Chocolate doesn’t make the world go ‘round. . .
but it certainly makes the ride worthwhile!
It's the chocolate time of the year - Valentine's Day - the perfect occasion to celebrate the wonders of chocolate! Of course, for chocolate lovers, a.k.a. chocoholics, any time of the year is perfect for enjoying the smooth, rich taste of chocolate - no special season or reason required.
Chocolate expresses love, and rightly so – it has always been a treat for the elite. From earliest times, chocolate has been an indulgence and a symbol of wealth and privilege. As for love, at one time it was considered a love potion by some Central American tribes and an aphrodisiac favored by Montezuma, Casanova and Madame duBarry. Ancient cultures believed this special food was a gift from the gods to their people to give them strength, stamina and resistance to fatigue, necessities for survival in those times.
Although the Aztecs have long been credited with being the originators of our passion for chocolate, the first aficionados of the popular treat were actually the Olmecs and Mayas. The origin of the word “cacao” has been traced to the Mayan word kakawa. How and when they discovered the uses of the cacao seed is unknown.
While the Mayas may have been the first chocolatiers, the Aztecs are renowned for their consumption of chocolate. Montezuma II, the last Aztec ruler, and his palace staff allegedly drank 2000 servings a day – 50 of those by Montezuma himself. They drank the hot, bubbly brew in golden cups befitting its place of honor in their culture.
The Aztec brew would probably shock rather than tempt our taste buds. It was bitter, hot, and spicy, a drink that required an acquired taste for the Spanish conquerors. They described the drink as “loathsome . . . with a scum or froth that is very unpleasant to taste.” It was this froth or foam that the Mayas and Aztecs craved.
Chocolate passed through the hands and taste buds of several famous explorers in its journey to its current form and taste, including Christopher Columbus and Hernán Cortés. Columbus was the first European to come in contact with cacao, but he was unimpressed with the seeds. Cortés sent three chests of the seeds to King Carlos of Spain. Although the king was intrigued with the drink that “built up resistance and fought fatigue,” the Spanish found the bitter Aztec chocolate hard to swallow, both literally and figuratively.
They replaced the chili pepper flavoring with sugar, which was more agreeable to their palate. Adding sugar increased the cost of production, reserving the drink only for the rich and privileged while slaves and servants labored for no wages to produce it.
For almost 2000 years, chocolate was served only as a drink. In the 1800s, chocolate took on new forms and shapes making it accessible to the general public. Baker, Cadbury, Nestle and Hershey became the Who’s Who of the chocolate world, each with a major contribution to its quality, production, and marketing.
Chocolate is an addiction that people are proud of – their good taste in good taste. Critics and chocoholics and chocolatiers have bantered for years about the nutrition or lack of in chocolate. Sometimes its virtues are valued and in vogue while other times its sins are headlined. Currently, the virtues of chocolate, especially the dark, rich kind, seem to outweigh its vices – except for overindulgence – a fact supported by its $50-plus billion annual retail sales.
For those who need one, Valentine’s Day is the perfect reason to give chocolate to those who are special in our lives. It’s also a good time to self-indulge in one of the simple and inexpensive pleasures of life – the gift of the gods – chocolate!
Remember, a day without chocolate is like a day without sunshine. I think I’ll indulge in my daily dose right now!