Know your yummy chocolates | Sunday Observer

Know your yummy chocolates

Everyone loves to eat or drink chocolate in some form. And this delicious food has a long history going back many thousands of years.

Theobroma cacao is a tropical tree growing in the Amazon and Orinoco basins in South America. It is this tree that gives us cacao, beans. Its name means food of the gods, in Greek. These trees are widely spread from South Eastern Mexico to the Amazon.

Chocolate as a food was first used in Mesoamerica which is known today as Mexico. Historians and chocolate experts say that this could be as far back as hundreds of years ago. Cacao, the plant that gives us cocoa was first found here. The Olmec were one of the earliest civilizations here and they were the first to make cocoa into chocolate and use it as a food. They drank it during rituals and it was also used as a medicine.

Though we know chocolate as a food that can be eaten, for about 90 per cent of its history chocolate has been a drink, and in the early days, no sugar was added.

Today, the word cacao is used to refer to the cacao plant or to cacao beans before they are processed. Chocolate, to us, means products made from cacao beans like chocolate bars and slabs. Chocolate powder is known as cocoa.

People of the well known ancient South American civilisation Aztec likened chocolate to the brew or drink of gods. Their chocolate drink was a mix of roasted, ground cacao beans, chillie, water and cornmeal.

They poured it from one pot to another so that the chocolate drink became thick and foamy. The Aztecs named their cacao drink ‘xocolatl’ meaning bitter water.

The Aztecs had a God whom they worshipped named Quetzalcoatl, and they believed that their chocolate drink was a gift from him. During the 15th century the Aztecs were using cocoa beans as money and were drinking chocolate before going into battle.

Spain was probably the first European country to which chocolate was introduced. It is believed that Christopher Columbus, the discoverer of the Americas had also discovered cacao and had brought back some beans. He had even discussed the possibility of doing a commercial business with the Spanish King and Queen, but they were uninterested.

Another historical story says that the explorer Hernando Cortes who travelled to the Americas was given a drink of chocolate by the Aztec Emperor. Montezuma. He liked it and brought cacao or cocoa seeds home to Spain in 1528. Initially, the Spanish too used chocolate as a drink but they added sugar and honey to take away the bitter taste of the chocolate drink. The Spanish kept their new drink a closely guarded secret for a long time.

Almost a century later, chocolate reached France. In 1615,King Louis XIII of France married Princess Anne of Austria (daughter of King Phillip III of Spain).

Since chocolate was already known in Spain the Princess brought it with her to the Royal Court of France to celebrate her marriage.

Soon after, the British discovered chocolate and it was served in special chocolate houses. Chocolate drinking became fashionable in many other European cities like Amsterdam in Holland.

Chocolate had become a fashionable drink all over Europe by the 17th century but was mainly drunk by the rich till the 1800s.

In 1828 a Dutch chocolate maker named Conrad J. Van Houten patented a chocolate press. He created an inexpensive method for pressing the fat from roasted cacao beans and making it into a fine cocoa powder. His product was called Dutch Cocoa. The chocolate brand Van Houten is recognised for its top class quality even today.

The cocoa tree with fruits. Yellow and green Cocoa pods grow on the tree, cacao plantation in a village.

It became easy to mix other ingredients with this fine cocoa powder to make solid chocolate like slabs and bars.

To Englishman, Joseph Fry, goes the credit for making the first chocolate bar in 1847. Cadbury, a little company started marketing boxes of chocolate candies in England in 1868. Nestle’s introduced milk chocolate to the market.

During the American Revolutionary War Soldiers’ rations included chocolate and it was also used to pay them instead of money.

Today, the American chocolate industry is valued at more than four billion dollars and it is estimated that an average American person eats at least half – a – pound of chocolate per month.

Today, many fascinating varieties of food are created with chocolate the world over.

Chocolate decorations and decorative chocolates are very popular too.

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