by K.B. Owen
With the decadence of Mardi Gras upon us (and the sugar-coma of Valentine’s Day fresh in our minds), a post solely dedicated to chocolate seemed appropriate. Our fascination with this particular food item is older than you might think. Enjoy!
It’s hard to imagine a world without chocolate, isn’t it? But how and when did folks first discover it? Was it always the sweet dessert we know it to be?
The beginnings: Mesoamerica (early central Americas)
Chocolate was initially consumed in beverage form. Some scholars put its use as far back as the Olmecs (1500-400 BCE), even earlier than the generally-acknowledged Mayans (250-900 CE), and Aztecs (14th CE). Both Mayans and Aztecs used it in their sacred rituals – including cheering up sacrifice victims too depressed to dance in their own pre-sacrifice “celebrations.”
In fact, the Aztecs valued cacao beans as currency. According to early documents, three cacao beans could get you a turkey egg (source: Cornell University). Cacao wafers were also issued to soldiers, to be dissolved into beverage form when needed. It was considered fortifying on long campaigns.
In their travels/take-overs, Spanish Conquistadors were introduced to chocolate (although Cortez considered it a “bitter drink for pigs”) and brought it back to Spain. Once modifications were made, with the addition of sweeteners, vanilla, and other flavorings more familiar to the European palate, the beverage became popular among the wealthy class in Spain. It was also considered somewhat medicinal in nature. But it wasn’t until the 17th century that it seemed to catch on throughout Europe.
The 19th century: chocolate changes from beverage to candy
We have the Swiss and the Dutch to thank for developing processes whereby the fat content of chocolate was reduced (and some of it added back, in the form of cocoa butter), and the resulting product could be molded more easily into bars and discs. At first, this was intended to make it easier to dissolve into water or milk as a beverage, but the smooth, aromatic sensation of eating the resulting solid form of the chocolate made it quickly appealing.
We also have the British to thank for passing the first legislative standards for chocolate in 1860, which kept commonly-used adulterations such as brick dust (I kid you not) out of our chocolate!
Ghirardelli, Guittard, Cadbury, Lindt, Hershey, and Nestle (who invented Milk Chocolate) – all were chocolate makers who furthered the quality of chocolate in the 19th century, through various mechanical processes. The sources below have more info about them, along with other fascinating facts. Check them out!
Chocolate – food of the gods (Cornell University)
Smithsonian: A Brief History of Chocolate
In the spirit of Mardi Gras and chocolate decadence, here’s a favorite chocolate recipe of mine. It’s a cross between cocktail and decadent dessert (even reading about it may be fattening, LOL). My hubby made them for a murder mystery party we hosted a while back, and they were a big hit:
MUDSLIDE (makes 1)
from the Bartender’s Pocket Guide
1 oz Kahlua
1 oz vodka
1 oz Bailey’s Irish Cream
2 scoops vanilla ice cream
1 Oreo cookie
Directions: Blend the first 5 ingredients until smooth. Circle a drizzle of chocolate syrup inside a large parfait glass. Pour in the blended ingredients and top with whipped cream and another drizzle of chocolate syrup.
A special salute to the passing of Italian confectioner Michele Ferrero, son of the inventor of Nutella, Pietro Ferrero. Michele coined the term “Nutella” for the spread his father concocted to get more mileage from the scarce cocoa available (there was a shortage during WWII). The company is also responsible for Tic-Tacs and Ferrero-Rocher truffles (among other products). Ironically, or fittingly, he passed away on Valentine’s Day, the holiday best known for chocolate.
What are your favorite forms of chocolate, or do you think chocolate is wa-a-ay too fussed over? I’d love to hear from you!
Posted by Kathy Owen (aka K.B. Owen). Kathy is a
recovering former English professor with a PhD in 19th century British literature. She is currently raising three boys and working on Book 4 in the Concordia Wells series of historical cozy mysteries.
We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.
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Nancy LevineFebruary 17, 2015 at 4:27 am
Thanks for the informative post. In elementary school, we put on a play about Cortez and the Aztecs, but nobody mentioned chocolate. Someone brought Nutella and Cool Whip and dipped strawberries in it for a Food Day we had at work last year–love Nutella.
Dark chocolate and white chocolate are my faves. Last weekend I read “Desiring Lady Caro” and the hero and heroine eat a lot of chocolate desserts so I have been craving it ever since.
K.B. OwenFebruary 17, 2015 at 9:03 am
Hi Nancy! How cool would it have been for you as an elementary school kid to learn that the Aztecs used chocolate? I’ll bet that would have made a big impression.
Hope you get a chance to give in to your chocolate craving today! Thanks for stopping by.
Nancy LevineFebruary 17, 2015 at 5:00 pm
That would have been cool–I might be able to work it into a story. I’m having some cookies and cream ice cream for dessert tonight and I’m writing about a dinner party with chocolate cake for dessert. That should satisfy me until tomorrow when (hopefully) I’ll go to the grocery if it doesn’t snow again.
K.B. OwenFebruary 17, 2015 at 6:49 pm
I’m all for working chocolate into a story!
Happy “Donut Day”!February 17, 2015 at 5:20 am
[…] at Misterio Press today, talking about another sugar-and-fat-laden treat: chocolate. Specifically, a brief history of chocolate. Did you know there had to be a regulation to keep brick dust out of chocolate? I know, crazy, […]
shannon espositoFebruary 17, 2015 at 9:35 am
Chocolate should be a food group. Cocoa is actually a health food, it has flavanoids and antioxidants that help everything from regulating blood sugar to preventing heart disease. I actually put cocoa nibs in my morning smoothie everyday. Unfortunately, we’ve ruined the health benefits by adding processed sugar to everything chocolate.
K.B. OwenFebruary 17, 2015 at 6:46 pm
Very true, Shannon! Cocoa nibs, eh? I’ll have to look into that…
Kirsten WeissFebruary 17, 2015 at 1:44 pm
I’m just two ingredients short of a mudslide. Off to the store this weekend!
K.B. OwenFebruary 17, 2015 at 6:47 pm
Kassandra LambFebruary 17, 2015 at 4:11 pm
Love this post! And I totally get how cocao beans would be used for currency. Can’t think of much that is more valuable. 😉
K.B. OwenFebruary 17, 2015 at 6:48 pm
Hand me the chocolate bar, and nobody gets hurt… 😉
Vinnie HansenFebruary 17, 2015 at 7:49 pm
I’m a confirmed chocoholic–sounds like maybe we all are. I consume 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate (70%) with almonds every day. 🙂
K.B. OwenFebruary 17, 2015 at 8:18 pm
Sounds like a good diet plan to me, Vinnie! 😉
Kassandra LambFebruary 17, 2015 at 9:13 pm
Me too, Vinnie! Although the almonds are optional. As Shannon said, it’s good for you!
Jennifer Jensen (@jenjensen2)February 18, 2015 at 6:15 pm
Love my chocolate, currently finding ways to eat other things so I still have room for it on my Weight Watchers eating plan
Two thoughts: Sorry, Shannon, but I LIKE my chocolate with sweeteners! Although I do prefer dark chocolate, with other things mixed in. Also, brick dust? Eww – way to destroy chocolate, folks!
Thanks for a fun post, Kathy.
Kassandra LambFebruary 19, 2015 at 11:43 am
lol…Chocolate would have indeed tasted quite “medicinal” without the sweeteners.
I can totally relate, Jennifer. I’ve been working on losing some pounds for over a year now (slow and steady). I allow myself 2 to 4 Dove dark chocolate bite-sized pieces a day. Hmm, may go get me some now. 🙂
K.B. OwenFebruary 19, 2015 at 2:25 pm
Glad you liked it, Jennifer! Good for you for putting chocolate at the front of the menu. That’s my approach, for sure! Although I did give up junk food for Lent. That includes candy, but not chocolate-flavored protein bars…
Karen McFarlandFebruary 19, 2015 at 9:57 pm
Mmm, chocolate. Who doesn’t love it. It’s addictive, isn’t it? Actually I think it’s the sugar. lol. But I like dark organic raw 85% cacao. It’s the best. And it’s the closest to its natural form with all the antioxidants. Yes, I’m a health nut. But I love that I can combine health and chocolate together. That way there’s less guilt. lol. Bon Appetite! 🙂
K.B. OwenFebruary 21, 2015 at 2:43 pm
I never heard of raw cacao, Karen. See how you are giving me an education…how is it different than regular cacao? I like how you combine chocolate and healthy stuff! 🙂
Myndi ShaferFebruary 23, 2015 at 9:51 am
This was an awesome post. Love me some chocolate!
K.B. OwenFebruary 23, 2015 at 9:59 am
Thanks, Myndi! It’s hard to go wrong with chocolate, isn’t it? 😉