chocolates and cakes

Chocolate History

chocolate history:

A bar of delicious chocolate, the delectable confectionery, as we know it today, has a long and interesting history. It is, indeed, interesting to note that this scrumptious food, born in fields, is a product of the cacao tree (pronounced as Kah cow). It is believed to have been discovered almost 2000 years ago, in the tropical rainforests of the Americas.

The tree is extremely sensitive to harsh sunlight and needs shade, especially during the first couple of years of its life. With the reduction in rainforests, and the simultaneous increase in the demand for chocolate, scientists are exploring ways to cope with the crisis. The seeds of this tree, obtained from its pods, are processed into chocolate. Before cacao seeds began to be processed into chocolate, these held commercial value and were used as currency or as units of calculation.

The earliest origin of the chocolate is attributable to people living in Mexico and Central America who made a drink of crushed cacao seeds, blended with spices, to make a strong frothy drink. This beverage was extremely bitter as sugar had not been discovered yet. The consumers of this drink added other sweeteners to it.

chocolate was, initially, considered the Food of the Gods and was offered as their last meal during religious ceremonies. It was believed that the consumption of this sacred drink would lead to universal wisdom, omniscience and power. Mexican mythology goes as far as propagating the idea that this Food of the Gods, a gift for humankind, was transported to the earth, in the form of seeds, through the God of Air.

It was an extremely expensive commodity and out of the reach of the common man. Besides its godly powers, it was also considered to be an aphrodisiac. This notion was propagated because Kings drank an extra cup of this drink before the consummation of their marriage. No wonder, it is still a popular Valentines Day gift! It was also regarded as a potential ingredient in medicine, as a cure for dysentery, skin problems, fever, seizures and epileptic attacks. It is supposed to purify the blood as well as ease childbirth pains. This fact finds a place in modern medicine as well. Despite widespread medical beliefs, that chocolate is a major cause of acne, tooth decay and weight gain, modern science attributes commendable cardio protective properties to chocolate. It is believed that chocolate, especially the dark variety, is rich in flavonoids that lend antioxidant properties. Even the fat present in chocolate contains a large amount of oleic acid - a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat that is also found in olive oil. During World War II, the energy-giving property of chocolate was recognized and soldiers were given bars of chocolate to eat. This gave energy while they waited for their regular supply of rations. Today, it is a regular part of the US Army rations and also that of Astronauts.

The existence of this exotic sweet was unknown to the entire remaining world until Christopher Columbus triumphant discovery of America. He brought home, to Spain, some mementos of his visit. Among them were these cocoa beans that looked like almonds and failed to generate much interest. This was followed by Hernando Cortezs discovery of its commercial value. Cortez was a Spanish explorer who, during his conquest of Mexico, was introduced to this concoction. He did not find the drink palatable and made some alterations with the ingredients to suit the tastes of his countrymen. They decided to enhance the taste by sweetening it with cane sugar. The Spaniards also capitalized on the discovery of cinnamon, cardamom and vanilla. The drink immediately became the favorite of the Spaniards who utilized the opportunity of planting the cacao tree in their overseas colonies. This led to enormous prospects for lucrative trade.

The use of chocolate was kept a secret form the rest of the world for almost a century. The cocoa beans were hidden in Spanish monasteries and the formula for making chocolate was also kept a secret. Monks were entrusted with the task of grinding the beans and, probably, these monks were who let the secret out.

With the decline of Spanish power, their monopoly over the chocolate trade also ended. When the Spanish princess, Maria Theresa, married Louis XIV of France, it is believed that she gifted him a box of chocolates. This became symbolic of the marriage of chocolate within Spain and France. From here, the much-guarded secret spread to other parts of Europe.

With the advent of the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, various technological innovations changed the consistency, flavor and taste of the chocolate. The invention of the steam engine has a major hand in the grinding process of the seed. This led to mass production of chocolate. The Industrial Revolution also brought about breakthroughs in transportation facilities to facilitate transportation of the cocoa beans from the plantation field to the factory where mass production took place. Contrary to the earlier days, when chocolate consumption was accessible only to the ultra rich classes, now it came within the reach of people of all strata of society.

Earlier drinking chocolate, in the form of a beverage, was predominant. Eating chocolate became the fashion in 1674 when it was popularized, in the form of rolls and cakes, by a London coffeehouse. A Swiss, named Daniel, experimented for years before he hit upon a means to make chocolate for eating. He is the founder of the world-renowned Swiss chocolate firm Nestle. The well-known chocolate company, Cadbury, was founded in 1904. The famous triangular bar of nutty chocolate, Toblerone, came into existence in 1908.

Last, but not the least, a word of caution! The fact that modern Science and Medicine recognizes the relative benefits of chocolate does not mean that uncontrolled consumption of the same is warranted. Modern chocolates, including the nutty variety, are full of fat, hydrogenated oils and corn syrup. This makes the content of pure cocoa less than the desirable 20% thus making chocolates a less than desirable food item. While it is perfectly normal to enjoy a bar of chocolate, it is, by no means, advocated that its consumption be increased for healthy reasons. This is especially true in the current scenario where heart disease, diabetes and other lifestyle diseases, even amongst children, have become serious issues to contend with.