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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Beyond the Book: Chocolate

Welcome to Beyond the Book. My name is Kara Cochrane. I was Elaine's heroine in Her Kind of Man. One thing my husband Ross loves is chocolate so I thought I'd tell you a little bit about the history of chocolate.



Chocolate’s always been a favorite.  The first recorded use of chocolate dates back to 2000 BC in the Amazon region.  The Indians there knew about cocoa from which chocolate is made.   By the sixth century the Mayas knew about it.  They called the cocoa tree cacahuaquchtl… "tree," and the word cocoa comes from the Maya word xocoatl which means bitter water.  To the Mayas, cocoa pods symbolized life and fertility.   Stones from their palaces and temples revealed many carved pictures of cocoa pods.  In the Yucatan they cultivated the first known cocoa plantations and referred to cocoa as “food of the gods.”

The Aztecs took cocoa to a whole new level.  They believed that one of their gods Quetzalcoatl descended from heaven on a beam of a morning star carrying a cocoa tree stolen from paradise.   In both the Mayan and Aztec cultures cocoa was the basis for a thick, cold, unsweetened drink called xocoatl.  They thought that drinking it was good for you.  They even used it as an aphrodisiac.  The Aztecs didn’t have sugar, so different spices were used to add flavor, including hot chili peppers and corn meal.

The last Aztec emperor Montezuma dyed the drink red and drank it out of golden goblets that were thrown away after one use.  (So wasteful.  I’d have taken those goblets in a snap.)  They also used cocoa beans as money.  

When the Spanish conquistadores came to the New World they encountered cocoa for the first time, but nobody paid too much attention to it even though they gradually discovered how much the Indians prized it.  It was the explorer Cortes who figured things out.  He mixed cocoa with sugar and other spices, and a new craze was born.  

Europeans loved it as much as the Indians did.  The first European chocolate factory opened in 1819 in Switzerland, and in 1828 the Swiss invented the cocoa press which led to reduced prices and helped to improve the quality of the beverage by squeezing out part of the cocoa butter. This gave the chocolate smoother consistency and made it taste better.  

The British were the ones who started making solid chocolate in 1830.   

A major step in the evolution of chocolate came in 1875 when Daniel Peter of Switzerland introduced milk chocolate, thus making Switzerland the chocolate capital of the world.  And in 1913 Jules Sechaud of Switzerland introduced the process for filling chocolates.  Personally, I still think Swiss chocolate is the best you can buy. 

Americans loved chocolate too.  In 1765 the first American chocolate factory was founded.   Did you know that in World War II cocoa beans were shipped to the soldiers as part of their gear?  Today, the government gives them chocolate bars instead.  It just goes to show how wonderful chocolate is.
Er, could you excuse me?  I want another piece of chocolate cake.

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