|Cest Si Bon Bon: The Sweet History of Chocolate
by Marjorie Dorfman
|Between the years 1600 and 1750, the English, Dutch and French established plantations in Ceylon, Venezuela, Java and Sumatra where the cacao tree flourished. Soon these countries were importing cacao to keep Europe well stocked with the prized drink. Due to the deaths of many enslaved Meso-americans, a new labor force was needed to maintain the growing demand for the labor-intensive crops of sugar, tobacco, cotton and cacao. Colonial landowners turned to Africa whose people for more than two centuries were cruelly enslaved to create a huge work force.
In France, chocolate was a prized status symbol, reserved by royal decree for members of the French aristocracy only. According to legend, this hoarding of chocolate is ascribed to the self-confessed chocoholic queen, Anne of Austria, who married Louis XIII in 1615. The English were more democratic about their chocolate and anyone with money could buy it. In 1657, the first chocolate house opened in London. Like the coffee houses to follow them, they became the gathering places for those who wished to socialize, proselytize and gamble. Some denied entrance to women while others were open to anyone who could afford the entrance fee.
Europeans copied the ancient practice of creating their own chocolate artifacts, so to speak. They drank it using ornate, beautifully crafted vessels made out of precious materials. These elaborate containers, like their counterparts in the world of the Maya, symbolized status and wealth. The process of making chocolate remained unchanged until the mid 1700s when the burgeoning Industrial Revolution changed the course of history for this sweet, wonderful treat and its many adoring fans.
It changed form, the tricky little thing called chocolate. Now it was no longer a beverage; it was hard and was eaten and savored like fine pastry. New machinery could now create solid chocolate, and if that wasnt bad enough, mass produce it as well. By producing it in such tremendous quantities, the candy could be bought quite cheaply, making it available to the general public (whose love of tooth decay far excelled their royal peers).
One of the most important innovations wrought by the Industrial Revolution was the invention of the cocoa press. (No, this was not a radical, elitist newspaper for chocolate lovers.) Invented in 1828 by the Dutch chemist, Conraad Van Houten, this machine squeezed out cocoa butter and thus made cocoa both more consistent and cheaper to produce. In 1875, Daniel Peter and Henri Nestle teamed up to introduce condensed milk to chocolate. This "milk chocolate" became immensely popular.
Slavery continued for more than two centuries and was not abolished in all countries until 1888. The need for labor to meet the enormous and ever growing demands of sugar and chocolate production continued unabated, and in many tropical countries, deplorable labor conditions prevailed even long after the yoke of slavery was technically removed. In America there were those who opposed these terrible conditions and in 1910, chocolate manufacturer, William Cadbury, invited several English and American chocolate companies to join him in a boycott against buying cacao from those plantations characterized by harsh working conditions. In that same year, a United States Congressional hearing resulted in a formal ban on any cacao produced by the slave labor from these plantations.
New technologies made chocolate available to everyone, and chocolate began to appear not only as a candy bar, but also as an ingredient in other confectionary concoctions, such as cakes, pastries and sorbets. Advertising advanced chocolate to something all people, but particularly women and children craved at every sweet subliminal turn in their every day lives. Breakfast chocolate became very popular and nibbling on chocolate bars was encouraged as a way to sustain energy (even though one cannot get enough energy to run faster than Old Mr. Tooth Decay).
It was the armed forces that helped spread the love of chocolate across the globe. The trend began in the late 19th century when Queen Victoria sent gifts of chocolate to her soldiers for Christmas. The popularity of candy bars literally skyrocketed after World War I when chocolate was included in the rations of every enlisted American soldier. By 1930, there were almost 40,000 different kinds of chocolate.
Chocolate has expanded into other unexpected fields as well. Cocoa butter is used in cosmetics and ointments and even as a coating for pills. Theobromine, a chemical found in chocolate, enlarges blood vessels and is utilized to treat high blood pressure. Chocolate also plays a part in celebrations that are associated with religious holidays, especially Easter, Hanukkah and Christmas.
Today there are still a few manufacturers who own their own cacao farms, but the European and American plantations are gone. Independent farmers or cooperative groups from Africa and Indonesia produce most of the worlds chocolate supply. While machines may speed up production, cacao is still grown by hand and manufacturers must still purchase cacao from the farmers who tend, harvest, ferment, dry and pack the seeds.
So on this Valentines Day marking all the worlds lovers, consider a box of this formidable treat as a gift worthy of the occasion. Its hard to miss and even if the receivee is diabetic, some of the sugarless versions of chocolate on todays market are just as fabulous. In short, chocolate always wins because how could it possibly lose? So make the object of your affection
Long live chocolate and lovers everywhere!
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Don't miss this excellent book:
Confections and Treats to Create and Savor
by Michael Recchiuti, Fran Gage, Maren Caruso (Photographer)
Opening with a complete discussion of chocolate from bean to bar, this elegant array of recipes (more than 60), and ideas and flavors will bowl over every reader. The main author is Michael Recchiuti, a San Franciscan called the Picasso of Chocolatiers, and his cohort, Fran Gage, who once owned a locally esteemed patisserie and now writes for national gourmet-type publications. A must for all chocloate lovers.
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