Friday, July 11, 2008
The History of Chocolate
The Story of Chocolate
It would be quite unthinkable to even attempt to produce good chocolates without
knowing the fabulous history of chocolate which dates back to the 10th century.
The Aztecs were the first to start working with cacao beans. At that time their God,
Quetzalcoatl, was the Gardener of Paradise, which explains why cacao beans were
used as their form of currency. At this stage they served no culinary purpose
whatsoever, and it was only on observing the monkeys that the Aztecs started to
become interested in the culinary properties of the cacao tree fruit.
To begin with only the pulp of the tree was used and it was not until later on that the beans themselves started to be consumed. We do not know who actually had the idea to roast the beans and then grind them into a paste, but whoever it was had hit on something fantastic.
This mixture of cocoa and spices was to bring happiness to a
whole population. That is until the day a strange vessel sailed into their harbours.
When in 1502 Christopher Columbus set foot in this "New Spain" he received a gift
of cacao beans from an Indian Chief. He had no idea of the immeasurable value of
what he held in his hands.
Meanwhile the legends of Quetzalcoatl continued. As a King cum Priest seeking
immortality he lost his way and finally became mad when he swallowed a potion
prepared by an evil magician. Before moving eastwards he prophesized saying "I will
return in a year of the reed and exercise my authority once again". The cult
continued to live on under the name of Votan until 1519, a year of the reed. Chance
had it that on 21 April 1519, the time Quetzalcoatl was due to return Hernan Cortés
actually landed on the shores of belonging to King Moctrezuma. Convinced that the
"Great Plumed Serpent" had returned, the Aztecs were invaded and easily
conquered, and endured only bitter hardship until they finally disappeared. The
Conquistadors who were in the search of a new El Dorado also went through terrible
times. The cocoa prepared for them by the Aztecs was not to their liking because it
was too fatty and bitter, but since they had already exhausted their own supplies
they had no other choice but to get used toit. Cocoa served either with cane sugar
or as a drink gradually gained a reputation as a powerful aphrodisiac. This
reputation was of course reinforced by what the legends had to say about cocoa.
The Spanish soon became very fond of this beverage.
But it was not until 1580 that cocoa reached Europe and the first chocolate makers
began to set up along the Iberian Peninsula. Their recipe for the cocoa drink was
kept secret for a long time until the Netherlands and the Flemish Kingdom
eventually discovered it. It was not before the beginning of the 17th century that
Europe finally discovered the virtues of cacao beans and it was only in 1671 that the first Parisian ³Drinking Chocolate House² opened.
It was not until 1674 that the "chocolate bar" from Great Britain finally caught on.
But there was still a long way to go and it was as late as 1850 that chocolate ceased to be a product solely reserved for the aristocracy and started to enjoy widespread public distribution.
A new industry started to replace the handmade production market, with Menier et
Poulain leading the way in France. Other large names started to appear over the
years: Van Houten who introduced a manufacturing process for chocolate powder in
1825, Peter from Switzerland who introduced milk into chocolate in 1875, Caffarel
from Italy who created Gianduj, Neuhaus from Belgium who invented praline and the
box of chocolates as we know it today, and finally Suchard who made the bar of
milk chocolate the popular success it is today.
Bonnat came onto the scene in 1884 and the famous French praline was only the
beginning of what has turned out to be a long story full of chocolate delights and
surprises. It is worth noting that Chocolatier Bonnat was the first chocolatier to
make Chartreuse chocolates. Bonnat remains the exclusive supplier today.
Despite the fact that chocolate traditions began over 5 centuries ago the love,
passion and pleasure which kindled desires then, still live on today. Chocolate the
perfect partner for all gourmet discoveries.