly over the sale of small dried tablets. Then, as now, chocolate was a lucrative trade.

France was the first European country outside Spain to succumb to the chocolate craze. In 1615 the Spanish princess Anne of Austria married the infant Louis XIII and in her dowry she brought a box of the fabled Spanish cocoa cakes. After the death of her husband, Anne’s invitations “to chocolate” were regarded as a high social privilege.

By the end of the 18th century, the first form of solid chocolate had been invented in Turin by Doret and was sold in large quantities from 1826 by Pierre Paul Caffarel in Italy. In 1819 the first Swiss chocolate factory opened. In 1828 Dutchman Coenraad Johannes van Houten patented a method for extracting the fat from cocoa beans to make powdered cocoa and cocoa butter. Van Houten also discovered a process to treat chocolate to remove its bitter taste.

In 1839 the German company Jordan & Timaeus sold the first known chocolate bar made from cocoa, sugar and goat’s milk. In England the company of J. S. Fry & Sons found a way to mix some of the cocoa butter back into Van Houten’s chocolate, creating a paste that could be moulded. This led to the first British chocolate bar in 1847, quickly developed in 1849 by the Cadbury brothers. Charles Dickens may never have said, “There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate,” but he undoubtedly enjoyed the taste of chocolate.

Today, 80% of the world’s chocolate market is in the sticky hands of just six transnational companies, including Nestlé, Mars, and Cadbury. Europeans consume around 40% of the world’s cocoa per year, 85% of which is imported from West Africa. One of the best products in the world is said to come from the Grenada Chocolate Company – but for dark chocolate aficionados only. Not only do they produce it in a factory on the island, but the cocoa used is grown there organically by a co-operative of farmers and the chocolate is made in small batches using unique processing methods. Chocolate is still the food of the gods – both the gods of taste and the gods of the global economy.

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One comment on “The evolution of chocolate

  1. kristinegreenaway says:

    Fascinating history of a “délice” to which I am now addicted!

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