Jul 25, 2010

Chocolate, cocoa and cacao

Reading a news story today about a commodities trader who is busy cornering the world market on cacao, I decided to recount a brief history of chocolate from an article in the April 2007 issue of Art et Décoration.

Cacao is a New World plant. When the Spanish explorers first landed in Mexico in 1519, they were welcomed by Montezuma and the Aztecs as if they were gods and were served the 'drink of the gods' - hot chocolate made with water and spiked with plenty of hot pepper.
A decade later, in 1528, chocolate was finally imported into Spain, but by then, the drink had been modified to suit Spanish tastes. Hot pepper was no longer in the mixture; instead the drink was flavored with cane sugar and vanilla.
The taste for drinking chocolate spread across Europe as travelers and visitors to Spain took the cacao bean with them. In Italy, the Jesuits cornered the cocoa market and created new recipes for drinking hot chocolate, often flavoring the drink with lemon or jasmine.
There was one problem though. Chocolate was marketed as invigorating and an aphrodisiac, so was frowned upon by the Church elders. This ethical question was overcome as the hot drink gained in popularity across Europe.
When Anne of Austria (born and raised in Spain) married France's King Louis XIII, she brought the chocolate craze to the French court. The enjoyment of drinking hot chocolate received an additional boost in 1661 when the French Académie de médicine listed the curative values of chocolate. The first French chocolate shop opened in Bayonne in 1687.
By 1866, almost 200 years later, chocolate was officially listed as part of French pharmacological treatment. Luckily for us, modern medicine has also 'discovered' that dark chocolate has positive health benefits.
Below is a scanned image from the Art et Décoration article.

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