Thursday, September 10, 2009

Chocolate Was Once A Beverage For the Rich

Chocolate dates back centuries -- to 1100 BC. It was treasured like gold from the beginning of recorded history. The Latin name for the cacao tree, which produces the beans that are turned into chocolate, literally means “food of the gods.”  The Aztec Indians, who introduced chocolate to Spanish explorers as a foamy, bitter, spicy drink, also used cocoa* beans as currency. Back in the day, you could buy a rabbit dinner for 4 beans, the services of a prostitute for 10 beans and a slave for 100 beans. The sacred drink arrived in Spain in 1529, where it was sweeten with sugar and became a favorite of royalty. 

By the 17th century, chocolate was popular throughout Europe. It was believed to be a powerful elixir of love and good health, but it was still a beverage for the upper classes. Not until the invention of the steam engine was chocolate mass produced and available to everyone else. The chocolate bar, as we know it, was created in 1847 by Joseph Fry in England, who added cacao butter to cocoa power and sugar. The bitter taste was removed with alkalis. People liked it so much, they started eating chocolate, as well as, drinking it. By 1868 the Cadbury Brothers sold boxes of chocolate candies in England. And milk chocolate was invented by Swiss candy maker, Daniel Peter, in 1875. It hit the market under the Nestle company name a few years later.

Today the taste of fine chocolate is still determined by the origin and type of cacao beans along with the the techniques used in processing. Just like wine, good chocolate has hundreds of flavor nuances.  Only dark chocolate has healthy heart and anti-aging properties. Their health benefits come from flavonoids [anti-oxidants] in cocoa beans. The darker the chocolate, the richer in flavonoids.  A portion size is one ounce. If you can limit yourself to a single serving of the best chocolate, you will satisfy your tastes without expanding your waist. Good luck!

Here are a few favorite chocolates to try:
Lindt - Made with the finest cocoa beans and ingredients at a super value. New York's flagship store on Fifth Avenue offers 2 for 1 deals, plus plenty of free samples.
Cadbury - Very flavorful chocolate, but their bars keep shrinking. What's up with that?
Christopher Norman - For pretty, innovative boxed collections and hand painted & sculptural truffles.
Lake Champion - Fresh all natural chocolates from Vermont. Gourmet chocolate squares and truffles.
La Maison du Chocolate - A premier Paris Chocolatier. Pricy, but made with luxe ingredients. Great for gifts.
Neuhaus - For world famous, real Belgium truffles.

*The word "cocoa" is a derivative of "cacao." A cocoa bean is a dried and roasted cacao bean-like seed.
photos: cacao tree: mdweb and box of chocolate candies: Constance Cheng

1 comment:

  1. This is really making me hungry! And I have a feeling it would not help me a bit on my diet!
    Maybe just one cup of hot chocolate wouldn't hurt.........