A History of Chocolate A Wiley Online Culinary Seminar with Timothy Moriarty
A History of Chocolate Discussion will focus on the history of chocolate,
from its origins in pre-Conquest America on through to the present, and the way
in which the cacao bean became the luxury it is today.
1. Have there been any attempts made to cultivate the cacao tree farther
north of the equator (i.e., here in the U.S.)?
We have heard of experiments in cross-breeding the three types of cacao trees
(producing the criollo bean, the forastero bean and the trinitario bean) to make
them more productive and pest-resistant. But no, so far, cacao trees thrive only
in geographical areas within 20 degrees (roughly 600 miles) north and south of
the equator. Only in these regions is there the necessary stable climate of heat
(temperatures that never fall below 68 degrees F), humidity, rainfall (between
70 and 90 inches a year), damp soil and heavy shade the trees require. Strictly
speaking, however, cacao *does* grow on U.S. soil -- in Hawaii, where the
Hawaiian Chocolate Company has been cultivating cacao for some ten years.
2. Given chocolate's roots in South America -- as I understand it -- how is
it that the parts of the world best known for chocolate products are generally
in Europe? Is there also a tradition of fine chocolate-making in South America
where the beans originate?
Way back in the 16th century, Europeans took the secret of chocolate making to
their own countries (Spain was first); it was Europeans who first sweetened
chocolate and flavored it in ways that appeal to our modern palates. Since then,
chocolate making has been an important part of the cultures of many of these
European countries -- obviously, the Swiss, the Belgians and the French, but
also the Germans and Italians, to some extent. It is a matter of tradition and
culture, but also of finance, and probably some secret techniques in blending,
roasting, etc. It is also a matter of western technology and strict adherence to
sanitary conditions. There are now some companies in South America that are
manufacturing their own chocolate. El Rey from Venezuela is the prime example;
the company makes an excellent chocolate. But truth be told, although El Rey has
been in existence for thirty or more years, it was not until management decided
to import European equipment, expertise, sanitary standards and techniques that
they produced a chocolate that was competitive on the world market.
3. How did mole evolve from early uses of chocolate? Isn't it fairly close to
the way the Aztec used to eat it, with peppers and such?
Most accounts of the invention of mole point to nuns in Puebla Mexico. Notified
at the last minute of an impending visit by an important personage, the nuns
took stock of all they had in the larder. They slaughtered a turkey and sauced
it with a combination of unsweetened chocolate, chilies, onion, nuts and sesame
seeds. And yes, this is close to the Aztec recipe for chocolate, which consisted
of pulverized, fermented, roasted cacao beans with water and flavored with
4. Is it true that chocolate can be a substitute for sex?
Ye Gods, no. Chocolate is a completely unacceptable substitute for sex or
hugging or family joshing or any other substantial emotional intimacy. HOWEVER!
Eating chocolate *can* be a very sensuous experience, and if no sex or hugging
or whatever is on the horizon, why, by all means, enjoy.
Chocolate has enjoyed a reputation as an aphrodisiac since those crazy
Conquistadores first laid eyes on the "pagan" ways of the Aztecs (who
did regard chocolate as a medicine, but probably not as an aphrodisiac). This
reputation positively flourished in the courts of the French kings of the 18th
century. The art and literature of the time is thick with erotic imagery in
connection with chocolate, partially propelled by the writings of the Marquis de
Sade, who mixed the erotic qualities of chocolate with its ability to disguise
poisons. Casanova, too, used chocolate (and champagne) as a means of seduction.
In the court of Louis XV, Madame de Pompadour took her chocolate with ambergris
to stimulate her desire for the king -- it was said that she was cold to him.
Madame du Barry was the opposite: she was reputed to be nymphomaniacal and
encouraged her lovers to drink chocolate in order to keep up with her.
Today, in our age of science, you will read articles in magazines that claim
that chocolate is an aphrodisiac based on studies from reputable universities.
Partially true. Scientists have isolated phenylethylamine (PEA); this is a
stimulant (found in small amounts in some foods, including chocolate, and also
found in the brain) that raises blood pressure and heart rate. A miniscule
amount of PEA is released by the brain at moments of emotional euphoria.
The problem is that there is no evidence that dietary PEA increases PEA in the
brain. So eating chocolate probably won't (physiologically) give a person that
feeling of euphoria. P.S.: Among the foods that contain more PEA than comparable
servings of chocolate are cheddar cheese, salami and pickled herring. A standard
serving of smoked salami, for example, contains more than four times the PEA of
your average chocolate bar.
5. Is there any history of chocolate in Asia? I can't recall ever coming
across any Chinese or Vietnamese recipe that calls for chocolate.
No, thus far, the dessert tradition of most Asian countries does not include
chocolate, but that is slowly changing. In the past few years, the people of
Japan have embraced chocolate in a big way, with their own huge celebration of
Valentine's Day. European and American companies are trying to find a way to
penetrate the market in China, either through imports or by building plants in
China, but the difficulties of doing business over there (so many trade
restrictions, bureaucratic entanglements, etc.), combined with the warm climate,
have prevented it. Which is all to the good: more chocolate for you and me.
Chocolate Passion Copyright: Tish Boyle, Timothy Moriarty, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
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