Chocolate History

History of Chocolate

  Chocolate through the Years

Chocolate, the delicacy that seems to have been around forever, is in fact quite a recent invention. A world without chocolate seems like a most tasteless place to live. But with only 500 years since its discovery and less than 200 years since mass production, humanity somehow survived without this sweet for centuries.

When Christopher Columbus first visited the New World, he encountered many new foods; potatoes, tomatoes, corn. Amidst these wondrous vegetables, he missed the fact that cocoa beans were even a food. Columbus noted that ‘cacao’ beans served as coins amongst the Guanache Indians, but not that they were consumed in any fashion.

Columbus’ son, Ferdinand, described the encounter in his diary. He writes of a large dugout canoe near an island off the coast of Honduras. The canoe, which Columbus and his crew promptly seized, was the largest native vessel the Spaniards had ever seen. It was “as long as a galley,” and was filled with local goods for trade – including cacao beans.

“They seemed to hold these almonds [referring to the cacao beans] at a great price; for when they were brought on board ship together with their goods, I observed that when any of these almonds fell, they all stooped to pick them up, as if an eye had fallen.”

On his fourth voyage to America in 1502, Columbus landed in what is now called Nicaragua. He was the first European to discover cocoa beans being used as currency. Records show that 400 cocoa beans equaled one Zontli, while 8000 beans equaled one Xiquipilli. When the Aztecs conquered tribes, they demanded their payment in cocoa! By subjugating the Chimimeken and the Mayas, the Aztecs strengthened their supremacy in Mexico. Records dating from 1200 show details of cocoa deliveries, imposed on all conquered tribes.

The Court of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella got its first look at the principal ingredient of chocolate when Columbus returned in triumph from America and laid before the Spanish throne a treasure trove of many strange and wonderful things. Among these were a few dark brown beans that looked like almonds and seemed most unpromising and didn’t get much attention. There were cocoa beans, today’s source of all our chocolate and cocoa.

It took another explorer from Spain, Hernando Cortez, to make the key realization. He and his men were fascinated by Montezuma’s custom of drinking ‘xocalatl’, (which means bitter water) made from crushed cocoa beans and cold water, whisked together. This bitter, unsweetened chocolate was consumed several times a day, from special gold beakers. In order to add some relief from the bitter flavor, vanilla or chili powder was added, sometimes sweetening it with honey. The Spanish mixed it with hazelnuts, almonds, or cinnamon.

The King and Queen never dreamed how important cocoa beans could be, and it remained for Hernando Cortez, the great Spanish explorer, to grasp the commercial possibilities of the New World offerings.

Hernando de Oviedo y Valdez, who went to America in 1513, as a member of Pedrarias Avila’s expedition, reports that he bought a slave for 100 cocoa beans. In the mid sixteenth century. Two hundred beans bought a turkey cock. One hundred beans was the daily wage of porter, and would buy a hen turkey or a rabbit (the price has really escalated in 30 years!) Three beans could be traded for a turkey egg, a new avocado, or a fish wrapped in maize husks. One bean bought a ripe avocado or a tomato.  In 1625, Cocoa Beans are Currency in Spain too: 200 small cocoa beans were valued at 1 Spanish real, or 4 cents.

At this time, the name of the drink changed to Chocolatl from the Mayan word xocoatl [chocolate] and the Aztec word for water, or warm liquid. During his conquest of Mexico in 1519, Hernando Cortez found the Aztec Indians using cocoa beans in the preparation of the royal drink of the realm, “chocolatl”, meaning warm liquid. In 1519, Emperor Montezuma, who reportedly drank 50 or more portions daily, served chocolatl to his Spanish guests in great golden goblets. Later, Cortez established a cocoa plantation in the name of Spain henceforth; “money” will be cultivated! It was the birth of what was to be a very profitable business.

In 1528 CortĂšs presented the Spanish King, Charles V with cocoa beans from the New World and the necessary tools for its preparation. For all its regal importance, however, Montezuma’s chocolatl was very bitter, and the Spaniards did not find it to their taste. To make the concoction more agreeable to Europeans, Cortez and his countrymen conceived of the idea of sweetening it with cane sugar.

While they took chocolatl back to Spain, the idea found favor and the drink underwent several more changes with newly discovered spices, such as nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and vanilla. Ultimately, someone decided the drink would taste better if served hot.

The new drink won friends, especially among the Spanish aristocracy. Spain wisely proceeded to plant cocoa in its overseas colonies, which gave birth to a very profitable business. Europe could not get enough of this sweet drink. Many countries established cacao-growing colonies in conquered countries in Africa and the Far East, and because of the huge amount of labour needed to maintain plantations, slavery quickly followed. In the Americas, the forced labour of the Native Americans in sugar and cocoa plantations, combined with exposure to European diseases their immune systems could not fight, led to the decimation of many tribes. The need for more slaves triggered mass importing of African slaves.

But while millions suffered for the sake of cocoa, Europe was just beginning to experiment with the drink.

Remarkably enough, the Spanish succeeded in keeping a secret the source of the drink – the beans – from the rest of Europe for nearly a hundred years. So much so that when the British captured a Spanish vessel loaded with cocoa beans in 1579, the cargo was destroyed as useless.

Had it not been for the expulsion and forced conversion of Jews from the Iberian Peninsula in the late 15th century, chocolate as we know it today might not have become the most favored flavor in the world.

Benjamin d’Acosta de Andrade, a Portuguese “marrano” (secret Jew) who had settled on the island of Martinique in the French West Indies in about 1650, established the first cacao-processing plant. He then used his   connections–particularly his relatives in Amsterdam–to export cacao to Europe. Over time, he and other Jews became significant players in the cacao trade, angering their envious competitors, who convinced the French government to bar all Jews from Martinique. Relocating in the late 1600s to the Dutch colony of Curaçao, an island off the west coast of Venezuela, d’Acosta and other Jews reestablished their business, now shipping cacao grown in Venezuela to Amsterdam for chocolate production. In addition, they exported sugar and vanilla from South America.

  Chocolate Spreads to Europe

It was Jews that are credited with bringing chocolate to other European countries. It is a miserable story, full of conspiracy and tyranny. Spanish and Portuguese Jews, seeking refuge from persecution by the Inquisition in the seventeenth century, found asylum in the Atlantic port of Bayonne, in South West France, close to the Spanish border. They settled in Saint-Esprit, on the other side of the Ardour River, across from Bayonne. [Histoire des juifs de Bayonne, H LĂ©on, 1893]Although the Jews were afforded asylum, there were restrictions on land ownership, profession, residence and travel, and they were subjected to special taxes. They were required to leave the city every evening by sunset and return across the river to Saint-Esprit.

However, they brought with them the tools and expert knowledge of transforming cocoa into chocolate, together with their contacts in the New World. They were the only experts in this new craft, and although they were precluded from retail commerce, they went to make chocolate at the shops of Bayonnais grocers and even took their tools to the homes of the rich.

There was continuous tension between the Saint-Esprit Jewish community and municipal leaders and in 1602 Henry IV specifically charged the governors of the city of Bayonne to provide the Jews with protection.

The tools that these Jews brought to France had changed little from those of pre-Columbian Olmecs, Maya and Aztecs, grinding the roasted beans with a roller on a heated concave granite stone. This yielded a semi-liquid mass, to which sugar and spices were added, and which was then shaped by hand. Soon Bayonnais workers, following their example, learned to make chocolate, and their numbers steadily increased to the point that a new guild, that of chocolatiers, was constituted. The intention was to restrict the production of chocolate to members of the guild. Membership was obviously not open to Jews. Eventually, in 1767, the courts annulled the guild statutes, but it was too late because the Jews were already long ago pushed out of chocolate making by then. [Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate, S J Terrio, 2000]

It did not take long before chocolate was acclaimed throughout Europe as a delicious, health-giving food. In 1643, The French Court Embraces Chocolate: When the Spanish Princess Maria Theresa was betrothed to Louis XIV of France; she gave her fiancé an engagement gift of chocolate, packaged in an elegantly ornate chest. Chocolate was extremely popular with Louis XIV and the members of his Court at Versailles. Louis XIV, The Sun King as he was known, reigned for over 74 years [1643 to 1715] and is considered to be one of the greatest absolute monarchs. His foresight leads him to appoint Sieur David illou to manufacture and sell chocolate.

Chocolate drinking spread across the Channel to Great Britain, and again, Jews are credited with its introduction. A Jewish proprietress opened the earliest English coffeehouse in Oxford in 1650. [Talking of Tea, G Huxley, 1956] Six years later in 1656 Oliver Cromwell formally allowed Jews back into England, but they had begun arriving from Holland before then, bringing tea, coffee and chocolate drinking with them.

In 1655, Cromwell’s forces took the island of Jamaica from the Spaniards, and Jamaica became England’s main source for cocoa bean. In 1657 a man from France opens London’s first chocolate shop. Chocolate was considered a beverage for the elite class. Chocolate Houses became the trendy meeting places where the elite London society savored their new luxury. It was sold at the time for 10 to 15 shillings per pound.

The introduction of sugar to Europe would change the history of chocolate. With the notable exception of the Spanish, most Europeans disliked the bitter-flavored chocolate drink of the Aztecs. But when sugar became the key ingredient, the drink caught on throughout Europe. And the availability of vanilla, combined with sugar and cacao, piqued the creativity of pastry chefs throughout Europe. The bakers in Bayonne–many of them Portuguese Jews–would bake soufflĂ©-like cake rolls which were light as air. In Italy, Jewish bakers invented chocolate cakes known as tortes or tortas, using ground nuts instead of flour; and in Vienna, 16-year-old Franz Sacher created a rich, dense chocolate cake topped with apricot preserves and smooth chocolate glaze that would become world famous. With the demand for the ingredients of chocolate production ever growing, the Jews of Curaçao flourished–so much so that they were able to contribute some of their profits to the building, in 1762, of the oldest standing synagogue in the United States, the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island.

Consider this: had our Sephardic ancestors not sailed across the Atlantic in pursuit of religious freedom and capitalized on their contacts with fellow Jews who had found sanctuary in European port cities such as Amsterdam, Bayonne, and Livorno, the international chocolate industry might never have existed!

What our children drink in the morning before school was actually invented by a very educated man. In the late 1600s, Sir Hans Sloane, president of the Royal College of Physicians, introduced a new and brilliant idea: mixing the chocolate drink with milk for a lighter, smoother flavor. But chocolate milk hasn’t always been so widely available. Chocolate was an expensive import only the very rich could afford. Only once the Industrial Revolution got underway did chocolate become accessible to everyone.

The hand methods of manufacture used by small shops gave way in time to the mass production of chocolate. The transition was hastened by the advent of a perfected steam engine that mechanized the cocoa grinding process. By 1730, chocolate had dropped in price from three dollars or more per pound to within the financial reach of all.

In 1828 a Dutch chemist, Johannes Van Houten, invented a method of extracting the bitter tasting fat or “cocoa butter” from the roasted ground beans. This reduced the prices even further, his aim was to make the drink smoother and more palatable, however he unknowingly paved the way for chocolate as we know it.

Chocolate as we know it today first appeared in 1847 when Fry & Sons – founded by Dr. Joseph Fry in 1728 at Bristol, England – mixed Sugar with Cocoa Powder and Cocoa Butter to produce the worlds first solid “eating chocolate” through the development of fondant chocolate, a smooth and velvety variety that has almost completely replaced the old coarse grained chocolate which formerly dominated the world market.. Fry’s have now all but disappeared (taken over by Cadbury). Another development occurred in 1876 in Vevey, Switzerland, when Daniel Peter devised a way of adding milk to the chocolate, creating the product we enjoy today known as milk chocolate.

In 1879 Rodolphe Lindt of Berne, Switzerland, invented “conching”, a means of heating and rolling chocolate to refine it. After chocolate has been conched for 72 hours and has more cocoa butter added to it, chocolate becomes “fondant” and it melts in your mouth!

The personal chef to the Duke of Plesslis-Praslin in France watches as a panful of burnt sugar spills over a bowlful of almonds by accident. One taste and the Duke is absolutely delighted. In fact he’s so delighted, that he lends his name to this new confection and so, the “praslin” or “praline” comes into being. But it took Belgian chocolatiers to perfect this particular treat. In 1857, pharmacist Jean Neuhaus founded the first chocolate shop in Brussels. In 1912, his grandson, Jean Neuhaus Jr., filled a molded chocolate shell with a sweet nutty paste, creating the world’s first praline eventually turning any filled bite-size chocolate, or praline, into a Belgian cult item. Eventually, the word praline becomes synonymous with a particular type of Belgian confection featuring a molded shell of chocolate that is filled with creams, marzipan and caramels

Eight years later, Neuhaus’ wife created a box with flaps to layer the pralines in a protected container. So the classic ballotin was born.

With the Belgian Congo a ready source of cocoa beans, the chocolate industry took off. By 1930, Frans Callebaut, an owner of the Belgian Callebaut brand, produced fine covertures chocolate that was easily stored and transported. Today, Belgium is the world’s largest exporter of covertures, the melt-in-your-mouth coating chocolate used by top confectioners.

  Chocolate Comes To America

In the United States of America, the production of chocolate proceeded at a faster pace than anywhere else in the world. It was in the pre-revolutionary New England — 1765, to be exact — that the first chocolate factory was established.

Chocolate has gained so much importance since that time that any interruption in its supply would be keenly felt.

Even the military helped spread the love of chocolate. Queen Victoria got her soldiers hooked on chocolate when she began sending them gifts of this energizing and delicious candy for holidays in the late 1800s. By the end of World War I, chocolate was part of the rations of every United States soldier. Marketing and mass advertisements quickly made it a favourite treat, and by 1930, there were nearly 40,000 different kinds of chocolate.

During World War II, the U.S. government recognized chocolate’s role in the nourishment and group spirit of the Allied Armed Forces, so much so that it allocated valuable shipping space for the importation of cocoa beans. Many soldiers were thankful for the pocket chocolate bars that gave them the strength to carry on until more food rations could be obtained. Today, the U.S. Army D-rations include three 4-ounce chocolate bars. Chocolate has even been taken into space as part of the diet of U.S. astronauts.

  What Berochoh (jewish blessing for food).

One of the first controversies to engage our Poskim on the introduction of this new food was the question of the Berocho to be made on eating chocolate. After all, as the cocoa bean is a fruit that grows on a tree, cultivated specifically for the purpose of making chocolate, the Berochoh should be Ho’etz. On the other hand, the universally accepted custom is to make Shehakol. Rabbi Yitzchok Lampronti, writing some three hundred years ago, devoted over forty pages in his encyclopaedic work Pachad Yitzchok, under the heading “ciocolatto” as it was called in Italy, to a Teshuvo on this problem. The discussion centred around other fruits in liquid or crushed form, and as it was then still consumed mainly as a drink. His conclusion was that there remained a doubt and therefore Shehakol. Even though it is accepted practice to make Shehakol on chocolate, the above-mentioned uncertainty may still have relevance if another item is eaten at the same time, with a Brocho of Ho’etz. Some poskim state that it would be better to make the Shehakol on the chocolate first, to avoid a possible Berocho Levatolo.