The History of Chocolate

Chocolates by Antica Dolceria Bonajuto (1880) of Modica, Sicily, Italy—Makers of the World’s Most Masculine, Authentic Chocolates!

Overview

It is difficult to conceive of Old World cuisine before its encounter with that of the New World in 1492:  no tomatoes for pizza; no potatoes for vichyssoise; no pineapples for piña colada; no corn for polenta; no chili peppers for salsa; no vanilla for ice cream; and no chocolate for chocolates. But of all the flavors of the known world—Old and New combined—chocolate is widely regarded as the most craved, masculine, and sexy of them all.

If there is a manly food, it is decidedly chocolate.  Admittedly, cucumbers, in obvious and subliminal ways, can conjure images of masculinity.  And there are men who are said to become wildly aroused by the mere sight of mussels, let alone eating them out.  But when it comes to men’s lifestyle, chocolates win “sexiest masculine food,” bar none. Valentine’s Day, the sexiest day of the year, has become synonymous with chocolates. (Somehow, presenting a lover with a platter filled with firm cucumbers or a bowl brimming with mussels on February 14th does not equate to “sexy.”) And many a man can attest to the benefits—actual, collateral, and then, hopefully, horizontal—of presenting a boxful of chocolates to a lover.

Despite its familiarity and ubiquity, however, many of chocolate’s devoted devourers have little or no idea whence the delicacy is derived.  Certainly, God could easily have made a chocolate tree that would each year bear bars of dark and milk chocolates.  But He did not. And had He, it is likely that chocolate—not the apple—would have been declared the Forbidden Fruit.

“Cocoa” means “bitter water” in the ancient Aztec language. Theobroma cacao, the botanical name for the species that grows the fruit, the seeds of which are processed into precious chocolate, is a tree that grows to approximately the size of an apple tree and is native to Meso-America.  Theobroma cacao can only grow in the region 20 degrees north and south of the Equator. Each tree bears about 60 pods per year, the pods taking about five months to mature.  Each pod contains approximately 40 cocoa seeds, called cocoa “beans,” yielding enough chocolate for about two standard-sized chocolate bars or seven cups of chocolate drink.

Coco bean pods are beautiful to behold. About nine inches long and with a circumference of about 11 inches at the center, the pods, which grow attached to the trunk and branches of the tree (as opposed to hanging from branches like many other fruits), are oval-shaped but with ends tapered to a blunt point. Convex grooves running lengthwise along the waxy-surfaced pod which, when ripe, ranges in color from golden yellow to claret, give the fruit the appearance of a wood-turner’s finial more so than a fruit crafted by the hand of nature.  When cut open—usually with the machetes with which the pods are hand-harvested—about 40 seeds, approximately the size of the kernel of a Brazil nut, are revealed.  Each seed is covered in a white, sweet-sour, fruity pulp that may be enjoyably eaten.  But despite the tasty pulp, it is the bitter kernel of the seeds embraced by that palatable pulp that is prized the world over. According to 2012 figures, chocolate was an 83-billion-dollar industry ($13 billion in the United States alone), and chocolate was declared the most popular flavor in the United States.

But to get from the mundane-looking cocoa beans to the product that is at once synonymous with “sexy,” “decadent,” and “luxurious” requires several steps.  The fruits are harvested when ripe, and the seeds, covered in their white pulp, are removed from the pods. The fresh seeds, whitish in color, still covered in pulp, are then placed into shallow wooden boxes, covered with banana leaves, and left to ferment.  After the fermentation process, which is said to enhance the flavor of the seeds and serves to transform their color to brown, the seeds are sun-dried for about one week, a process which causes the seeds to lose about 50 percent of their size.  The dried seeds are then roasted, then “winnowed,” a process that causes the husk of each seed to be removed. The seeds are then ground.  But because of their high fat-content, rather than grinding into a powder, they become a thick, rich liquid called “cocoa liquor.”  The cocoa liquor is then allowed to form into a solid, which is called “cocoa mass.” The cocoa mass is then sold to chocolatiers all over the world, each adding a desired amount of sugar, powdered milk, vanilla, salt, etc., to make the chocolates that are enjoyed by people all over the world. [Alternatively, the dried beans are sold to chocolatiers for further processing.]  Generally, the higher the chocolate-content, the more expensive the product. [“White chocolate” has no chocolate content; instead, it is made from the fat-content, called cocoa butter, of the seeds.]

The History of Chocolate

Chocolate as it is known today is not the chocolate as it first appears in the historical record, where its first usage was to produce a wine made from the fruit’s pulp; imbibed as a bitter ritual concoction flavored with peppers; taken as a medicine; and indulged as an aphrodisiac by the Meso-American peoples from as early as 4000 B.C.E. In some cultures, it was reserved for royalty and the nobility; and the seeds were so regarded by the Aztecs that they were used as currency and even counterfeited.

It is said that Columbus was introduced to the drink during his travels to the New World at the end of the 15th century and into the early years of the 16th but was not impressed.  But it was when Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés invaded the Aztec king Montezuma at Tenochtitlan, Mexico, that Europe had its first significant encounter with chocolate.  Instead of mixing water with the pulp then allowing the mixture to ferment, thereby producing a cocoa-derived wine with an alcohol content of approximately 10% by volume, in Montezuma’s Mexico, the tradition was to grind the cocoa beans, thereafter adding hot capsicums to make a bitter, spicy drink. One account claims that Montezuma, who regarded the drink as an aphrodisiac, once drank 50 golden cupfuls of the precious liquid.

When Cortés introduced the drink to Spain in 1519, it was immediately decided that its flavor would be more suitable for European tastes if sweetened with sugar or honey and flavored with vanilla, for example.

For over 100 years, chocolate remained a court secret of Spain, where it was originally, in its bitter form, used as a medicine before being later consumed as a sweetened drink, so much so that a silver service was designed especially for serving cocoa.

But it was in 1660 when Spanish princess Maria Teresa married French king Louis XIV that chocolate began its spread across Europe.  By the middle of the 1700s, chocolate had become popular in the American colony, especially after it became a drink-of-preference after the Boston Tea Party in 1776. [Coffee, the other alternative, was more expensive than cocoa since shipping costs for coffee were significantly higher due to the far distances—at the time from as far away as East Africa and Arabia—from which coffee was imported. ]

In 1828 Dutchman Conrad van Houten invented the cocoa press, a device that extracts the cocoa butter from the “cocoa liquor,” leaving pure, powdered chocolate.  But one of the greatest contributions to chocolate taking its place as one of the world’s favorite flavors was the invention of the chocolate bar in 1847 by Joseph Fry.  By first removing the cocoa butter then adding only a desired amount back into the pure chocolate, Fry invented a solid form of chocolate that could be eaten rather than only drunk.  [The melting-point of the typical commercially available chocolate is body temperature.  But by manipulating the overall percentage of cocoa butter and eggs whites, chocolates with different melting-points can be manufactured. ] Then in 1875, Daniel Peter invented “milk chocolate” when he decided to add powdered milk to chocolate.

Though native to the tropical New World, today, Africa’s Ivory Coast produces 40% of the world’s chocolate.  And many of the regions where the labor-intensive crop is grown have been accused of utilizing child and slave labor to harvest the beans.  It is said that approximately two million children toil in the world’s cocoa plantations.

How chocolate is consumed has evolved over the years.  But since the mid-1800s, when the concept of edible—rather than only drinkable—chocolate emerged, one manufacturer has maintained the old ways of making edible chocolate:  Antica Dolceria Bonajuto ( www.Bonajuto.it ) of the city of Modica, in Sicily, Italy.

Over the course of its long history, Sicily has been conquered and colonized by many peoples, including the Spanish.  So, when the Spaniards brought chocolate-making to Europe, Sicily was a beneficiary of that coveted knowledge.

Involved in the confections business since the 1820s, Modica’s Bonajuto family opened their dolceria in 1880; and since that fateful day, six generations of the family have perfected their product, which is today widely regarded as the world’s most authentic, sexy, and masculine chocolate. But such accolades are not a novelty for Bonajuto:  Over 100 years ago, in 1911, the family’s chocolate received national and international acclaim when it won the gold medal at the International Agricultural Industry Exposition in Rome. And innovation, tempered by tradition, remains the company’s guidepost.

The primary reason for the chocolate’s esteem is its use of only the finest chocolate beans and the utilization of old, coupled with new, production methods:  To the extent possible, the chocolate is still handmade by beautifully bronzed Sicilians using the once-nearly extinct cold-processed method.  The rich, almost-black chocolate, which is studded, diamond-like, with sugar crystals that do not dissolve during the cold-processing, is known as “The Black Gold of Modica.” And today, Antica Bonajuto Dolceria is considered the “ambassador of Modica chocolate.”

 

 

 

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