All about chocolate - through the centuries

Yield: 1 servings

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The story of Chocolate as we know it dates back to the discovery of America in 1492. Christopher Columbus returned to Spain from his voyage to the New World and presented his newly found treasures to King Ferdinand V.

One of the treasures was a small pile of dark brown almond shaped beans. They were cacao beans, the source of all chocolate and cocoa.

The King was not impressed. Little did he know the potential fortune he held in the palm of his hand.

However, in 1519, the Spanish explorer, Hernando Cortez, first saw the bean and became aware of it's commercial possibilities. During his conquest of Mexico, Cortez was invited to a banquet by Montezuma and one of the delicacies of the evening was a thick, cold, unsweetened beverage served in golden goblets. It was called CHOCOLATL. Cortez began to observe the Aztec's method of cultivating the cacao bean and he decided this might prove to be a new source of revenue. He watched the Indians roast and grind the beans and flavor them with vanilla, peppers, herbs and spices. While sailing home to Spain, he was convinced that the CHOCOLATL could become a luxurious delicacy. He also knew that it was too bitter for Spanish tastes.

Over the years, the Spaniards learned to sweeten the drink with cane sugar and serve it hot. The new drink became an instant hit among Spanish aristocracy. So Spain decided to plant the cacao in its overseas colonies and cacao soon became a very profitable business.

The Spaniards managed to keep the art of cultivation of the cacao bean and the preparation of the drinking chocolate a secret from the rest of Europe for almost one hundred years.

As Spain declined in power, the secret of cacao leaked out and Spain's monopoly of the chocolate trade was over. By the middle of the 1600's, chocolate the THE drink at the fashionable court of France. And the English began cultivating cacao in the British West Indies.

In 1657, the first of many famous English chocolate houses appeared in London. The invention of the cocoa press in 1828 reduced chocolate prices drastically and at the same time improved the quality of the product. The press was able to squeeze out part of the cocoa butter which produced a chocolate with a smoother consistency and a more pleasing flavor. Chocolate was brought to the American colonies by traders who sailed to the West Indies and South America. The first chocolate factory in this country was established in New England in 1765.

Early in the 19th century the two biggest developments took place in the history of chocolate. First of all, in 1876, Daniel Peter of Switzerland invented a way of making milk chocolate for eating by combing milk and chocolate. It was another Swiss who invented the process of "conching" - a process by which the chocolate is kneaded into a smooth, velvety texture. This was a vast improvement as up until the conching method was perfected, all chocolate was coarsely grained.

Chocolate is as American as apple pie and hot dogs. In fact, during World War II, our government realized how important a little piece of chocolate was to our soldiers' morale. It allocated shipping space for the importation of the cacao bean so that GI could have his beloved chocolate bar as part of his rations.


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