Saturday, May 3, 2008
A History of Cacao and Chocolate
The book Chocolate in Mesoamerica: A Cultural History of Cacao, edited by Cameron L. McNeil, is an interdisciplinary attempt by scholars from different fields, linguists, botanists and archaeologists, to track the history of cacao in Mesoamerica, from pre-Columbian times until today. The Swedish natural scientist Carolus Linnaeus called the cacao tree Theobroma (“food of the gods”) cacao. The word ‘cacao’ generally refers to the species T. cacao, although among the Maya of Mesoamerica it is sometimes also applied to the closely related Theobroma bicolor.
In the introduction, editor Cameron L. McNeil writes:
Chocolate is made from the seeds of the Theobroma cacao L. tree, commonly referred to as the ‘cacao tree.’ For many pre-Columbian cultures of the Americas, cacao seeds and the comestibles produced from them were literally part of their religion and played a central role in their spiritual beliefs and social and economic systems. In isolated areas these traditions continue to this day. Parts of this plant have been consumed in Central and South America for thousands of years. For many of the ancient and modern cultures in these regions, cacao was not only an important part of religious rituals, but also a component of beverages and foods, a topical cream, and an ingredient in medicine. It reached its height of importance in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, whose northern limit begins in Central Mexico, and which then encompasses Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and western Honduras. Mesoamerica is renowned for its myriad highly stratified societies including the Olmecs, Maya, and Mexica (Aztecs). Cacao played a central role in the complex elite culinary traditions and practices of these cultures.
According to her, “The origins of the cacao tree remain unknown, with scholars debating both its natural distribution and area of domestication. The variety of comestibles that were made from this plant in pre-Columbian times is also the subject of disagreement. Was cacao used to produce only beverages, or was it also a component of other types of food? Were beverages made from the pulp of cacao pods or only from the seeds? Who consumed cacao — only members of the elite, or was it widely available to the lower socioeconomic classes?”
The genus Theobroma evolved in South America, where both its greatest number of species and most closely related genus, Herrania, are to be found. From the upper Amazon basin, T. cacao spread through Central America and into Mexico either naturally or through human agency. Scholars continue to debate how this tree migrated, but also in what form — wild or as a cultigen. The earliest cacao iconography in the Americas may come from Peru. A 2500-year-old Peruvian vessel is decorated with pod elements that could be cacao. The written history of cacao is definitely Mesoamerican (we know of no true writing system in pre-Columbian South America), from perhaps as early as the mid-third century A.D. (Early Classic Period) in the form of glyphs on ceramic vessels. Mexica, Maya and Mixtec codices from later periods record the ritual significance of cacao. Domestication is uncertain, but a vessel form known throughout Mesoamerica as well as Andean South America from around 1000 B.C. supports a date for domestication by at least this time.
As McNeil says, “Debates continue as to whether T. cacao has two domestication spheres, one in South America and one in Mesoamerica, or only one, located either in South America or in Mesoamerica. The concept of domestication itself further confuses this issue as scholars today recognize that domestication is a process with many steps. For example cacao could have arrived from South America as a cultigen, only to be more fully domesticated in Mesoamerica. It seems likely that if cacao was domesticated in both South America and Mesoamerica, the focus of selection for these two processes was not the same, as South Americans most commonly have used the pulp for consumption, while Mesoamericans most commonly used the seeds.”
It is likely that maize was first cultivated, indeed created, in Mesoamerica and later imported to South America, but for the most part it seems that cultural exchanges between the civilizations of Mesoamerica and those of South America were surprisingly limited. There are two subspecies of Theobroma cacao. According to Cameron L. McNeil:
Before the arrival of Europeans, criollos were endemic to Central America and forasteros were endemic to South America (A. M. Young 1994). Whether through natural evolution or human selection, the T. cacao species in Mesoamerica came to produce fruit and seeds distinct from those in the southern hemisphere. Criollo seeds are milder, that is, less bitter, than the South American members of their species and make a tastier chocolate. Forastero-type cacao plants are hardier, and, not only do they generally produce pods two years earlier than criollos do (at three years), they also produce more pods per tree (Millon 1955a:11). However, the flavor of forastero beans is bitterer than the flavor of criollos. After sixteenth-century European contact, criollos and forasteros were hybridized as the Spanish tried to create breeds of cacao that produced larger amounts of pods while still retaining some of the criollo flavor.
Cacao treeToday, most of the world’s cacao beans are grown in Africa, ironically while much of the world’s coffee, an African crop, is grown in Latin America. Forastero beans account for about 95% of the global production of cacao, whereas the high-quality criollo beans are still mainly grown in Latin America, for instance in Venezuela. The hybrid form is called trinitario.
As McNeil says, “Most scholars believe that only the pulp, not the seeds, of T. cacao was consumed in pre-Columbian South America (A. M. Young 1994). The pulp, which also contains theobromine and caffeine, can be removed from the seeds and made into a fruit beverage or can be fermented to produce an alcoholic drink. It may seem surprising that the South American cultures discarded the stimulating seeds, which were so important in Mesoamerica. Nathaniel Bletter and Douglas Daly (this volume) suggest, however, that cacao seeds were not used in pre-Columbian South America because there were several other plant species containing higher levels of stimulating compounds that required far less processing.”
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These caffeinated substances were not available in Mesoamerica, and their absence may explain why cacao seeds became widely used in one area but not in the other. There are many steps involved in preparing cacao seeds for use in beverages, and “If other species provided stronger stimulants while requiring less time investment, it is not surprising that South Americans did not find the need to create a process for using the bitter seeds as well as the pulp. The less bitter flavor of criollo seeds may be a product of a process of selection for seeds more appealing to the palate.”
Cacao and maize constituted an important ritual pair in Mesoamerican cosmology. Both were combined in ritual beverages with sacred water to feed the gods and ancestors so that they would provide agricultural fertility. Maize, which is grown in open fields, was associated with light. Cacao may have been associated with darkness, death and the underworld because it is grown in shaded areas. In certain regions of Mexico until at least the twentieth century, people continued to provide the dead with cacao for the journey to the afterworld. It was also associated with blood, and was “sometimes mixed with blood and offered in rituals.”
According to McNeil, “Cacao was also associated with blood and sacrifice in the pre-Columbian period. For Mesoamerican peoples, blood was an important offering to the gods. Not only were animals sacrificed, but people — particularly elites and rulers — offered their own blood and that of human captives.”
We should remember that human sacrifice was unusually widespread among Mesoamerican cultures, the Aztecs in particular. The usage of cacao reflects this. Cacao beverages were sometimes colored red with achiote (also called annatto), and several colonial chroniclers noted the similarity between red-dyed cacao drink and blood. Cameron L. McNeil writes:
“The people of Cholula, Mexico, made a cacao beverage from water in which knives used in human sacrifice had been washed (Acosta 2002 :325). In the Florentine Codex, Sahagún (1950-82, Book 6, 1969:256) records that ‘heart’ and ‘blood’ were metaphors for ‘cacao…because it was precious.’ J. Eric S. Thompson (1956:100) proposed that hearts and cacao pods share associations, because both are ‘the repositories of precious liquids — blood and cacao.’ Rosemary Joyce has suggested that the frequent exchange of cacao in marriage ceremonies may signify the mixing of bloodlines (Meskell and Joyce 2003:139-140). A range of images supports the association of cacao with sacrifice and blood. A stela from the archaeological site of Santa Lucia Cotzumalhuapa on the Pacific Coast of Guatemala depicts a human figure sacrificing a cacao pod as though it were a human heart: the cacao pod spouts a liquid substance. In Mixtec codices, bleeding cacao pods are depicted both on the tops and insides of temples, which were places of sacrifice (Mary E. Smith 1973:236). In the sixteenth century, Diego García de Palacio wrote that in pre-Columbian times the Pipil people in Nicaragua marked war captives for sacrifice with strands of cacao seeds, feathers and green stones.”
Breakthroughs in the deciphering of Mayan glyphs have led to a renewed interest in the Mayan civilization during the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. According to scholar David Stuart, “The importance of cacao in Classic Maya society was not widely appreciated until the decipherment of glyphic texts on ceramics in the 1980s, when it became clear that seemingly countless ceramic vessels were inscribed with a dedicatory formula identifying them as drinking vessels for chocolate.” Now scholars readily see cacao as a key element of courtly life, having a profound role in political economics and display, feasting events and ritual. It even permeates many examples of Maya religious iconography.
Cacao — MayaAccording to Dorie Reents-Budet, “The ancient Maya developed a complex society renowned for its monumental architecture, colossal sculptures, and portable carvings that adorned their towns and the bodies of the elite; for scientific and intellectual achievements in mathematics, astronomy, philosophy; and for the only true writing system (that is, the graphic representation of spoken language) in the ancient Americas. During the Classical period apogee (A.D. 250-900) of the Maya culture, artisans created copious objects in a variety of media that were essential components of the sociopolitical and economic systems of the ruling elite (M. D. Coe and J. Kerr 1998). Among these artefacts were decorated pottery vessels for serving food, especially vessels for kakaw (chocolate) beverages (Reents-Budet 1994a). Unlike their ceramic predecessors of earlier centuries (1200 B.C.-A.D. 150), which were characterized by elegantly simple forms and monochrome or occasionally bichrome slip-painted surfaces, Classical period elite service wares were elaborately embellished with painted, incised, or modeled imagery or various combinations of these. Skilled painters adorned the service wares with renderings of elite life and portraits of powerful rulers. They also portrayed the supernatural beings and religious myths that explained the universe and the place of the Mayas therein.”
Moreover, “During Late Postclassical times and continuing into the Colonial period, kakaw beans functioned as an abstract representation of value; that is, as money. For example, in the markets of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire, the beans could be exchanged for any number of commodities. They also served as payment for work service and to buy one’s way out of forced labor (slavery) (S. D. Coe and M. D. Coe 1996: 98-99). Kakaw beans were the preferred payment for tax or service obligations because they were a readily convertible capital medium in most of the prevailing economic systems of the myriad cultures of Mesoamerica and also of those to the south in Central America.”
The Aztecs developed a tribute system based on the payment of cacao beans by conquered peoples. They also used the beans to create an alcoholic beverage. Most commonly, the kernel was ground and beaten with water, flavorings and usually maize to make a drink. In historical times, the pulp that surrounds the kernels inside the husk has been and is often fermented to produce an alcoholic beverage. The strongest evidence for the use of fermented cacao beverages comes from the Late Postclassic Mexica (Aztecs), as recorded by Bernardino de Sahagún. According to John S. Henderson and Rosemary A. Joyce, “The Nahuatl-speaking informants, describing the food consumed by the lords of Tenochtitlan, the Mexica capital, enumerated a wide range of cacao beverages, including some that recall the ‘tree fresh’ cacao of the Classic Maya and the honey-cacao identified as possibly a fermented drink.”
The only way a person could become intoxicated on new cacao would be by drinking the liquid of fermentation, which is otherwise a waste product. As Henderson and Joyce state, “The product of fermentation is a clear liquid (unlike the dense suspension of ground cacao) that is lighter in color than chocolate. References to ‘fresh’ cacao could mark the distinction between the primary fermented beverage and the secondary, unfermented chocolate. The fermented beverage would have to be consumed new, or fresh, as soon as it was produced, since it would continue to ferment and get sour.”
According to them, “among the forms of cacao consumption in the sixteenth century, there was at least one means of drinking cacao as a fermented, intoxicating beverage. It is impossible to produce the conventional form of chocolate without producing a fermented cacao drink as one stage in the process.” Moreover, “after the available sugars in the seeds and pulp are converted into alcohol, a second stage of fermentation starts, which converts alcohol to acetic acid. In order to recoup drinkable cacao chicha, fermentation could not be allowed to continue too long, or the product would be effectively undrinkable, cacao vinegar.”
Chocolate was also used as an aphrodisiac. According to scholar Manuel Aguilar-Moreno:
“Sahagún and numerous Colonial sources state that the drinking of chocolate was exclusive to the Aztec elite: the royal house, the lords and nobility, the long-distance traders (pochteca), and the warriors. Apparently, the only commoners who were privileged to consume this luxurious commodity were soldiers in battle, because cacao was considered to be a stimulant (S. D. Coe and M. D. Coe 1996:93). As an eyewitness to the Conquest, Bernal Díaz del Castillo, described a banquet given by the Emperor Motecuhzoma II, where: ‘they brought him some cups of fine gold, with a certain drink made of cacao, which they said was for success with women; but I saw that they brought more than 50 great jars of good cacao with its foam, and he drank of that; and the women served him drink very respectfully.’ (Díaz del Castillo 2002 :167). In this passage, Díaz makes a statement about the aphrodisiacal property of cacao, an idea that would be reinforced by the studies of Francisco Hernández, the royal physician and naturalist to Philip II of Spain. Hernández was in Mexico from 1572 to 1577 in search of medical plants to add to the European pharmacopoeia.”
How did the word “chocolate” come into being? According to Cameron L. McNeil, “The most commonly used ancient Maya term for cacao was kakaw. There has been some debate about the linguistic antecedent of these words. Lyle Campbell and Terrence Kaufman (1976) proposed that their origins lie in proto-Mije-Sokean and that this language was spoken by the Olmec of the southern Veracruz and the western Tabasco lowlands of Mexico. Karen Dakin and Søren Wichmann (2000) have presented arguments supporting a Uto-Aztecan origin for kakaw-tl, but Terrence Kaufman and John Justeson (this volume) refute the Dakin and Wichmann linguistic analysis with persuasive evidence for the previously proposed proto-Mije-Sokean source. The origin of the word chocolatl (the basis for ‘chocolate’) is almost as contentious and appears to have been a late development within Nahua, possibly as late as the sixteenth century (Kaufman and Justeson, this volume).”
Cacao IncaThe widely attested pre-Columbian term for “cacao” was kakaw. Scholars Terrence Kaufman and John Justeson claim that this term originated in the Gulf Coast of southern Mexico, among speakers of an early Mije-Sokean language, and spread across Mesoamerica, but did not reach South America in pre-Columbian times. The Olmecs (which meant “rubber people” to the Aztecs), one of the earliest significant cultures in Mesoamerica (and sometimes labeled the “mother culture” of Mayans and others, although this is now disputed) are believed to have spoke a language ancestral to the Mije-Sokean languages.
Mije-Sokean vocabulary is found in languages across Mesoamerica. “No other language families in Meso-America had anything like the impact that Mije-Sokean had, either in the range of linguistic families they affected or in the number of items that were borrowed from them.” As they see it, “Some of the Mije-Sokean loans probably go back to the influence of the Olmecs, while others are attributable to a post-Olmec era of Mije-Sokean influence. The widespread and early diffusion of the word kakaw (a) into a large number of Meso-American languages and language families fits the profile of these typical Mije-Sokean loans. In addition, one of the prime areas of cacao cultivation, in the lowlands of Tabasco, was part of the (Mije-Sokean-speaking) Olmec heartland, where Gulf Sokean languages are still spoken.”
According to Kaufman and Justeson, “Aztecs, and arguably Teotihuacanos and other pre-Columbian societies, made strong efforts to control the production and distribution of cacao. The kernel came to be used as currency, reflected, for example, by Xinxa / tuwa/, meaning both ‘cacao’ and ‘money.’“
They also state that “Traditionally, words for drinks made from cacao appear to have consisted either of the word for cacao itself or of that word together with modifiers. Other terms, not including the word for ‘cacao,’ but including a word meaning ‘water, liquid’ or a word meaning ‘(a) drink,’ are known from Colonial and modern sources in various Meso-American languages. Among these is a Nawa word, attested variously as chikol=a:-tl and chokol=a:-tl, which spread to several European languages and then around the world. This term may have been coined during the sixteenth century. Contrary to persistent but uninformed speculation, Mayan languages played no role in the development of this term.”
Regarding the origins of the word “chocolate,” they demonstrate that the earliest Spanish sources all used the word “cacao” to refer to the drink made from cacao beans. They didn’t use the term “chocolate” at all:
Chocolate-makingThe first occurrence of the Spanish word chocolate is in Book 4, Chapter 22, of Historia natural y moral de las Indias, which was published in 1590 by Joseph (José) de Acosta. The above evidence also shows that in the Spanish spoken in Central Mexico, chocolate was called cacao until well into the seventeenth century, and we know of no evidence of the word chocolate or chicolate being used there at this time. José de Acosta, however, who lived in both Mexico and Peru, was using the word chocolate by 1590; we must suppose that his usage in Spanish was simply different, for reasons which we are not at the moment able to determine, though his place of writing, his place of origin, and his social group affiliation are all possibly relevant.
Kaufman and Justeson suggest that “the words chikola:tl and chokola:tl may not have existed in pre-Columbian times.” The word “chocolate” existed by late the sixteenth century, but nobody knows for sure how it came into being in Spanish, and from there spread to other European languages. They conclude that there are “serious gaps” in our knowledge here.
According to Cameron L. McNeil, “In many regions of Mesoamerica, cacao use has significantly diminished since the Colonial period. In those areas where cacao is still used, there is sometimes a continuity with pre-Columbian and early Colonial practices. Ethnographers document the role of cacao in ritual life as an offering not only to ancestors but also to the Chacs (rain gods), the gods of the mountains (sometimes ancestor deities), and the Earth Goddess, as well as to the saints and to Christ, who are often barely disguised representatives of pre-Conquest deities.”
Cacao is still used as a gift for major life passage events: “When the author asked people in various regions of Guatemala when they used cacao, the most common answers were: for holidays, for childbirth and for breast-feeding mothers, as a gift that men offer to the family of a woman whose hand they wish to request in marriage, and for Easter. Cacao seeds were formerly an important item of exchange, akin to, but not the same as a currency (Millon 1955a). This use, as well as the importance of cacao in elite rituals, has connected it to concepts of wealth and power.”
As Patricia A. McAnany and Satoru Murata state: “Belizean chocolate — the moniker does not carry the same cachet as Swiss or Belgian chocolate, does it? Although the heavily marketed European brands have gained global prestige and name recognition, the nations of reference are far away from the tropical climes in which cacao is grown today and was grown in the past. Contemporary name-tagging of chocolate is linked to processing techniques and packaging locales rather than to centers of cultivation.” However, “Belizean chocolate, sold under the sobriquet of Maya Gold, is enjoying modest recognition today under a fair trade agreement negotiated between a British candy company and Maya cacao-growers of southern Belize.”
Cacao farming has been undertaken in the region from Middle Preclassic to contemporary times (perhaps 800 B.C. to present):
“Long after European cacao processing — including the addition of sugar and the production of ‘solid’ chocolate — had become the norm, the traditional mode of cacao consumption among Toledo Maya maintained a strong degree of pre-Columbian continuity in the form of liquid cacao drinks. Preparation of the drink by the Mopan Maya as documented by J. E. S. Thompson (1930) entailed shelling, fermentation, and then drying the cacao beans on a piece of bark. The beans were then roasted on a pottery comal (or sok) and ground on a stone metate. The ground cacao was next mixed with maize flour and soaked in water, after which the mixture was reground on the metate. Finally, the mixture was placed on the fire, boiled, and served after the addition of ‘a considerable quantity of black pepper’ (J. E. S. Thompson 1930:186). Thompson considered black pepper to be a modern substitute for chile.”
There is thus some continuity, but gradual change has come with the addition of sugar and pressure from alternative beverages such as coffee. Despite decline in cacao consumption due to the disruption of traditional societies, traditional practices are carried on in some regions. Religious syncretism is also quite common, with older ideas continuing under nominally Christian forms.
Cacao may have been used in certain combinations with foodstuff, but it was primarily used in liquid form. The Florentine Codex describes the variety of chocolate beverages offered to Mexica Aztec rulers, including green cacao-pods, honeyed chocolate, flowered chocolate, chocolate flavored with vanilla and bright red chocolate. Cacao was highly prized for its foam. Early colonial writers describe how it was produced by pouring the beverage from one container to another to agitate it or by mixing it with a specially constructed stick, but they may have missed a key ingredient of the frothy beverage.
Among the products usually added to cacao beverages were flowers which taste spicy like black pepper, vanilla, and a relative of black pepper. Because of its bitter, astringent flavor, it took time for the Spanish and other Europeans to develop a taste for chocolate. The Europeans added sugar and milk to counteract the natural bitterness and removed the chilli pepper and similar ingredients. One indigenous American spice they did continue to use was vanilla.
The Little Book of Chocolate by Katherine Khodorowsky and Herve Robert is not intended to be as scholarly as the above mentioned book about chocolate in Mesoamerica, but it is reasonably accurate and will be widely quoted regarding the history of chocolate in Europe.
A chocolate partyChristopher Columbus brought some cocoa beans to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, but the drink didn’t catch on immediately. In 1585 the first shipment of cocoa beans arrived in the Iberian Peninsula from New Spain. The Spanish tried to guard the secret of cacao, but it eventually spread to the rest of Europe. In the beginning it was a drink for kings, nobilities and elites, as it had been in Mesoamerica, which added to its prestige and status. Cacao beans gradually spread across Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In France, they owed their official introduction to Anne of Austria, daughter of Philip III of Spain, who married Louis XIII in 1615. The interest for chocolate at the French court increased in strength at the Versailles under the “Sun King” Louis XIV, and later under Louis XV. Some very fine top-quality chocolate is still being produced in France, for instance Valrhona, a manufacturer near Lyon founded in 1924 by a pastry chef from the Rhône valley.
Pepper and chilli were replaced in Europe by vanilla (an indigenous American plant that was used in combination with cacao also in Mesoamerica) and spices such as cinnamon or other additions — milk, wine or even beer. Cacao drinks still didn’t much resemble chocolate as we think of it today. The drinking of chocolate was introduced to Italy in 1606 by a Florentine merchant returning from Spain, Antonio Carletti. According to Khodorowsky and Robert:
The simplest of his recipes contained cocoa, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon. Members of the Italian aristocracy, however, like their French counterparts, enjoyed experimenting with unusual flavorings, including citron and lemon, musk and ambergris and, at the court of the Medicis, jasmine. Antonio Ari was the first cioccolatiere to put the drink on sale in Turin, which by the seventeenth century had become the Italian chocolate capital, a distinction which it retains to this day. Eighteenth-century Turin saw the invention of chocolate bavareisa, or mousse, and above all of the delectable bicerin, a drink prepared with equal parts of coffee, chocolate and cream, which delighted Alexandre Dumas in 1852. The name is derived from the charming small glasses or bicerin in which it is still served today. Turin was also the birthplace in 1861 of the gianduja, invented by Caffarel: these ingot-shaped chocolates, with their meltingly smooth mixture of finely ground hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds, sugar and chocolate, are now famous throughout the world.
The most popular Italian chocolate worldwide today is the small, praline-filled Ferrero Rocher, but they are also famous for the small squares of chocolate known as neapolitans, which are enjoyed with cups of coffee across the Western world. The Italians played a prominent role in the early history of chocolate inEurope. As Khodorowsky and Robert say:
Sacher TorteDrinking chocolate arrived in Austria via Italy in about 1640. Monks who discovered a taste for the beverage ensured its spread throughout the Holy Roman Empire, notably in what is today Germany. On his return from Spain in 1713, Charles VI introduced it to his court in Vienna. From this grew the firmly established Viennese tradition of serving cups of rich chocolate flavoured with sugar and vanilla and topped with a cloud of whipped cream (Schlagsahne) sprinkled with cacao powder. The beverage also became popular in Germany. But it was in the realm of pâtisserie that the Austrians surpassed themselves, producing the first recipe for a cake made with chocolate in 1778, and thus opening up a whole world of inspiration which has yet to be exhausted. In 1832, in response to Prince Klemens von Metternich’s request for a ‘dense, compact and masculine’ dessert, his chief pâtissier, Franz Sacher, produced a rich chocolate cake sandwiched with a fine layer of apricot jelly and covered with chocolate fondant icing. Known henceforth as Sacher Torte, it was to become a classic throughout the world.
Another masterpiece of Austrian cuisine, Imperial Torte, alternates fine layers of milk chocolate and almond paste. A German classic is Black Forest gateau, a confection of chocolate, whipped cream, cherries and kirsch.
According to Khodorowsky and Robert: “The vogue for drinking chocolate, already established in Spain, reached the British Isles thanks to a Frenchman, who in 1657 opened the first chocolate factory in London. Unlike in France, where it was a pleasure strictly limited to the aristocracy, this ‘excellent West Indian drink’ was made available to the middle classes from the outset. Soon, alongside the coffee houses which made their appearance from 1652, there opened the first chocolate houses. London was also the setting, in 1674, for a historic invention: solid chocolate, presented in the form of ‘Spanish rolls’ or pastilles, and sold by the Coffee Mill and Tobacco Roll shop.”
The drinking of chocolate had to compete with tea, introduced from East Asia, and coffee introduced from the Middle East at about the same time. Britain, then in the process of changing human history through the Industrial Revolution, made significant contributions to the development of chocolate:
The British were also responsible, in 1728, for the first factory equipped with hydraulic machinery, for the first clubs exclusively for devotees of chocolate, and above all for the development of the chocolate bar (although this attribution is disputed by the Italians), created by the Bristol firm of J. S. Fry and Sons in 1847. But the symbolic father of British chocolate is undoubtedly John Cadbury (1801-1889). In 1824, Cadbury opened his first coffee, tea and chocolate shop. In 1831 he started manufacturing chocolate, and following his Quaker conscience and the example of the great French chocolate-manufacturer Menier in caring for the social conditions of his workers, he created a model town for his employees in the Birmingham suburb of Bournville.
Wikipedia, in its entry on the history of chocolate, credits the Frenchman Doret with inventing a machine to crush cacao beans and mix and blend the chocolate paste: “At the end of the 18th century, the first form of solid chocolate was invented in Turin by Doret. This chocolate was sold in large quantities from 1826 by Pierre Paul Caffarel. In 1819, F. L. Cailler opened the first Swiss chocolate factory. In 1828, Dutchman Coenraad Johannes van Houten patented a method for extracting the fat from cocoa beans and making powdered cocoa and cocoa butter. Van Houten also developed the so-called Dutch process of treating chocolate with alkali to remove the bitter taste. This made it possible to form the modern chocolate bar. It is believed that the Englishman Joseph Fry made the first chocolate for eating in 1847, followed in 1849 by the Cadbury brothers.”
As mentioned above, an extremely important achievement in the development of modern chocolate was made in the Netherlands, when the Amsterdam chocolate maker Coenraad Johannes van Houten (or his father Casparus van Houten Sr., the sources differ on this) in 1828 patented an inexpensive method of making cacao powder. He wanted to improve the quality of drinking chocolate, which was still by far the most important way of using cacao beans even though a paste version was available, but his invention made solid chocolate much more feasible. The use of chocolate gradually spread to cover most regions of Europe. The Russian poet Alexander Pushkin allegedly drank a cup of chocolate in St Petersburg just before his fatal duel in 1837.
The Spanish encouraged plantations of cacao beans in their colonies in Latin America. In the seventeenth century, the British managed to acclimatize the cacao tree in Jamaica, as did the French in Martinique and the Dutch in Surinam. Not until the nineteenth century did the tree cross the Atlantic, first to the island of São Tomé, initially a Portuguese colony, later to West Africa. The Dutch in the late nineteenth century introduced the tree to Southeast Asia, to Java and Sumatra where they also introduced the coffee shrub.
In the sixteenth century, the Spanish king was the most powerful man not only in the Americas, but also within Europe. The Spanish ruled much of the European continent, including present-day Belgium and the Netherlands. As Khodorowsky and Robert say:
For two centuries, Flanders was part of the immense Spanish empire. As early as the sixteenth century, it thus became one of the first European countries to taste the new cocoa-based drink. In the late seventeenth century, the first chocolate factories were established in Brussels. It was to Jean Neuhaus, chocolatier in the exclusive Galerie de la Reine shopping arcade, that Belgium owed the invention of the praline chocolate, in 1912, and of the protective cardboard packaging, the ballotin, in 1915. Belgian praline chocolates are generally molded: the liquid chocolate is poured into a mold to form a shell, and when this has been filled, the base is sealed with a layer of chocolate.
Among the innumerable varieties available are praline in a milk chocolate shell, crème fraiche or butter in dark chocolate shell, known as fondant; marzipan in chocolate fondant; and, most celebrated of all, the Manon. Garnished with a walnut and crème fraiche or butter, the Manon is encased in white chocolate or fondant sugar icing and is sometimes flavored with coffee. Belgian praline chocolate is now made in large quantities. Most of it is exported from major companies such as Leonidas, Godiva, Neuhas and Guylian.
Although the fact that Belgium became an important center for chocolate can perhaps be attributed to her historical connections to Spain, the success of her Swiss rivals is more difficult to explain. After all, the Swiss were never under Spanish rule, did not have any colonies and do not even have access to the sea. Switzerland was a relative latecomer to chocolate making, as it was to the making of clocks and watches, but the country created both technical advances and new recipes, with the invention of chocolate with hazelnuts, milk chocolate and fondant chocolate.
Heinrich Escher, the mayor of Zurich, first introduced chocolate to Switzerland after a stay in Brussels in 1697. It was discreetly consumed for some time, but the Zurich Council banned it in 1722. Chocolate had a reputation as an aphrodisiac, as it once had among the Aztecs in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, and concerned citizens were afraid that chocolate could be put to improper uses, such as seducing women. Nevertheless, despite initial resistance, the first chocolate manufacture was set up around 1750 by two Italians near Bern, and the first chocolate shop in Switzerland opened in Bern in 1792. During the course of the nineteenth century, the country was to become an important center for chocolate making in its own right.
François-Louis Cailler, inspired by chocolate makers in Turin, Italy, created a smooth chocolate that could be formed into bars and opened a chocolate factory near Vevey in 1819. His success inspired others in Switzerland, such as Charles-Amédée Kohler, who mixed chocolate with hazelnuts and opened a factory in Lausanne in 1830. Heinrich Nestle, the founder of Nestlé S.A. which is today the world’s largest food and beverage company, was born in Frankfurt on Main in Germany, but changed his name to Henri Nestlé after moving to Switzerland. He was to become one of the inventors of milk chocolate.
According to Khodorowsky and Robert: “In 1875, Daniel Peter (1836-1919), son-in-law of François-Louis Cailler, adapted the process for condensing milk discovered by the chemist Henri Nestlé (1814-1890): thus milk chocolate was born, earning worldwide fame for Switzerland. Soon, theSocieté Suisse de Chocolats, founded in 1904, was to unite the four great names of Callier, Kohler, Peter and Nestlé. ButSwitzerland’s most remarkable commercial success most be Philippe Suchard’s Milka bar, launched in 1901 and still for many the chief symbol of Swiss chocolate; Suchard remains the best-known brand of Swiss chocolate inEurope. Another great figure, Rudolphe Lindt (1823-1893), was the father of fondant chocolate. According to the website Swissworld.org, “Suchard did not enjoy instant success; chocolate was expensive and regarded by many people as suspiciously exotic, and orders were slow at first. But by a strange quirk of history Neuchâtel was not only a Swiss canton, it simultaneously also belonged to the far-away King of Prussia, and in 1842 Suchard received an order for his chocolate from the royal court in Berlin. The factory eventually took off, and was soon marketing its output abroad as well as inSwitzerland. Suchard chocolate won gold medals at theLondon’s Great Exhibition of 1851 and the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1855. In 1880 Suchard was the first Swiss chocolate maker to set up a factory abroad, in Lörrach inGermany, just over the border from Basel. By the early 1880s the Suchard company was producing about half the total national output of chocolate, and employing about half the total number of people working in the industry.”
ChocolateIn 1908, the Swiss Jean Tobler invented Toblerone, a chocolate bar with almond-and-honey nougat, molded in triangular sections recalling the mountains of his native land. Ironically, a Swiss family also contributed to the fame of Belgian chocolate. In 1857 Jean Neuhaus from Neuchâtel in Switzerland settled in Brussels. As a pharmacist, he did sell some chocolate (which was still viewed as medicine by many at that point), and his son Frédéric persuaded his father to move into confectionery. His grandson (also named Jean Neuhaus) in 1912 invented the bite-sized chocolate which he called praline, and registered a patent for a cardboard container for loose chocolates, the ballotin. Swiss and Belgian chocolate remain important export goods in the twenty-first century, but per capita consumption of chocolate is also high domestically in both Switzerland and Belgium.
The process of “democratization” of chocolate, initially a luxury good available only to the elites, was set in motion in the nineteenth century and accelerated during the twentieth century. Chocolate was made a standard component of army rations in Europe and North America during the First and Second World Wars. In hindsight, the use of cacao beans in the modern world is so different from the one we encountered in pre-Columbian America that it’s easy to forget that we are talking about the same substance.
I have seen suggestions that cacao was used in combination with certain types of foodstuff in Mesoamerica, but there can be no doubt that to pre-Columbian Americans it was first and foremost a drink, which it remained for some time when it was transplanted to Europe. Chocolate bars and other forms of chocolate in solid form are almost entirely a European invention. I admit I prefer buying a Toblerone, Milka bar or box of Belgian praline chocolate over the Aztec custom of mixing cacao beans with the blood of freshly killed victims of human sacrifice. I’m sure this will be viewed by some as culturally insensitive, but I think I can live with that.