Sunday, February 9, 2020

Chocolate—The Food Of Love

Valentine's Day is when the chocolate industry happily counts its profits.  Certainly other items also come to mind such as flowers, cards, and jewelry.  But chocolate reigns supreme for the holiday.

The history of chocolate goes back more than two thousand years.  Cocoa has long been associated with passion, romance, and love.  It's a concept that traces to the ancient Aztecs.  Archaeological records indicate that before the Aztecs the Mayans were consuming cocoa as long ago as 600 B.C. and possibly even earlier than that.

The Aztecs believed it was a source of spiritual wisdom, energy, and sexual power.  It was widely served at wedding ceremonies.  The ancient civilizations of Central and South America did not know chocolate as we do today.  They consumed cocoa as a drink, its naturally bitter taste possibly altered by adding chili peppers to the water and cocoa.

When the Spanish explorers first brought cocoa home with them in 1585, they experimented by mixing it with sugar and vanilla to make a sweeter tasting drink.  The result was a type of hot chocolate popular among the upper classes who were the only ones who could afford it.  Cocoa was also added to baked goods to give them added flavor.  By the first half of the eighteenth century cocoa production had increased and the price had fallen so that it became affordable to the general population of Europe and also the European colonies in the New World.

By the nineteenth century things were moving along nicely for those involved in the manufacture of chocolate.  In 1828, Conrad van Houton of Holland invented a process to make a refined cocoa powder which increased the output of the usable powder from a given crop of cocoa beans which further lowered the price.

The first chocolate candies as we know them today were invented in the 1860s by Cadbury, a British candy maker, who was also the first to sell them in a heart-shaped box for Valentine's Day.

Another big advance came in 1878 when a Swiss chocolate seller, Daniel Peter, invented a process for making candy out of milk chocolate—a process picked up by Nestle.  In 1913 Jules Sechaud, a Swiss chocolate maker, created the first chocolate candy with cream and other fillings and the modern soft centered chocolate candies were born.
And thus chocolate candies joined the ranks of flowers and jewelry in the courtship ritual.

Chocolate, including chocolate candy, is liked by most people, but women tend to have a somewhat greater affinity for it than men.  Chocolate is more than food.  It not only fills your stomach, it also makes you feel good.  Many people believe that chocolate is an aphrodisiac.  While it is true that chocolate does contain organic substances which have a physical feel good affect on the body, the amounts are not that great.

Critics claim the benefits of eating chocolate are small compared to the sugar and fat contained in a chocolate bar.  However, the best chocolate—dark chocolate with high cocoa butter content rather than milk chocolate—has no added fat with a high percentage of cocoa solids and correspondingly less sugar.  Dark chocolate will never be considered a health food based on its nutritional value, but it is still good for you.  It's good for your heart, relieves stress, and makes you feel good.  What more could you want?  But, like everything, in moderation.

Chocolate has long been associated with passion, romance, and love.  This association goes all the way back to the Aztecs.  Valentine's Day is a celebration of romance.  Chocolate is both an everyday pleasure and a token of love.  Valentine's Day and chocolate make a perfect match.  Men have long known in dealing with women that chocolate is almost always a safe gift. Chocolate is given as a token of love and is equally viable as a peace offering when he has done something to anger his love.

Chocolate—the all purpose taste treat that's good any time of the year.



My favorite blog post so far! :)

Kathleen Buckley said...

An interesting post, but I have to take issue with one statement in the section about the Spaniards' discovery of the joys of chocolate: "Cocoa was also added to baked goods to give them added flavor." Now, I'm not an expert on Spanish cuisine later than about 1500, but I've found no evidence of chocolate or cocoa in baked goods before the 19th century in England. I'm pretty sure the same was true for the rest of Europe. In the (many) 18th and early 19th century cookbooks I've studied, there are almost no recipes using cocoa/chocolate for anything except the beverage. I found one chocolate candy (which was apparently a hard candy), and one for a sort of mousse, made from drinking chocolate. The latter was actually pretty good. I tried it, using Mexican drinking chocolate tablets, which seem to be similar to the 18th century sort.

Sorry to enter this quibble, but it's a subject near and dear to my heart, as writers of historical romance almost always get this wrong.

Tena said...

Great Post! Love Chocolate any time of year!

Samantha Gentry said...

Jennifer: Even reading about chocolate makes one feel good. :)

Thanks for your comment.

Samantha Gentry said...

Kathleen: I apologize if I have somehow offended you. I write contemporary, not historical, and was not attempting to put forth a historical treatise. It was simply some information from an article I came across about chocolate that I thought was interesting and an appropriate topic for Valentine's Day.

Thank you for your comment.

Samantha Gentry said...

Tena: Chocolate is definitely great any time of year.

Thanks for your comment.

Kathleen Buckley said...

Samantha, I wasn't offended, and apologize if you were. I assumed you'd been misled, as misinformation is rife on the internet, and I try to nip it in the bud (or the cocoa been) when I can. And it was a very appropriate post for Valentine's Day otherwise.