History of Chocolate
For every child and even most adults, chocolate is a much sought-after treat. Despite threats of ‘It will rot your teeth’ adults can never put children off chocolate. But do you know how chocolate came into being?
Did you know that chocolate dates back to 1900 BC? The cacao tree from which chocolate is made out of is native to Mesoamerica. Mesoamerica is an area stretching from modern day central Mexico to Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and northern Costa Rica.
It is said that various people from Mesoamerica such as the ancient Mokaya people, fermented, roasted and ground cocoa beans to make chocolaty drinks. But unlike today’s various chocolate drinks that we enjoy, back then chocolate was served as a bitter, frothy liquid, mixed with spices such as chilies, wine or corn puree. It is said that the origins of the word chocolate probably comes from the Classical Nahuatl word xocolātl which means bitter water, and entered the English language from Spanish.
Despite being around since 1900 BC, the rest of the world, particularly the Europeans only got wind of this wonderful treat in the 16th century. It was the Spanish conquistador that first got to know of Chocolate.
Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés may have been the first European to encounter chocolate when he observed it in the court of Montezuma in the 16th century. Hernán Cortés led an expedition bringing large portions of mainland Mexico under the rule of the King of Castile in the early 16th century. Historian Antonio de Solís noted the daily intake of chocolate by Montezuma the ruler of Tenochtitlan in 1685.
After the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, chocolate was imported to Europe thus introducing it to whole world. There, it quickly became a favorite. It was still served as a beverage, but the Spanish added sugar or honey to counteract the natural bitterness perhaps making it more similar to the yummy chocolate drinks of today.
Cacao plantations spread, as the English, Dutch and French colonized and planted. However, sadly this new craze for chocolate brought with it a thriving slave market, as between the early 17th and late 19th centuries the laborious and slow processing of the cacao bean was manual and cacao production was often the work of poor wage laborers and African slaves. Chocolate remained a treat for the elite and the wealthy until the arrival of the Industrial Revolution which brought steam-powered engines to speed the processing of the bean and made it possible to mass produce chocolate.
As the processes for chocolate making became more efficient, new techniques and approaches revolutionized the texture and flavor. In 1815, Dutch chemist Coenraad Van Houten introduced alkaline salts to chocolate, which reduced its bitterness.
A few years thereafter, in 1828, he created a press to remove about half the natural fat from chocolate liquor, which made chocolate both cheaper to produce and more consistent in quality. This innovation introduced the modern era of chocolate. Known as “dutch cocoa”, this machine-pressed chocolate was instrumental in the transformation of chocolate to its solid form when in 1847 Joseph Fry learned to make chocolate moldable by adding back melted cacao butter. Milk had sometimes been used as an addition to chocolate beverages since the mid-17th century, but in 1875 Daniel Peter invented milk chocolate by mixing a powdered milk developed by Henri Nestlé with the liquor. In 1879, the texture and taste of chocolate was further improved when Rudolphe Lindt invented the conching machine.
Besides Nestlé, several chocolate companies had their start in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Cadbury was manufacturing boxed chocolates in England by 1868. In 1893, Milton S. Hershey purchased chocolate processing equipment at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and soon began the career of Hershey’s chocolates with chocolate-coated caramels.
From the companies in existence today, the Edna Chocolates Company is one of the oldest chocolate manufacturers in Sri Lanka. Founded in 1952, by its founder the late EBR Wimaladasa and his wife, the company started manufacturing Chocolates in Mawanella under the name and style EDNA CORPORATION. Interestingly the name Edna came about from the first letters of his name and his wife Nalini. The business commenced operations with the manufacturing of confectionery and supplying engineering components to small industries.
Today Edna not only makes yummy chocolates for us,but also they are also exported to Bangladesh, Nepal, India, South East Asia and other countries. The company also has the largest Cocoa processing plant in Sri Lanka, which exports its finished products: Cocoa-liquor and Cocoa-butter to Cadbury India Ltd.
Is chocolate more healthy than fruit?
With Valentine’s Day approaching, you might find more chocolate around the house. It turns out, that tempting treat might not be such a bad snack.
That’s according to a recent study released in the Chemistry Central Journal, which says chocolate might be a more health option than fruit.
The study says that dark chocolate and cocoa have more anti-oxidant capacity than fruit juice, and also more heart healthy flavanols and polyphenol.
Cocoa beans are even considered a “super fruit,” the study says, with more antioxidant capacity than blueberries, cranberries and pomegranate powder on a per gram basis.
Hearing about the study was welcomed news for chocolate lovers, and the search terms "chocolate more healthy than fruit" have surged in Yahoo! searches this week.
But be careful of completely substituting chocolate for fruit. After all, the study was conducted by Hersheys.
Mayan farmers cash in on world's growing appetite for specialty chocolate
By Joshua Berman
After fermenting and drying the cacao seeds, the next step is to remove the shells by hand.
Belize's remote southern Toledo region doesn't make it onto many tourist itineraries, but it was at the top of mine this summer. The guidebook I write was due for an update, and I was eager to check out reports of chocolate tours and hands-on lessons offered at farms spread across Toledo's lush hills and valleys. My wife and mother-in-law didn't take much persuading.
In San Felipe, a village of about 65 homes, we meet up with Cyrila Cho, whose family has been farming chocolate for generations. She quickly disappears among the cacao trees and emerges with an oblong yellow pod from a trunk. She splits it open with the whack of a club and presents me with the goo-covered seeds. I imitate her by removing one, placing it in my mouth, sucking off the sweet-tart pulp, then spitting the seed to the ground. The pulp doesn't taste at all like chocolate, which is made from the seed.
Cyrila leads us into her cramped concrete kitchen, where a pile of dried, roasted, and peeled cacao beans lies on an old grinding stone. "With this matate I raised six children," she says, as she leans into the stone with all her weight. The beans shatter and mix with the wild vanilla, allspice, and sugar she has added. A savory odor lingers in the air.
The Chos have found a way to connect ancient cacao farming with the modern craze for quality, fair-trade products. Their five-hour chocolate tour begins with a visit to son Juan's organic cacao farm. He sells to the Toledo Cacao Growers Association, a nonprofit coalition of about a thousand small farms that sells to acclaimed chocolatier Green & Black's. The tour then moves to Cyrila's home, where she and her daughter lead a Mayan chocolate-making session.
Just down the road, on the banks of the Moho River, the Cotton Tree Lodge produces its own brand of chocolate. The one-room, 100-bar-a-day operation has refrigerators and special chocolate-blending ("conching") machines powered in part by solar panels. Cotton Tree runs weeklong chocolate packages and day trips that give guests a chance to tour a nearby cacao farm before heading to Cyrila's to peel toasted cacao beans while sipping on pinnul, a traditional cacao-and-corn drink.
The work is slow going. My wife, my mother-in-law, and I need more than 30 minutes to peel enough beans to be ground into a single bar of chocolate. Afterwards, we take turns on Cyrila's matate until the oil of the seeds adds a shiny luster to the brown paste. When it's sufficiently creamy, she will pour the thick substance into molds and set the bars out to harden. But we've got to press on. We buy some previously made chocolate and cocoa powder, say goodbye to Cyrila and her family, and continue down the trail.
Chocoholics, take note
Toledo is about a 50-minute plane ride from Belize City. The alternative, a roughly five-hour drive, isn't bad now that the Southern Highway has been improved. The final nine-mile stretch of dirt is being paved, and daily express bus service is offered on school buses painted with Rasta colors based in Punta Gorda.
The Annual Cacao Fest each spring (May) celebrates all things chocolate by offering a host of local products—from cupcakes and kisses to cacao wine and chocolate cocktails—as well as numerous cultural events.
The Chocolate Tour at Cyrila Cho's includes a traditional caldo (stew) lunch and hot chocolate (011-501/663-9632, email@example.com, five-hour tour $60).
Nature's Way Guest House offers eclectic wooden rooms with a fan and shared bath (one room has a private bath). This is Punta Gorda's best backpacker option, with its own links to cacao farmers and Mayan villages (011-501/702-2119, firstname.lastname@example.org, double from $17).
Hickatee Cottages is an award-winning, green bed-and-breakfast almost two miles outside Punta Gorda, right up against the jungle (hickatee.com, cottage from $75).
Coral House Inn, on the highest point of Punta Gorda's shoreline, has four rooms overlooking the Caribbean, a small pool, and a bar area (coralhouseinn.net, double from $83).
Cotton Tree Lodge hosts day tours year-round ($79) and two Chocolate Week packages annually—one coinciding with Valentine's Day, the other with Cacao Fest in May. The weeklong packages cover accommodations, meals, cooking classes, dessert making, background on the Fair Trade certification process, and airport transfers (cottontreelodge.com, $1,365). The tree house-like accommodations start at $170 per person per night, with a day tour, all meals, and airport transfers included.
Joshua Berman is the author of "Moon Handbooks Belize".