Saturday, February 18, 2023

Happy Valentine’s Day, Chocolate!

 Happy Valentine’s Day, Chocolate! 

Chocolate has been around for thousands of years in one form or another. Yet it’s only been in the last 100 or so years that it’s become a powerhouse, with companies launching new types of chocolate every few years.

From chocolate consumption by country, gender, and even time of year, the amount of data to wade through can be overwhelming. So here are some of favorite facts about chocolate; from its origins to its characteristics, and chocolate trivia that will entertain and inform.

Interesting Chocolate Facts

Switzerland is the biggest consumer of chocolate in the world.

Switzerland ranked first per capita with 8.8 kilos of chocolate consumption per person that year.

The top 10 was all comprised of Eurocentric countries, while the United States came in at the number 19th spot with 4.4 kilograms consumed per person.

Chocolate’s name has ancient origins.

The word chocolate is thought to be derived from xocóatl

This is a Spanish name that combines the word ‘chocol’ from the Maya (meaning hot), and ‘atl’ from the Aztec (meaning water or liquid).

It is thought that the Spanish avoided both these names because ‘caca’ means poop in their language.

Cocoa was domesticated roughly 5000 years ago.

An article published by The University of British Columbia covers a study that uncovered evidence of cocoa’s domestication between 5,300 and 2,100 years ago. This is thousands of miles and roughly 1,500 years earlier than previously thought.

Chocolate was initially consumed as a bitter drink.

Unlike the solid bars we consume these days, early civilizations consumed cocoa in the form of drinks. These cacao beverages consisted of ground cocoa paste mixed with water and spices. The fermented, cured, and roasted beans gave the drink a rather a bitter taste.

However it’s believed that the more special the occasion, the more botanicals were added. Drinks made from the crushed cocoa nibs were flavored with varying amounts of maize, vanilla, flowers, chili peppers, medicinal herbs, and/or fermented agave sap.

Cacao was literal money growing on trees.

In the book ‘The True History of Chocolate’, the authors discussed the Maya’s use of cocoa beans as a currency to pay for goods and services. This was also true in the ancient Aztec culture, who regarded cocoa beans as more valuable than gold.

Accounts from adventurers and envoys of the time often cite the use of cacao as a form of money. 

The Spanish brought cocoa to Europe.

Italian-born Christopher Columbus encountered cocoa on his 4th voyage in 1502 when he and his crew used a canoe that contained various goods that they took back to Spain.

One story goes that the introduction of hot cocoa to Europe started with the conquistadors’ encounter with the Aztecs in 1519. Others claim that friars in 1544 brought Philip II gifts in the form of Mayan slaves and cocoa beans.

Milk chocolate originated in Jamaica.

The formal discovery of the modern chocolate milk drink is credited to Hans Sloan, who set sail for the then British-controlled colony of Jamaica in 1687. He was an Anglo-Irish physician and collector who observed locals consuming the drink during his 15-month stay.

According to the historian James Delbourgo, Jamaicans have been brewing hot chocolate with milk as early as 1494, albeit not always with cow’s milk.

The first chocolate bar was molded in 1847.

J.S. Fry & Sons was one of the big three British confectionery companies founded by Quakers, and was the largest producer of chocolate in the UK in the early 1800s.

In 1847 they molded the first portable chocolate bar that was suitable for commercial production, made from sugar, chocolate liquor, and added cocoa butter. This original served as the template for chocolate bars as we know them today.

The milk chocolate bar was invented thanks to Nestlé powdered milk in 1875.

Daniel Peter initially came up with a process to mix milk into a chocolate bar I n 1857, but ran into problems removing water from the milk. The moisture level remained too high, and that caused mildew to form.

Luckily he was neighbors with Henri Nestlé, who had developed a milk condensation process that produced dry powdered milk. It would take another seven years for Peter to fine-tune his formula before launching his ‘Gala Peter’ milk chocolate brand in 1887. 

Hershey’s earned their first million producing caramel candies.

In 1886, after many years of drifting jobs and opening an unsuccessful confectioner’s business, Milton S. Hershey was penniless. His luck turned when he secured a loan with Lancaster National Bank to fund a large order for his “Hershey’s Crystal A” caramel candy to supply an English candy importer.

In late 1893 he decided to pivot to chocolate production after attending a world fair in Chicago, which would lead him to sell his successful caramel business for $1 million in 1900.



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