Maybe it's because it's getting near to the end of the world (thank you very much to the Mayan calendar carver who needed a toilet break, took a wrong turn, ended up as a human sacrifice and...well, you know the rest) or perhaps it's just because it's coming up to Christmas, but my mind is currently set on visions of my favourite things. Obviously one of them is books and 2013 is going to be fab since Mr. Stephen King has not one but two new books coming out (cue happy dance) - presuming we all survive the whole predicted world ending thing of course. Since I'm currently not aware of any chocolate books being currently available and since I pretty much talk non-stop about books here, I thought I'd shake things up a bit and talk about...yep...chocolate.
For the majority of us, the word ‘chocolate’ brings to mind a bar of sweet deliciousness, a luxurious box of mixed centres or maybe even a biscuit enrobed in a thick blanket of the stuff. Close your eyes, whisper ‘chocolate’ to your subconscious and you will find yourself salivating in anticipation of a sweet treat.
If pressed (and if we managed to stay awake during school history lessons), several of us could probably point out a cacao plant and make a decent stab of guessing which European country it was first introduced to (Spain) and perhaps even by whom (Christopher Columbus).
Few of us, while munching a few squares of our favourite calorific indulgence, know that the refined and processed bar we hold in our hands is a descendant of an alcoholic beverage produced from the sweet pulp of the cacao fruit by an enterprising Honduran around 1400 BC.
Chocolate has always been highly prized – the cacao bean was even used as currency by the Aztecs while also being the key ingredient in their bitter spicy beverage called xocolātl. The Aztecs associated cacao with their goddess of fertility, Xochiquetzal. None of the ancient Aztecs would be at all surprised that modern courting couples exchange gifts of chocolate!
As you can see, chocolate’s origins have little to do with hard bars and even less to do with a sweet taste. Before the 1700s, chocolate tended to be a drink, and a dark, bitter one at that. We can thank a notable physician, Hans Sloane, for pushing chocolate evolution forward. In 1689, in Jamaica, he developed the recipe for a milk chocolate drink which was initially used in apothecaries and which he later sold to the Cadbury brothers.
After the development of the first form of solid chocolate in Turin, a Dutchman, Johannes Van Houten, invented a method of removing the bitter taste. It is believed that an Englishman, Joseph Fry, made the first chocolate for eating in 1847, followed, in 1849 by the Cadbury brothers. Chocolate’s bid for global domination had begun.
Nowadays we are all aware of chocolate’s reputation for being a calorie laden, obesity inducing, guilty pleasure. However cocoa or dark chocolate is also known to have beneficial effects for the circulatory system and may also be a good brain stimulator and cough preventer. There is no proof that it has any kind of aphrodisiac effect, although a report by the BBC found that melting chocolate in your mouth produced more brain activity and a higher increase in heart rate than passionate kissing! (something women have known for years!)
So, this year, as you make the agonizing decision of which Christmas treat to eat first, you can stun your family and friends with a quick history of chocolate, safe in the knowledge that (so long as you don’t over-indulge too much) your brain is being stimulated, a nasty winter cough may be prevented and eating that piece of chocolate is possibly even better than snogging Channing Tatum! Enjoy!