by lyle e davis
Legend has it that old Chris Columbus first tasted chocolate on his third trip to this new country he took credit for founding (thus denying the rightful founders, the Vikings, from their proper credit, and yes, I am Norwegian, thank you) and it is probably true that Chris did not taste chocolate till then. He was, again, however, a latecomer. Chocolate had been around, in one form or another, for thousands of years. Yes, thousands, not hundreds. That Christopher Columbus, he always did things later than anyone else (remember, the Vikings got here first!)
The tasty secret of the cacao (kah KOW) tree was discovered 2,000 years ago in the tropical rainforests of the Americas. The pods of this tree contain seeds that can be processed into chocolate.
It would take years, however, before the lowly cacao bean would ultimately transform itself into the sweet confection we know it to be today.
With approximately 380 known chemicals, scientists are still struggling to learn how chocolate affects our brains. We do know that it mimics the way our brains react to marijuana, amphetamines, and the drug we call "love!" How did this little pod from a little tree become a global obsession? Enjoyed as a drink by the Mayans and Aztecs, it was Europeans who added sugar. But in 1847, chocolate became edible as well as drinkable and Milton S. Hershey made it popular in the US. During WWII, the chocolate bar became an internationally recognized American symbol. GIs used chocolate bars as barter, and the little candies known as M&Ms became a favorite. Recent studies show health benefits to chocolate, especially dark chocolate that contains some of the same antioxidant potential as red wine. So now you can have your chocolate and eat it, too!
Let’s take the journey together and see just how this all happened. You can snack on the way, if you wish. The Paper accepts absolutely no responsibility for weight gain, for high blood sugar, for cavities, or for romances, successful or failed.
The first people known to have made chocolate were the ancient cultures of Mexico and Central America. These people, including the Maya and Aztec, mixed ground cacao seeds with water, chile peppers, cornmeal, and other ingredients. This paste made a frothy, spicy chocolate drink.
There are some areas today where you can still acquire and taste this concoction. It’s nothing, however, like what you and I have come to enjoy and, in some cases, to worship.
Later, the Spanish conquistadors brought the seeds back home to Spain where new recipes were created. Eventually, the drink’s popularity spread throughout Europe. In Genoa, Italy, where Chris Columbus hung out, it was certainly introduced. But, Chris, being the stubborn sort, had to come all the way to the Americas to sample it. Since then, new technologies and innovations have changed the texture and taste of chocolate, but it still remains one of the world’s favorite flavors.
Drinking chocolate was an important part of both Maya and Aztec life. Many people in the Maya society could drink chocolate at least on occasion, although it was a particularly favored beverage for royalty. But in Aztec society, primarily rulers, priests, decorated soldiers, and honored merchants could partake of this sacred brew.
Chocolate also played a special role in both Maya and Aztec royal and religious events. Priests presented cacao seeds as offerings to the gods and served chocolate drinks during sacred ceremonies. This, it seems to me, was a whole lot better than sacrificing a virgin to the gods . . . or to sacrifice a perfectly innocent sheep or calf.
And I reckon the gods found chocolate drinks a whole lot more tasty, too.
It only took about 100 years for chocolate to become a favorite within Europe. One hundred years is not very long when you consider that chocolate had been around since about 2000 B.C. and wasn’t introduced to Europe till around 1521, after Cortez had conquered Montezuma’s forces in Mexico, that the Spanish began to learn about the delicious flavor of chocolate. “The divine drink which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink permits a man to walk for a whole day without food.” Hernán Cortés, 1519
As the Spanish ships sailed home, they were not filled with only cacao, but also with corn, chile peppers, vanilla, and tomatoes. Later, potatoes from the new world also caught on. And that is how paella was born!
In Spain, people couldn’t get enough of this new drink, which had never been tasted before outside the Americas. Keeping up with the demand for chocolate required the labor of millions of people to tend, harvest, and process both sugar and cacao. From the early 1600s until the late 1800s, enslaved people provided most of this labor.
Boston Cream Pie - oh, the Aztecs and Mayans should only have been so lucky! This chocolate covered concoction was to come many hundreds of years later. Mmmmmmm!
The Spanish didn’t like the bitter flavor of chocolate. At first, Cortés and his men weren’t thrilled by chocolate’s taste. To spice up the brew a bit, they began heating the beverage and adding a variety of ingredients. Once the drink migrated to Europe, someone eventually got the idea to add sugar, cinnamon, and other spices to the mix—and sweet, hot chocolate was born. Because of its early colonization of the Americas, Spain held a monopoly on chocolate for many years. Only the wealthiest and most well-connected Spanish nobility could afford this expensive import.
And in the late 1600s, Sir Hans Sloane, president of the Royal College of Physicians, introduced another culinary custom: mixing the already popular chocolate drink with milk for a lighter, smoother flavor. Slowly, manufacturers began to realize the value of chocolate as a means of generating profits. In 1910, William Cadbury became one of the world’s first famous manufacturers.
Before the Industrial Revolution, chocolate was a gritty, rather oily paste usually dissolved in water or milk and made into a beverage. But the invention of new machines made it possible to create smoother, creamier chocolate in the form of an edible candy bar.
One of the most important inventions was the cocoa press, created in 1828 by the Dutch chemist Coenraad Van Houten. It squeezed out cocoa butter (leaving the powder we call cocoa) and made cocoa both more consistent and cheaper to produce. And in 1875, Daniel Peter and Henri Nestlé teamed up to introduce condensed milk to chocolate. Their smooth, creamy “milk chocolate” rapidly became a popular favorite. It was many years later before some lovable hand puppet came up with the saying, “Nestle’s makes the very best . . . . . .chocolate!”
Expensive handmade chocolate soon gave way to affordable mass-produced sweets. For hundreds of years, chocolate remained a pricey luxury for the upper classes. But new technologies made chocolate affordable to a much broader segment of society and opened up opportunities for culinary experimentation.
Chocolate began to appear not only in its candy bar form, but also became much more popular as an ingredient in other confectionery sweets, such as cakes, pastries, and sorbets. Advertising boosted public consumption of chocolate. While inventions made chocolate easier to produce, advertising made it something people craved. As chocolate products became cheaper to make and buy, advertisers introduced marketing campaigns aimed at more people, particularly women and children.
A cup of tasty, hot chocolate!
Breakfast chocolate became a part of many people’s diets. And nibbling on chocolate bars was encouraged as a way to sustain energy, cure lethargy, and improve a host of other medical conditions.
In 1893, Pennsylvania confectioner Milton S. Hershey discovered chocolate processing equipment at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago (where The Field Museum also got its start!). He bought the machinery, built a chocolate factory and town in the hills of southern Pennsylvania. He sold his caramel factory for $1 million (which was a huge amount of money in 1900). He built a new factory and focused on chocolate. From this new endeavor he soon became “the Henry Ford of chocolate makers.” He had discoverd the method of converting chocolate to a solid candy bar, and from this, he made his second fortune.
Chocolate was on its way!
The military introduced many people to chocolate. Surprisingly, the armed forces helped spread the love of chocolate worldwide. The popularity of candy bars really skyrocketed after World War I, when chocolate was part of every United State’s soldier’s rations. By 1930, there were nearly 40,000 different kinds of chocolate. During World War II, American soldiers introduced the Japanese to chocolate, where its popularity continues to rise today.
For centuries, legends from many cultures have claimed that consuming chocolate instilled strength, health, faith, and passion in those who drank it.
Chocolate is still revered as an icon of love and devotion today, and eating chocolate remains a part of many enduring holiday traditions.
Today, the Hershey Chocolate Company owns such brands as Almond Joy and Mounds candy bars, Cadbury Creme Eggs candy, Hershey's Cookies 'n' Creme candy bar, Hershey's milk chocolate and milk chocolate with almonds bars, Hershey's Nuggets chocolates, Hershey's Kisses and Hershey's Hugs chocolates, Kit Kat wafer bar, Reese's crunchy cookie cups, Reese's NutRageous candy bar, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Sweet Escapes candy bars, TasteTations candy, Twizzlers candy, Whoppers malted milk balls, and York Peppermint Patties.
Some background information, first, on Hershey’s Kisses:
Hershey's kisses were first produced in 1907. Although no one today seems to know where the candy got it's name, the most popular story says it came from the sound that the machine made as it deposited the chocolate onto the conveyor belt during the manufacturing process.
Kisses are not made via a mold, but by a special machine that literally drops the chocolate, in a precise amount, onto a moving belt. They are then cooled quickly to form the now famous "kiss" shape.
There are more than 80 million kisses made every day at the Hershey plants in Pennsylvania, California, and Virginia.
The kiss turned 100 years old on July 7, 2007, with the unveiling of the world's largest kiss in Hershey, Pennsylvania. It weighed 30,540 pounds.
In 1990, Hershey introduced the kiss with almonds, which quickly became popular with people all around the world.
In 1993, several new types of kisses were introduced. First, a special dark chocolate kiss, intended as a limited edition flavor, became so popular that it was turned into a permanent mainstay. Next a creamy caramel and milk chocolate kiss surprised the public with its smooth and rich goodness. Next, the Hershey hug - - milk chocolate hugged by white chocolate - - joined the ranks of the ever growing product line.
When Charles See arrived in Los Angeles from Canada in 1921 to try his hand at the confection business, he decided that no image would better reflect the personality of his fledgling venture than that of his mother. Apart from using her recipes as a foundation, See knew that keeping things in the family was the only way to bring about the kind of lovingly crafted product he desired.
See, along with his mother and his wife, Florence, opened the first See's Candies shop and kitchen on Western Avenue in Los Angeles in November of 1921. The sparkling clean, black and white shop was designed to resemble Mary See's home kitchen.
Mary See died in 1939 at the age of 85, but the company's ability to adjust to changing times - without abandoning the passion for quality and service that Mary See represented - kept it going strong throughout the decades to come.
Following World War II, See's Candy Shops grew as California grew, and the See's family continued the tradition, opening up shops throughout the state. In the 50's, See's established itself with the new and growing phenomenon of shopping malls. See's customers continued to recognize the See's Candies product for its quality and taste, and continued to visit See's old-fashioned black and white shops, enjoying a visit to a time past where service was paramount.
In 1972, the See's family sold the company to Berkshire Hathaway Inc., presided over by Chairman Warren Buffett and Vice Chairman Charles Munger.
Today See's Candies are sold in over two hundred shops throughout the West, a true sign of their enduring popularity. And, to this day, Charles See's living motto, "Quality Without Compromise®" continues to guide the company.
Forrest Mars invented the recipe for M&M chocolates during the Spanish Civil War. Mars saw soldiers eating pieces of chocolate covered with a hard sugary coating. The coating preventing the candy from melting in the hot sun. Forrest Mars received a patent for his manufacturing process on March 3, 1941.
One M was for Forrest E. Mars Sr., and the other M was for Bruce Murrie, son of long-term Hershey president William F.R. Murrie. Murrie had 20 percent interest in the product. The arrangement allowed the candies to be made with Hershey chocolate which had control of the rationed chocolate.
M&M chocolates were first sold to the public in 1941, packaged in cardboard tubes. In 1948, the packaging changed from a tube to the brown plastic pouch known today. The letter "m" is printed on each candy with vegetable dye.
In 1954, "M&M Peanut Chocolate Candies were introduced. That same year, the M&Ms brand characters and the famous slogan "The milk chocolate melts in your mouth, not in your hand" were both trademarked.
One can hardly resist a dish of ice cream today without pouring a healthy amount of Hershey’s chocolate syrup on top. Maybe even a few nuts; perhaps a dollop of whipped cream as well. All are nice, but without the chocolate syrup . . . it’s just another dish of ice cream.
Yes, chocolate has become almost a requirement for sweets these days. And it all started out as a simple bean, in a simple pod.
And now, as the late Paul Harvey used to say, “you know the rest of the story.”
Time now . . . for some