The popular aphorism is that money cannot buy you happiness or it doesn’t grow on trees. For chocolates, it seems that both are possible – they grow on trees at first and then with some money, you can bring them home, supposedly with happiness.
Chocolate or should we say that ‘the cacao beans’ from which chocolates are made of really does grow on trees. And these beans are responsible for the chemical feel-good factor which in essence is actually a psychoactive drug that we get from the world’s most favorite treat.
The Theobroma cacao which we know as cacao beans is native to tropical regions of the American continent. They are the primary source of the 4 million metric tons of chocolates that are produced each year.
A Bit Of A History Lesson:
Chocolate consumption dates back at least 4,000 years but it might not be in the form that we know today. The people of present day Mexico, the Mayans are even known to have had the cacao beans used as currency. The upper echelons of Mayan society had the beans roasted after fermenting the seeds from cocoa pods. Then the roasted beans were ground to make a powdery substance which then was used to make a chocolate beverage - a drink that was cold and foaming unlike anything that we consume today. Sometimes honey was added to get sweetening effect and the Aztecs were innovative enough to add chili-pepper to make the drink ‘hot’ and probably it was the incubating incident that the phrase “hot chocolate” had come to being. Obviously we have a whole new meaning of hot chocolates these days but that’s an issue we may deal with in a future article.
Montezuma II, who was the last Aztec emperor, is renowned to consume a substantial amount of this drink every day. The historians believe that the emperor had a notion that the chocolate drink was a source of machismo and since the Mayans were only aware of one way to get the best out of cacao beans, the emperor made the chocolate drink his favorite. This also intrigued the Spaniards as well and it’s no wonder that they brought this wonder drink back to mainland Europe. The Spanish love for leisurely encounters and longer breaks from anything resembling ‘work’ embraced the drink and they subsequently enhanced it by adding sugar and spices like cinnamon and vanilla, also imported from the Americas, which ultimately gave the drink a form much like we enjoy now as chocolate drinks. And as such, chocolate drinking had cemented its place as a fashionable drink in the Spanish society.
Now let’s fast-forward the time until we get back about 200 years from now and we would have a Mr. Casparus van Houten senior making it possible for us to separate roasted cocoa beans into cocoa butter. And in the process, he was also able to derive a solid that could be transformed into cocoa powder. And this powdery form was actually the first formation known to men that could be combined with sugar and cocoa butter to make the earlier version of an edible chocolate, as opposed to an edible drink.
After that everything seemed to be working super-drive. In 1847, the Bristol Quaker firm of Fry’s and subsequently Cadbury’s in Birmingham created the first ever chocolate bar. In 1870, the Swiss added milk with chocolate bars and to this day, the Swiss are the top nation in the world for chocolate consumption. We, the Australians are comfortably occupying the seventh position and the encouraging fact for us is that the Australians seem to be rekindling their love for chocolates. It is estimated that 14.2 million Australians ate chocolates last year. In that same study, it was also found that Melbourne, Victoria is the Australian capital of chocolates. It is also the place where handmade premium chocolate makers like Schoko Chocolates have set up shop and keeps delighting chocolate lovers with true form of cacao beans culminating in the plethora of choices made available for the chocolate connoisseurs.
The history lesson would feel incomplete if I wouldn’t mention the Easter Eggs – luckily for the chocolate makers and the chocolate lovers alike, Easter Eggs were introduced to the world in the 1870s, and we needn’t look back since.