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Again thanks to Stephanie Zonis for this article 'The truth about "RAW" Chocolate'
Raw chocolate can also be sweetened with dried dates or coconut palm sugar. Are these raw? Coconut palm sugar is not, according to an article at NaturalNews.com (http://www.naturalnews.com/028996_palm_sugar_natural_sweetener.html; incidentally, the author of this article asserts that agave nectar is not raw). Surely dried dates must be raw, then? Not necessarily. Some are, but some are sulphured or even soaked in sugar syrup. I’ve found a “raw” chocolate sweetened with maple syrup, a substance very far from being raw. This particular chocolate maker uses maple syrup for a number of reasons; among them are the syrup’s “superior flavor”, environmental sustainability, vegan-friendly nature, low glycemic index score, and their belief that it’s “nutrient-rich”. At least one “raw” chocolate is sweetened with rapadura, an unbleached and unrefined form of cane sugar. However, rapadura is not a raw product by any stretch of the imagination. Jordan Schuster, the manufacturer of this chocolate, has this to say about his choice of sweetener: “…we don’t consider rapadura to be a raw sugar. Our stated objective is to present raw cacao in the best, most delicious, most conscientious way possible. I use rapadura because it’s the least refined dry sugar on the market with the lowest sucrose content per gram…” I respect the beliefs of these manufacturers. And what they’re doing is perfectly within the letter of the law, given the lack of legal definitions and certification for raw foods in general. You must decide if it’s acceptable that “raw” chocolate may not contain all-raw ingredients.
Let’s say you’ve done everything necessary. Say you’ve found low-temperature-fermented beans, unroasted, kept under 118 degrees F during all processing. You’ve found a raw sweetener that works for you. You’ve even found raw additional ingredients (Goji berries, coconut, etc.—always popular in chocolate products). You’ve got real raw chocolate, in whatever form you please (bar, truffle, etc.). My next question is this: why are you eating it? I don’t mean that in an accusatory way; I’m asking a question. If you tell me that you’re eating it because you love the way it tastes and it makes you happy, I will tell you to go in peace and enjoy your raw chocolate, and may it bring a smile to your lips and a song to your heart. However, if you inform me that you’re eating raw chocolate because it’s healthy for you, I’m going to have to take you out back to the (virtual) woodshed.
I’ll start my explanation by saying that raw cacao powder, like cocoa powder made from roasted beans, does indeed contain a significant amount of some nutrients, if you consume enough of it. Both have a bit of protein and are a source of iron. You’ll also find other minerals present, such as zinc, copper, manganese, and phosphorus, along with more dietary fiber than you might expect. Www.Sunfood.com has a letter from David Wolfe, a big raw chocolate proponent, announcing that raw cocoa powder is “the richest food source of magnesium of any common food”. And then, of course, there are the antioxidants. A food’s antioxidants, you may know, are measured by its ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) score. Conventionally-produced cocoa powder (made from roasted beans) has an ORAC score in the 80,000 to 82,000 range per 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces), according to the USDA (http://www.ars.usda.gov/sp2userfiles/place/12354500/data/orac/orac07.pdf). Raw cocoa powder is not listed in the USDA table I found (which dates from late 2007). According to Mr. Wolfe, though, raw cocoa powder has an even more impressive ORAC score of 955 units per gram, or 95,500 units per 100 grams. Recognize that there are many different types of antioxidants, and not all are found in any one food. Then ask yourself this: how many antioxidant units do you require for optimum health in one day? Of what variety should they be? If you don’t know the answer to either question, that’s good, because you shouldn’t. Nobody does. Nobody knows anywhere near enough about antioxidants yet to be able to determine daily needs, or whether different antioxidants work on different parts of the body. And, as is the case with vitamins and minerals, more is not always better. Is consuming antioxidants in excess of the amount you need harmful? Once again, no one really knows. Now, according to a tin of cocoa I have, one tablespoon of conventional, unsweetened cocoa powder weighs about 5 grams. (One tablespoon is the amount I use to make a cup of hot cocoa.) You can’t eat twenty tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder (to make up 100 grams) within any reasonable length of time. By contrast, it’s entirely possible to eat 100 grams/3.5 ounces of, say, raw blackberries or raw blueberries at one sitting. Doing so provides more overall nutrition, far fewer calories, much less fat, one serving of your daily produce, and between 5200 and 6500 ORAC units of antioxidants, respectively, or slightly more than you’d get from that one tablespoon of raw cocoa powder. And there’s never a question as to whether those berries are really raw.
What’s more, there is NOTHING magical about 118 degrees Fahrenheit, nor about 104 degrees F, nor about any temperature within that range. If you don’t understand the temperature guidelines in the raw food movement, they exist because of enzymes. Supposedly, raw food is healthier for you because it’s “living” food, containing active enzymes. Enzymes, which are composed of proteins, are essential to the regulation of metabolic activity. Raw fooders believe that heating foods above their chosen temperature denatures the enzymes and that the food is then “dead”. I don’t propose to start a conversation on the logic of such a diet here, but some interesting facts about enzymes are brought up in this article: www.ecologos.org/denature.htm. Incidentally, Ms. Madell has also heard that raw food is “living”, but pronounces this claim “nonsense in relation to chocolate”, adding, “By the time they end up in a chocolate bar, cocoa beans (whether raw or not) are categorically dead.”
It is true that heating enzymes beyond a certain temperature will denature them, stopping their activity. There is an article about temperature and enzymes here: http://www.rawfoods.com/marketplace/excaliburstatement.html. The letter is from the manufacturer of a dehydrator and includes this passage: “…we spoke with Dr. John Whitaker who is a world recognized enzymologist, and former dean of the Department of Nutrition and Food Science at U.C. Davis. He said that every enzyme is different and some are more stable at higher temperatures than others but that most enzymes will not become completely inactive until food temperatures exceed 140 to 158 F in a wet state.” Bear in mind that Rawfoods.com is a pro-raw food diet website. The site’s FAQ page proclaims that “In general, the act of heating food over 116 degrees F destroys enzymes in food.” Yet the letter from Excalibur refutes that statement. If you’re confused right about now, that makes two of us. Further, that same website declares, “…cooking a food changes the molecular structure of the food and renders it toxic”. I challenge anyone reading this to present me with even one large-scale, long-term study, scientifically carried out by a reputable research group or organization, conclusively demonstrating the toxicity of food heated above 116 degrees F.
I quoted Clay Gordon earlier in this article talking about lower-temperature bean fermentation. He asserted that, while possible, it would take more time and more care, and therefore would cost more. That will hold true for all aspects of raw chocolate manufacture. It will cost more to ferment the beans, just as lower-temperature drying, conching, etc. will take longer (and hence cost more) than their conventional counterparts. Refined sugar is relatively cheap, but it isn’t used in raw chocolate, and the other sweeteners will likely be more expensive, as will additional ingredients. In a nutshell, raw chocolate is going to be pricey. I believe that some of this is because of the perception surrounding it. Think about organic food for a minute here. Yes, organic food does cost more to produce, but given the belief that it’s better for you, some sellers will charge more for it than costs would justify, and many consumers will continue to buy it because of a belief that it’s more nutritious and/or healthier for you. In my opinion, the same thing is happening with raw chocolate. Who doesn’t want to believe that the chocolate they love to eat is “healthy”, or at least better for you than a supermarket chocolate bar?
One more thing to think about, and that’s the source of “raw” chocolate and cocoa powder. I’ve mentioned Tom Pedersen, head honcho of Cocoa Puro, in this article. His business is heavily dependent upon cacao beans. He’s done his research, and he’s quite knowledgeable. The regions where most cacao bean processing is done are not wealthy, and in-depth technical knowledge of bean processing can be hard to find. Tom points out that “…much of the cacao industry, particularly (in these countries) isn’t set up to handle the finicky nature of raw food requirements. You’re lucky to get well-fermented beans at all, much less fermented and dried within a specific low temperature range.”
I wrote this article because I’m tired of the hyperbole and the exaggerated claims surrounding “raw” chocolate and “raw” cocoa powder. I’m weary of the insistence that a raw food diet is capable of miracles, like preventing the aging process. Nobody doubts that eating lots of raw or lightly cooked fruits and vegetables is a good idea, but chocolate and cocoa (raw or otherwise) are still dietary luxury items. And the concept that your food will be valueless or even toxic if it’s heated beyond 104 degrees or 116 degrees or 118 degrees is, frankly, fertilizer. I know that people are angry at the way large corporations produce and distribute our food. People are frightened and they feel powerless. With so many food recalls in recent years, and negative reports emerging frequently regarding what’s in the food we’ve eaten for years, it’s hard to blame anyone for that. But if the stereotypical American diet of overprocessed, high-sodium, high-fat, high-protein, high-sugar foods is one extreme, a raw food diet is simply the pendulum swinging to another extreme. Is that an improvement? I don’t think it is.
I’ve come down pretty hard on raw chocolate producers here. I’ve communicated with a number of people involved in the production of raw chocolate for this article, all of whom were unstinting with their time and had no way of knowing whether I was going to praise or condemn what they make. The great majority of raw chocolate makers and raw chocolatiers are like the rest of us—they’re just trying to find a niche and scratch out a living for themselves. Those I’ve spoken to seem convinced that they’re doing something good for people, and they’re all hard-working folks. But if you take away nothing else from this article, understand that your “raw” chocolate is dependent entirely upon trusting someone else’s word that it’s genuinely raw. In turn, that someone else must depend upon their suppliers’ word that the products the supplier furnishes are really raw. Raw cacao beans, raw cocoa powder, and raw cocoa butter require exacting conditions and techniques. But these products are not grown/processed in the US, where such conditions and techniques can be met or acquired without excessive difficulty; they’re grown/processed in Third World countries. In a time when suppliers will be anxious to bring more and more “raw” cocoa products to market due to increasing demand, will those exacting conditions and techniques still be met and applied constantly and continuously? I don’t know.
Does this mean there’s no real “raw” chocolate? The most interesting opinion I heard about this was from Daren Hayes (www.stirsthesoul.com), a small-scale raw bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturer. Hayes has made some of his own equipment and modified machines he’s bought. Stirs the Soul offers people a choice of three sweeteners. They grind their own beans and are in the process of acquiring equipment to do their own cocoa butter processing. When the 2009 Essential Living Foods story about “raw” cocoa products not really being raw broke, Stirs the Soul refused to sell bars made with that cocoa butter as raw, sustaining a heavy financial loss. So Mr. Hayes speaks about this subject with some authority, as far as I’m concerned. His way of looking at raw chocolate is that all bets are off—when it comes to industrial-scale production. He believes that raw chocolate production lends itself primarily to small business. My own belief is that there may indeed be some small businesses doing raw chocolate right. However, given the lack of legal definition and certification, there are no guarantees; those who eat these products must purchase and consume them on faith. Because of that, because of the health hype, and, last but not least, because I’ve never found any raw chocolate product I really enjoy, I have no recommendations for you. If you like the idea of supporting raw chocolate producers, ask a lot of questions before you buy, and keep trying products new to you. As usual, if you find something you love, e-mail me, and I’ll check it out. If you can intelligently refute anything I’ve written here, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Finally, I call upon the raw chocolate industry to set some standards for themselves. At the very least, this means getting a third-party certification system in place, though a legal definition might be required first. If nothing else, standards might reduce some of the confusion out there. And in this Age of Too Much Information, anything that can be done to lessen bewilderment can only help consumers in the long run.
There isn’t any. Let the angry e-mails commence! I don’t mean that there isn’t any chocolate that’s truly raw (although that may be the case, too); I mean that hard and fast truths about such a product are very difficult to come by. There’s almost as much misinformation about this subject as there has been about JFK’s assassination, and considering the brief length of time that “raw” chocolate has been around by comparison, that’s really saying something.
First things first: at this writing, there are no legal standards for “raw” products, period. There is no independent, third party certification for “raw” products, period. There is no agreement, even within the raw food community, about the maximum permissible temperature for a food. 118 degrees F is a popular number, but I’ve also seen 116 degrees F, 104 degrees F, and at least three other candidates between 104 and 118 degrees F. With the lack of a legal definition or even consensus among raw fooders themselves on exactly what constitutes a “raw” food, anyone can tell you that their chocolate is “raw”, but that may or may not be true. In 2009, for instance, Essential Living Foods (www.essentiallivingfoods.com) issued a statement announcing that they (and, by extension, their customers) had been duped. The supposedly “raw” cocoa and cocoa butter they’d been obtaining from Ecuador was nothing of the kind; it had been processed at temperatures exceeding 200 degrees F. (The company now sources their raw cocoa products from Indonesia and proclaims that they are the world’s first “verified” raw products of this type (meaning that company representatives traveled to Indonesia, videotaped the manufacturing process, and satisfied themselves regarding temperature limitations). But “verified” is not the same as independent, third party certification; that still doesn’t exist.)The temperatures are important, because cacao seeds/beans on the way to becoming chocolate are typically put through several processes that involve heat. There’s fermentation, which rids the beans of some of their bitter and astringent flavors, and subsequent drying of the beans to remove excess moisture prior to storing, sorting, and shipping. Fermentation is carried out when the beans are still surrounded by the fruit pulp of the cocoa pod, and the process lasts for at least 48 hours (sometimes much longer, depending upon many factors). While the temperature of the fermenting mass can rise above 118 degrees F, this is not a given. Much depends on how the fermentation is done; the temperature of the drying beans, too, will vary considerably. Clay Gordon, of www.thechocolatelife.com, notes this, “…It is actually easy to fully and completely ferment cacao (italics and bold type are Mr. Gordon’s) and keep the pile under 118F… The “trick” is to control the size of the pile.
There are a number of fermentation boxes I have personally seen that make it possible to do this…It is somewhat harder to dry the beans and keep the temp under 118F —if the beans are dried in direct sun, and especially if they are dried on a concrete pad. Temperatures can easily reach 140F —at least at the surface of the pad. It is possible to dry beans at low temp, it just takes a lot more care, takes longer - and therefore costs more.”Anyone familiar with the chocolate-making process knows that a critical part of the manufacture of conventional chocolate is roasting. The maker of Amano Chocolate, Art Pollard, states that roasting “is one of the most important steps in the process of developing chocolate flavor”. He adds that roasting temperatures begin at 210 degrees F. Tom Pedersen, of www.cocoapuro.com, tells me that roasting temperatures should be above 212 degrees F, in order to steam off moisture content; higher temperatures also enable caramelization and a process called the Maillard reaction that add flavor to the beans. So a “cold roast” process, that is to say, one under 118 degrees F, can’t exist. Not only that, but the lack of roasting doesn’t allow crucial flavor changes within the cocoa bean, so any “raw” chocolate won’t have the flavor profile associated with conventional chocolate.
Since any genuinely raw chocolate must be made from beans that are not roasted (though they might be dried further at low temperatures), some people are concerned about pathogens in the unroasted beans, including Salmonella. Www.gardenislandchocolate.com quotes Dr. Keith Warriner, a food microbiologist at Canada’s University of Guelph: “Because chocolate is high in fat it protects Salmonella from environmental stress and stomach acid…if chocolate does become contaminated, Salmonella survives longer and only needs to be present in low numbers to survive passage through the stomach.”
Colin Gasko (www.roguechocolatier.com) tells me that people wouldn’t want to eat raw chocolate if they saw the way cacao beans were treated in countries where they’re grown. He has seen beans stored outdoors, by the side of the road, or under other decidedly non-hygienic conditions, such as sharing an area with chickens, who walk over and/or defecate on them.
Kristen Hard (www.cacaoatlanta.com) agrees. She’s visited Venezuela to source beans, and there are no sanitary regulations on farms where beans are initially processed and dried. Animals, she explains, are “out and about among the beans”. Ms. Hard points out that there are some lower-heat, or non-heat-dependent, methods that might help this situation, such as ultraviolet lights. Farmers that grow cacao are generally poor, though, so any technology of this type would likely have to be supplied by an outside source. I have not heard of any cacao farmers being supplied with non-heat-dependent means to reduce pathogens. That doesn’t mean it’s not happening, but if I were a supplier or client doing this, I’d use it as a selling point. Surely germ-phobe Americans (and we are germ-phobes) would want to know that their raw cacao beans had less risk of possible pathogen contamination than untreated beans?If cacao beans do become contaminated, even a thorough cleaning and winnowing of beans might not be sufficient to remove pathogens from them, something else that higher-heat roasting can accomplish. Not everyone shares these apprehensions; Samantha Madell (www.tava.com.au) is a chocolate maker in Australia who has done considerable research into this issue, and she has found no occurrences of raw chocolate causing salmonella poisoning. Her belief is that “chocolate products typically become dangerous when non-cocoa ingredients, such as egg and dairy products, are added to them”. And in fairness, it should be noted that cases of Salmonella poisoning have occurred in conventional chocolate. Post-processing testing for pathogens is important for all chocolate products, raw or conventional.
There’s another process after roasting that can heat cacao beans to higher temperatures. Once the beans are freed of their outer shells, the bean pieces, or nibs, are crushed in mills that operate at high speed. The resulting paste-like mixture is cacao liquor or chocolate liquor (unsweetened chocolate, in layman’s terms, and, despite the name, it contains no alcohol). The friction in any high speed process will usually generate a good amount of heat; Tom Pedersen informs me that the grinding process generally raises cacao liquor temperatures upwards of 130 degrees F, and even higher temperatures have been mentioned by others who work with conventional chocolate. Samantha Madell believes that grinding nibs under 118 degrees F is entirely possible, but she says, “It’s easy to coarsely grind nibs at a low temperature…it’s also easy to grind small quantities of nibs, or to grind nibs for a short time, or to stone grind nibs slowly, or with expensive water-cooled equipment, at low temps.” (The italics are hers.)
Jordan Schuster, of The Fearless Chocolate Company (www.fearlesschocolate.com), writes that Fearless uses “water jacketed ball mills” for nib grinding. Daniel Sklaar (www.fineandraw.com) employs a small (65 pound) stone grinder for his admittedly small-scale business, but adds that there are several different machines capable of grinding at low temperature. John Nanci (www.chocolatealchemy.com) agrees, saying that standard (read: industrially-produced) chocolate is ground in a high speed mill. Nanci has been making his own non-raw chocolate on a small scale for years. For grinding, he employs a peanut grinder, and the end product emerges “at around 110 F”.
After the chocolate liquor is produced, most manufacturers will conche it. While there’s some debate about whether conching improves the flavor of the chocolate, the process unquestionably provides a smoother chocolate. Originally, chocolate was conched in long stone receptacles; the process was accomplished with stone balls and often took days. Modern manufacturing uses heavy rollers or rotary mixing blades, and chocolate may be conched for only a few hours or for up to several days. Bear in mind that the chocolate undergoing conching needs to be in liquid form. The question now becomes, is it possible to conch at temperatures under 118 degrees F? John Nanci sells devices called “melangers”, for conching small quantities of chocolate. His take on the situation? “I’ve heard of people using the melangers I sell to make raw chocolate by somehow keeping the temperature under 118 F, but personally I’ve never been able to do it.” His e-mail added that his current batch of chocolate, in the melanger as he typed, was 127 F, “and many batches I run are above 135 F.” By contrast, Daren Hayes (www.stirsthesoul.com) declares that keeping chocolate under 118F while conching is “all about climate control”. He has an airflow going over the motors of his conching machines, as well as an exhaust fan that can either heat or cool the room in which the machines are located.
Again, after the chocolate liquor is produced, it’s sometimes separated into its components (cacao butter and cacao powder) via hydraulic press. These presses are serious business; according to Maricel E. Presilla’s The New Taste of Chocolate, they can exert a force of over six thousand pounds per square inch. As a rule, that amount of pressure results in a build-up of heat. How much heat? Samantha Madell comments that she and her partner have pressed cocoa liquor in hydraulic presses at temperatures under 118 degrees F, but that “the same limitations apply as with grinding: if it’s inefficient, or slow, or small scale, or on water-cooled equipment, it’s not too difficult.” Others I’ve talked to, all of whom work with conventional chocolate, don’t think that even slightly larger-scale hydraulic liquor pressing is possible under raw temperature restrictions. There are other ways to separate the components, including a screw expeller (Ms. Madell has had “quite a bit of experience” with screw expellers; she’s never checked the temperature on any she was working with, “but the output was definitely hot—I would guess considerably hotter than 118 F”). There’s also something called the Broma process. In this, ground cacao beans are bagged and hung in a warm room. In theory, the heat in the room causes the cocoa butter to melt and separate from the mass of ground beans. Cocoa butter melts at around normal human body temperature, so the Broma process wouldn’t violate any raw food restrictions. However, the Broma process is notoriously slow and inefficient, and some chocolatiers to whom I’ve spoken don’t think it works at all. While I haven’t checked in with everyone making bean-to-bar raw chocolate, I know of no one using this method.
Even supposing that you can find cacao beans fermented and dried at a low temperature, kept constantly below the 118 degree F threshold, can you manufacture a truly raw chocolate product? That depends. You’ll want to sweeten whatever you’re creating, as unsweetened cocoa powder isn’t especially palatable. Now, as you might expect, chocolates labeled “raw” should not use refined sugar as a sweetener. Agave nectar is a popular choice these days, but is it raw? Well, maybe. Again, because there is no independent raw certification, because there are no legal standards, it’s difficult to be sure. I’ve seen claims that all agave nectar is processed at temperatures under 118 degrees F, and I’ve seen statements insisting that 140 degrees F is a much more common temperature for making nectar. Another chocolatier, who did not want to be mentioned here, raised another potential problem with agave nectar; it’s water-based. Chocolate, even raw chocolate, is fat-based. This means that chocolate sweetened with agave nectar would be extremely difficult to temper, although at least two bean-to-bar companies offer such a chocolate. If you don’t know about tempering, it’s a complex process, but one vital to most chocolate. Skillful tempering is what gives chocolate its shine, a good smooth texture, and that satisfying “snap” you get when you break a piece from a chocolate bar.
The next few blog posts will be articles about "Raw Chocolate" and if it is really raw?
There are some pretty mixed opinions out there on chocolate which is being marketed as “raw”.
Most raw chocolate enthusiasts are looking for a chocolate that has higher levels of antioxidants / flavanols / polyphenols. Essentially the stuff that is really good for you, and is reported to have very high levels in dark chocolate. There have been many research articles on the benefits of dark chocolate for our health, and it is now known that if we have chocolate with a high cocoa content as part of a balanced diet, our physical and mental health can gain from it. It has been found that cacao which is processed under around 46C has even higher levels of these health giving properties. The enzymes which contain the antioxidants present in the cacao are preserved when it is processed at low temperatures, explaining the increased health benefits.
“Raw chocolate” is very often made by blending cocoa butter and cocoa powder with binding ingredients and sweeteners, such as coconut oil and agave syrup. Although this technique can often produce some very tasty results, it is not really making chocolate, (and it definitely isn’t making chocolate from bean to bar!) The producer is working with recipes in a way that any enthusiast could replicate at home with a basic kitchen and the right ingredients. Why not give it a go using these recipes for instance.
The intentions of producers making chocolate commercially this way are usually well meant, but there are some key points that dispute the definition of raw. We should consider the fermentation of the cacao. Fermentation takes place at the origin, either on the farm itself or at a nearby processing station. This natural process is essential when developing the tannins and unpleasant acid flavours found in truly raw cacao (straight off the tree) into nice fruity, chocolate flavours. Fermentation usually takes place over several days, with the cacao being turned to ensure an even ferment and the introduction of some oxygen. Fermentation will typically reach temperatures of between 45C and 50C. Most raw “chocolate makers” may have no idea at what temperatures their cacao has been fermented. There are however some cacao processors who will purposefully under-ferment their cacao so that it can reach the raw chocolate market.
If fermentation takes place at a low temperature the cacao will not develop to it’s full flavour. If it doesn’t fully ferment, it will likely be left with an unpleasant astringency depending on the particular cacao being used.
The ability to produce “raw” cocoa powder, and cocoa butter under a temperature of 46C has been challenged by those working in the industry. A typical cocoa press used to create cocoa butter usually keeps the butter melted at around 70C. It has been suggested that many of the cacao powder and cacao butter products available to raw chocolatiers are coming out of high temperature processes, and are in fact frauds. However, there are two excellent companies out there who are pioneering new techniques to genuinely create raw cacao powder and cacao butter. Big Tree Farms, in Indonesia, and Pacari in Ecuador. In any case, it is worth asking a raw chocolate producer to provide evidence that their products have been treated at low temperatures to validate the claims of higher antioxidant levels.
There is another more worrying aspect to consider about raw chocolate. Roasting is not only done to develop flavours, but also to kill bacteria. If consumers with a high regard for their health were to be shown how cacao is usually fermented and dried at source they may wish to re-consider. Cacao is typically fermented poorly under shade crop leaves (such as bananas), and laid out on a tarp to dry out in the sun (see my other topic, why chocolate should be expensive). Exposed to the elements throughout, there are many hygiene risks cacao is exposed to if it is not treated with care in a dedicated processing facility. It may shock to know that most of the worlds chocolate is originally processed on farm. Both Hershey’s and Cadbury’s have in the past had to recall products because of Salmonella. “Raw” chocolate is not roasted, therefore any bacteria picked up on route to processing will still be present in the finished chocolate. A producer making “raw” chocolate should be able to prove that their products have been processed hygienically to avoid such risks.
The word raw has been redefined within the chocolate industry to market “raw” chocolate products. The producers of “raw” appear to be holding on to the term to separate it from conventionally processed chocolate, using it to give a competitive edge. The word raw is used to define their chocolates health benefits, often without an in depth knowledge of the processes involved. To me the word raw means unprocessed. A carrot I pull from the ground or a cacao pod which I cut from a tree and open to eat will give me a raw food. In my opinion, cacao which has been fermented, dried, crushed, and mixed with other ingredients is not really raw.
We don’t dispute the figures showing that cacao processed at lower temperatures retains more of it’s antioxidants, and the flavours which can be obtained by low temperature processing can occasionally be delightful. But these products shouldn’t be labelled raw. If a chocolate maker chooses to continue using this term once they have the facts about the processing of their “raw” ingredients, they could be misleading consumers. As there is no regulatory body for this kind of terminology, it’s something that we may just have to accept.
So with this in mind all of the products which are made using unroasted cacao will be labelled as “Unroasted” rather than “Raw”, as this reflects more honestly the processes involved.
Anything is good and useful if it’s made of chocolate.
The last installment in this Series of History of Chocolate
Chocolate Goes Industrial
19th Century - Part 4
The 19th century Industrial Revolution saw technological advances that changed the shape of chocolate, literally. The very first chocolate bars were born, as were the cream-filled bon-bons found in heart-shaped gift boxes today. Powdered cocoa became a household staple, and chocolate desserts became standard.
Behind the times
Even with the invention of the chocolate bar, areas in Southern Europe still made chocolate by hand. In 1870s southern France, chocolate was ground on Mexican metates by experts who worked like traveling salesmen, going house to house to make and sell their wares.
The Big Breakthrough: Chocolate Goes Dutch
One of the problems in preparing chocolate was the cocoa butter that rose to the top and had to be skimmed or boiled off. In 1815, a Dutch chemist named Conrad Van Houten started searching for a better way to remove cocoa butter and make a powdered chocolate. In 1828, he patented a process that forever changed chocolate production. His hydraulic press, now known as the cocoa press, separated the cocoa butter from the chocolate liquor. What remained was a cocoa powder that retained all the original nutrients of the bean.
He then went a step further. He added alkali to the powder to make it easier to mix. This gave the powder a darker appearance, but also lent it a milder, less-intense flavor. The process was known as “Dutching”.
Cocoa powder could now be combined with water to make a chocolate beverage that didn’t need complicated mixing or frothing. It could be boxed and sold easily, paving the way for chocolate to be produced on a mass scale. Chocolate was no longer just for the rich. It could be a treat for everyone.
The Quaker Way: Inventing the Chocolate Bar
The Quakers had a relationship with the cacao bean that went back a long way. They were limited in their career choices because of their religious and moral belief system, but medical professions, such as doctor and apothecary, were open to them. Chocolate, with its perceived health benefits, was a major ingredient in their bag of remedies It’s no surprise, then, that some of the first chocolate industrialists were Quakers.
The Frys of Bristol were one such family of English Quakers that had produced multiple generations of chocolate makers, dating from the middle of the 18th Century. In 1847 Joseph Fry found a way to separate and then blend powdered cocoa with cocoa butter (plus sugar, of course) and make a paste that could be easily molded into a bar. Up until this time, the powder had been mixed with water, which made it thick and hard to work with. Fry discovered that by mixing extra cocoa butter with the cocoa paste you could make chocolate a portable, solid food.
Fry called these new, somewhat crude chocolate bars, “Chocolat Dèlicieux à Manger,” using a French name to give it style. All bars previously had to be dissolved in milk or water. This was the very first bar you could eat without cooking or treating. It caught on immediately. Fry quickly became the largest chocolate manufacturer in the world.
The Swiss Step In
One reason Switzerland is so famous for its chocolate is because it was the birthplace of key inventions that perfected chocolate production. .
Philippe Suchard is responsible for the mélangeur, the first chocolate mixing machine that did the tough job of combining the cocoa paste and sugar into an even blend.
Chemist Henri Nestlé invented a process to create powdered milk through evaporation. He teamed up with Daniel Peter, a chocolate manufacturer, who combined the powdered milk with chocolate to create the very first milk chocolate bar in 1879.
The same year, Rudolphe Lindt invented the conche machine and the process known as conching a refining step which is critical to making shiny, smooth and creamy chocolate without any graininess. Legend has it that Lindt discovered conching by accident when one of his employees left a machine running all night.
These advances put the Swiss in the forefront of chocolate manufacturing, and throughout the 19th century they produced the equivalent of 12,000 pounds per Swiss citizen per year, most of it for export.
Detecting Pure Chocolate
The early 19th century had no government-regulated food laws. As a result, many foods, including chocolate, were hard to find in a “pure” form, without additives and fillers. Cocoa powder and cocoa butter were expensive and some devious chocolate makers found many ways to cheat their customers by adding other ingredients, such as rice, wheat, barley flour or potato starch. Even cacao shells and ground brick were mixed in. Recipes to identify pure, unadulterated chocolate began springing up. An English health commission in 1850 found over 50% of chocolate samples tested had color added from ground bricks, not to mention the presence of arrowroot and other grains. The British Food and Drug Act was passed in 1860, partially as a result of these findings.
A Uniquely Italian Treat: Gianduja
Turin was famous for its chocolate. When the Napoleonic Wars made cacao beans hard to get people came up with an alternate plan: add ground hazelnuts to make supply last. The treat that resulted caught on: a tube-shaped sweet mixture of sugar, dark chocolate and hazelnut paste, called givu, Italian for “stub.” Later it was fashioned into a mask for the Piedmont carnival, and that’s how it got the name “little mask,” or giandujotta. Today Gianduja remains popular in Europe and is gaining a fan base in the U.S.A.
The People's Treat
20th and 21st Centuries
America perfected the mass production of chocolate with the introduction of the HERSHEY’S Milk Chocolate Bar. Soon all sorts of chocolate candies became widely available, truly making chocolate the people’s treat. By the end of the 20th century, chocolate manufacturers began to return to chocolate’s roots, introducing artisan-style chocolate of dark and intense quality. This era also included the rediscovery of the cacao bean’s health benefits.
A Good Year for Venezuelan Criollo
Chocolatiers talk about chocolate the same way as wine, and hold chocolate tastings as well. The future may see chocolate bar labels with the name of the regions it hails from with the name of the blends of beans as well as the year produced, just like wine labels.
American Ingenuity: The Hershey Bar
Despite chocolate’s popularity in America, American manufacturing standards were not as advanced as those in Europe. Milton Hershey brought European-style chocolate-making methods to the U.S., combined them with some American inventiveness, and launched a new era in chocolate. The Hershey Chocolate Company would soon become the biggest chocolate company in the world, producing approximately 50,000 pounds of cocoa a day by the late 1920’s.
At the time Milton Hershey purchased the German chocolate-making machinery he saw at the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893, he already ran the nation’s leading caramel company. He bought the equipment to make chocolate coatings for his caramel sweets but ended up selling that company for one million dollars and buying land in dairy-rich Derry Township, Pennsylvania, where he would go into the milk chocolate business full steam.
Hershey began producing milk chocolate in bars, wafers and other shapes in 1900, Hershey’s system of mass-production made it possible to lower the per-unit cost and make milk chocolate, once a luxury item for the wealthy, affordable to all. Much of Hershey’s success lay in his ability to introduce new things that were revolutionary at the time, like being the first to put nuts into candy bars and developing special heat-resistant chocolate that allowed wartime troops to carry chocolate bars that wouldn’t melt into warm climates.
Many of Hershey’s Quaker English counterparts had created model towns and were major philanthropists. Hershey, Pennsylvania, became a model town that included five churches, a free library, men and women’s clubs, Hershey Park with lush gardens, a zoo, and fine hotel. He and his wife Catherine established a school for orphan boys in 1909. Today, the school controls 79% of The Hershey Company’s voting stock.
Chocolate goes to War
America’s love of chocolate was truly heartfelt during the two World Wars. During World War I, 20-40 pound blocks of American chocolate were shipped overseas to field bases. These blocks were chopped and chipped into small pieces for the doughboys in Europe. These soldiers came to love chocolate even more, and demand increased when they returned home after the war.
During World War II, the U.S. Army had more specific requirements for its chocolate bar rations. The bars needed to be about four ounces, could not melt at high temperatures, with high food value but little taste so soldiers would only eat them in an emergency. It turned out that Hershey’s was able to meet all the conditions, and “Field Ration D” was created. Some soldiers credited it with saving their lives when they were out of food and far from help. More than a billion of these Ration D bars were produced. Unique, new technology that kept chocolate from melting at high temperatures was employed to create the chocolate supplied to the troops for Desert Storm in 1991.
All Kinds of Chocolate
Manufacturing technologies now made all sorts of chocolate dreams possible: chocolate- covered nougats, chocolate-covered peanut butter, chocolate in tiny drops and in five-pound bars; chocolate embedded with every kind of nut imaginable. Molded chocolates in the shapes of bunnies, eggs, Santas, some hollow, some solid and some filled with delicious ganaches, fondants and creams. Truffles in elegant mosaic designs with new “designer” flavors like green tea, red bean and even garlic.
While the 20th century saw chocolate poured into molds, whipped into bars and combined with a myriad of other flavors a new trend is emerging: the flavor of cacao itself. About 15 years ago, artisan chocolate makers started producing top-quality chocolates from choice beans using refined techniques, some of which mirror early production methods (like using the melangeur) The penetrating taste and smell of wondrous cacao beans reappeared for the American palate. Consumers yearned for darker and darker chocolate as they became better educated about its deep, intense flavors and the health value of higher-percentage cacao chocolates.
The not-so-far-future might bring us totally new kinds of foods that use the antioxidant power of cacao, like energy drinks, and, possibly, even health supplements that tap into the healthy qualities of the bean. Chocolate is no longer just a sweet treat. You conceivably could see package labeling that says “contains cacao” the same way you see other healthy ingredients added to some of your favorite foods.
There are only three things in life that matter – good friends, good chocolate and, oh dear, what was that other one?
11 Reasons Chocolate is good for your health
It turns out that chocolate—especially dark chocolate—reduces body mass, prevents blood clots, improves numeracy, may prevent cancer, and doesn’t ruin your complexion.
A new study suggests that eating chocolate can help you stay thin. Researchers at the University of California-San Diego found that people who frequently eat chocolate have lower body-mass indexes than people who don’t. Other evidence indicates that chocolate can also ward off strokes, heart attacks, and diabetes. So here are 11 reasons to indulge in some s’mores this summer (no word yet on the health benefits of marshmallows) …
1. Chocolate decreases stroke risk
A Swedish study found that eating more than 45 grams of chocolate per week—about two bars worth—led to a 20 percent decrease in stroke risk among women. Chocolate contains flavonoids, whose antioxidant properties help fight strokes, the study’s author, Susanna Larsson, told HealthDay.
2. Chocolate reduces the likelihood of a heart attack
Other studies show that eating chocolate prevents blood clots, which in turn reduces the risk of heart attacks. Blood platelets clump together more slowly in chocolate eaters, the studies say.
3. Chocolate protects against blood inflammation
Eat one Hershey’s dark chocolate bar per week, and your risk of heart disease will decrease, a 2008 study found. About 6.7 grams of dark chocolate per day keeps the blood inflammation-inducing proteins away. Just like your mother always told you.
4. Chocolate helps with math
British psychologists found that flavanols (a class of flavonoids, which are found in chocolate) helped people with their mental math. Study subjects had an easier time counting backwards from a randomly-generated number between 800 and 999 after drinking a cup of hot chocolate than they did without the cocoa. “The findings suggest students who binge on chocolate when revising for exams may gain a real benefit from doing so,” the British Telegraph reported.
5. Chocolate may prevent cancer
Cocoa contains a compound called pentameric procyanidin, or pentamer, which disrupts cancer cells’ ability to spread. When researchers from the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University treated cancer cells with pentamer back in 2005, the proteins necessary for cancer growth were suppressed and the cells stopped dividing.
“Some people say that I eat too many chocolate bars …” Remember that acne infomercial from the 90s? No? Well, it doesn’t matter. Not only does it not cause breakouts, it’s actually good for your skin! (Well, dark chocolate at least.) Flavonoids found in dark chocolate protect women’s skin from the sun’s UV rays, according to German scientists. But that doesn’t mean you can skip the sunscreen.
8. Chocolate can control coughs
The most delicious way to kick your cough, apparently, is chocolate. One of the sweet’s chemical components, theobromine, seems to reduce the activity of the vagus nerve, the part of the brain that triggers coughing fits. Scientists are even working on a cough-quelling drug that uses theobromine in place of codeine—a narcotic common in cough medicine.
9. Chocolate improves blood flow
In 2008 Harvard scientists forced test subjects to undergo “two weeks of enhanced chocolate intake.” A fortnight of chocolate face-stuffing, they found, sped up blood flow through their subject’s middle cerebral arteries. In other words, more chocolate means more blood to your brain.
10. Chocolate strengthens your brain
Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University found that dark chocolate shields cells in your brain, and accordingly protects it from damage caused by stroke. Epicatechin, a compound found in chocolate, significantly reduced the brain damage in mice who suffered strokes, they found. Scientists at California's Salk Institute also found that epicatechin improved mice’s memories.
11. Chocolate makes you live longer
Jeanne Louise Calment lived to the age of 122—the oldest anyone has ever lived. She ate two and a half pounds of dark chocolate per week. Harvard researchers found that eating chocolate actually adds two years to your life expectancy.
But don’t just start binging on chocolate! Most of the chocolate you buy in the grocery store is heavily processed, which means that it has lost many of its healthy chemicals. And some of the research supporting chocolate’s healthy characteristics was paid for by chocolate manufacturer
There’s nothing better than a good friend, except a good friend with chocolate.
– Linda Grayson, The Pickwick Papers
The Age of Reason: The Chocolate Enlightenment
18th Century - Part Four
For Adults Only
Despite all its health benefits, chocolate was considered to be an adult beverage and was not given to children. Coffee and chocolate houses were adult-only places (in Spain, they were for men only). According to Tuscan court physician Dr. Giovanni Batista Felici, “in children it awakes such an agitation that in no way can they be quiet or sit in one place.” And Joseph Baretti, a commentator on manners and customs, noted in 1768 that chocolate was for “all our polite people of an adult age.”
While there were some factories processing cacao beans into chocolate, most of these still employed hand labor, and the product they created was a cake or wafer that could be dissolved in hot water or milk. But there were several new inventions that advanced the production of chocolate.
The New England colonies were filled with chocolate-lovers, since local sea captains had been bringing back cacao beans from their trading travels for years. Some Boston apothecaries, familiar with the power of cacao as a health remedy, went into business making chocolate “cakes.” They were among the first to use water power to grind the beans and do a very limited form of “mass-production” to satisfy demand.
Meanwhile, a hydraulic machine was invented in France that helped grind cacao beans into a paste. These developments were just baby steps toward the big changes in chocolate production to come with the 19th century Industrial Revolution.
The Spanish Love of Chocolate
Spain continued to have a deep love affair with the cacao bean, and was known throughout Europe for the unique quality of its chocolate. According to visiting diplomat John Adams (later President of the United States), “I have met with few things more remarkable than the Chocolate which is the finest I ever saw. I will enquire whether it is the Superior Quality of the Cocoa Nut, or any other Ingredient which they intermix with it, or a better Art of making it, which renders it so much superiour to any other.”
"Food of the Gods"
Carl Linneaus, a leading 18th century botanist, created the classification system that assigned Latin designations to all organisms. He named the cacao bean “Theobroma cacao,” which translates as “Food of the Gods.” No wonder—he was very fond of chocolate.
I have this theory that chocolate slows down the aging process.... It may not be true, but do I dare take the chance?
OVERVIEW OF CACAO
The Age of Reason: The Chocolate Enlightenment
18th Century – Part THREE
In the 18th Century, chocolate’s popularity reached all across Europe and the Americas. It was a time of upheavals in society that influenced who got to enjoy chocolate and who didn’t, and of advances in technology that made possible the first chocolate bars.
When Vienna First Waltzed with Chocolate
Chocolate was introduced to Austria when the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI relocated from Madrid to Vienna in 1711. Vienna became famous for its hot chocolate, so rich and thick that it needed to be served with glasses of chilled water to balance out the experience.
Chocolate and the Class Struggle
Even though hot chocolate was available to many, it still remained a drink primarily for the aristocracy—not a good thing during a time when revolutions were overthrowing kings and radicals preached democracy. One reason: it was expensive. In 18th century Venice, for instance, coffee was one- third the price of chocolate. Even in the New World, chocolate had become the rich colonist’s potion, and no longer the drink of the native people. Many were too poor to afford it. Servants were given a scanty ration, and even less if the harvest was bad.
Chocolate also was considered to be the church hierarchy’s drink of choice. During the conclave of 1760 (when it took six months to elect the next Pope) the cardinals enjoyed hot chocolate coffee, when they took a break.
Hot chocolate still required constant whipping to make it rich and foamy which was hot and hard work for maids to do many times a day for their rich employers. That maids couldn’t afford the drink emphasized the class divisions.
Chocolate was what the nobleman had for his laid-back, relaxed breakfast while coffee was for the emerging middle-class businessmen who needed a quick start first thing.
Eat Dessert First: Italy's Chocolate Recipes
Cacao was not just for hot chocolate any more. Chocolate could be had in bars and pastilles, and was found in recipes for main dishes, desserts, ices and more. Italy paved the way for cooking with chocolate. An 18th century cookbook includes dishes such as fried liver that had first been dipped in chocolate; a polenta made with almonds, butter and chocolate breadcrumbs; and a chocolate “soup” composed of milk, sugar, chocolate, cinnamon and egg yolk, served warm and poured over toast.
All for Love: Chocolate as an Aphrodisiac
Chocolate long had a reputation as an aphrodisiac, starting with the Spanish conquistadors who assumed Montezuma consumed so much to better serve his harem. 18th century medical treatises listed “promotes venery” as one of chocolate’s abilities, and chocolate was often included in recipes to cure impotence.
Casanova, the famous lover, considered it his “favorite breakfast dish.” His memoirs reveal that he used chocolate as a bribe for the chaperones and guardians of the women he loved as much, if not more, than as a love potion.
Death by Chocolate
Poisoning used to be a popular method of doing away with your enemies. When chocolate was introduced to Europeans, one of the things they noticed was that it disguised the taste of poison. When Pope Clement XIV died in 1774 under mysterious circumstances, it was thought by many that he had been poisoned by a cup of chocolate brought to him by his unknowing credenziere (confectioner), who supposedly died the same day. The Pope had been terrified of assassination, especially after confronting the powerful Jesuits. An autopsy proved this was just a rumor. But like most rumors, it didn’t die easily.
Chocolate's European Debut - Part TWO
16th — 17th Centuries
Columbus likely was the first European to discover cacao beans but it took some time before Europe discovered chocolate. Columbus saw how natives cherished the beans, but he thought they were a type of almond. Though he did bring them back to Spain with him, cacao and chocolate went unnoticed for some decades because the Spanish didn’t know what to do with them—until Cortes’ conquest of the Aztecs and Mexico.
Cortes Courts the Cacao Bean
Around 1519, Hernan Cortes arrived at the great court of the Aztec king, Montezuma. He and his crew witnessed Montezuma’s 50-cup-a-day chocolate ritual, discovered the royal storehouses brimming with beans and observed the custom of using cacao as currency.
One of the conquistadors had this to say about the power of chocolate: “This drink is the healthiest thing, and the greatest sustenance of anything you could drink in the world because he who drinks a cup of this liquid, no matter how far he walks, can go a whole day without eating anything else.”
After the Spanish conquered the Aztecs and began building settlements in the New World, they adapted many of the dining habits of the natives, including chocolate. Incoming colonists brought sugar and other European delicacies to South and Central America, and the Spanish settlers, after some experimentation, began drinking chocolate hot and sweet. The trend traveled across the Atlantic but it still took a while for chocolate to catch on in Spain. It wasn’t until the end of the 16th century that it started to achieve popularity, and then only with the upper crust, mostly because of the expensive cacao bean tax. The Spanish had a lock on chocolate in Europe. They controlled the cacao growing regions, and they kept its existence a secret. But interaction between the royal courts would spread chocolate across Europe.
Royal Wedding: The 17th Century Court of France
It took a royal wedding to make chocolate a star. When the Spanish princess, Maria Theresa, came to the French court at Versailles to marry King Louis XIV in 1660, she brought her precious cacao beans with her, as well as her chocolate-loving ladies-in-waiting, and a crew of retainers just to make it. Hot chocolate was served at the wedding to the cream of European society. It eventually caught on at Versailles and Louis XIV came to love it. His personal recipe included an egg yolk to guarantee a rich thick concoction.
Much was made of the medicinal properties of chocolate by doctors and health experts on both sides of the Atlantic. It was thought of as a cure-all for everything from stomach upset to a fever and chills, and was described as an elixir of life. Chocolate was consumed for its health benefits instead of as a sweet treat. Some of chocolate’s rave reviews from physicians and medical experts of the 17th Century are:
“Chocolate, well known, is an invention so noble, that it should be the nourishment of the gods, rather than nectar or ambrosia.” - Joseph Bachot
“Good for the stomach if drunk in small quantities." - Valverde Turices
"Chocolate gives comfort." - Hurtado
"Chocolate is one of the most wholesome and precious drinks that have been discovered to this day." - Stubbe
"Chocolate nourishes and preserves health entire, yet causes a pleasant and natural sleep and rest." - Hughes
"Chocolate calms insomnia" - de Blégny
"Chocolate preserves health and prolongs the lives of old men." - de Quelus
Early European Preparation and Equipment
Chocolate was served hot in liquid form. The 17th century saw the European additions of milk, sugar, and eggs as well as spices and flavorings such as vanilla, anise, rosewater, ground nuts, and ambergris. Europeans added their own touches to the preparation of the rich brew:
The metate stone slab was often imported from Mexico and used to grind the roasted, shelled cacao beans.
The molinillo was a Spanish wooden whisk or beater, used to make chocolate frothy and create foam, and is still in use today in Mexico and South America. In France it was known as the moussoir.
The mancerina was a special saucer that secured the chocolate cup to prevent spills.
The chocolatiere was a French chocolate pot that made it easier to prepare and pour the concoction.
England's Triple Threat
Coffee, tea and chocolate all arrived in England at the same time: coffee from Africa, tea from Asia and chocolate from America (specifically Jamaica, which became an English colony in 1655, and was home to thriving cacao plantations). While chocolate was an aristocratic treat in France, democracy prevailed in England; if you could pay for it, you could indulge. Hot chocolate was served in “chocolate houses,” not unlike coffee houses you see on every street corner today. Forerunners of English pubs, chocolate houses were places where politics were discussed and debated. While chocolate was more expensive than coffee, tea was the costliest of the three. And all three beverages were usually served up with loads of sugar.
As chocolate increased in popularity, it fell under religious scrutiny. For nearly two centuries, Catholic Ecclesiastics hotly debated whether chocolate was a food or a drink, and whether imbibing it during fasts was a sin.
Meanwhile, the strict and conservative Protestant Pilgrims who fled England for the Netherlands in 1690 took up residence next to a chocolate house in Amsterdam. The partying next door so offended their austere beliefs that they dubbed chocolate “Devil’s Food.” When they later immigrated to Plymouth in North America, they outlawed chocolate completely from their colony. Years later, dark chocolate cakes in Amsterdam were named “Devil’s Food Cakes” in honor of the stern Pilgrims.
The Pre-Columbian Experience - Part One
1200 B.C. — 1492 A.D.
The history of chocolate started in the hot, equatorial South and Central American and Amazon regions. It was considered a divine gift, a source of power, a form of currency, and a health food by the peoples of ancient Mesoamerica.
Monkeys were the first to find the cacao plant edible and delectable, not man. In the hottest parts of ancient Mesoamerica, these brightly colored, rugby ball-shaped pods hung off trees, begging to be picked. Monkeys learned of the sweet, refreshing pulp concealed within the thick pod. Ancient man followed their example, picking the fruit off trees as they walked past.
The sweet pulp of the cacao pod tasted like apricots or melons. But the beans—or seeds—in the core of the pulp were bitter and seemingly inedible. The monkeys would eat the pulp and spit out the beans. Ancient people followed the monkeys’ example, and only ate the delicious pulp. This was probably what Mother Nature had in mind: the seeds were disseminated throughout Mesoamerica, making cacao trees plentiful in South and Central America and guaranteeing cacao’s evolution.
From Fruit to Seed
It’s not known when ancient civilizations figured out how to use the bean. It might have been by sheer accident, when a handful of these bitter beans fell into a fire and roasted, setting off an enticing chocolate-like aroma that made the natives think twice about discarding them. Or it might have been when the pulp of the fruit was fermented into a native concoction called cacao chica and the beans fermented too, sweetening their taste and making them more palatable. But the transition from bitter beans to food source likely occurred during the time of the Olmecs.
The Olmecs Had a Name for It
An ancient tribe called the Olmecs (1200 to 300 B.C.) from the tropical lowlands of South Central Mexico were the first to domesticate the plant and use the beans. They had a name for these bitter seeds that held secrets to health and power: kakawa, or cacao. According to recent archaeologists’ findings, the beans were an integral part of this ancient civilization’s diet and culture from as early as 600 B.C.
The Mayans: The First Real Chocolate-Lovers
The Mayans are considered the most culturally advanced among the Mesoamerican civilizations. During the Mayan Classic Age (300-900 A.D.), they had cities with majestic pyramid-temples and palaces, a calendar calculated to end in the 21st century, and a complex written language that filled thousands of books. They also were the first true chocolate aficionados, treasuring cacao as a restorative, mood-enhancing cure-all. It became an integral part of their society, used in ceremonies, given as gifts and incorporated into their mythologies.
Burial tombs have been found that contain offerings, including ancient potteries that bear witness to cacao’s importance. The vases are covered with paintings showing Mayan gods fighting over beans and kings waiting to be served cacao creations.
Chocolate plays a part in Mayan religion. The Mayan’s sacred book, Popul Vuh, contains their story of the creation, and instead of an apple tree, there’s a cacao tree. In this myth, immortal ball-playing twins are beheaded by the gods of death. One has his head hung on a cacao tree. The magical head manages to mate with a woman who becomes the mother of twin gods. These two defeat the gods of death and then end up in the sky as the sun and the moon.
These first chocolate-lovers did not make chocolate bars as we know them today. Instead, the beans were ground into a coarse paste and mixed with spices, water and chilies to create a variety of hot and cold frothy, bitter drinks. Or the beans were mixed with corn and flavorings to make an assortment of porridge-like meals that varied in thickness from very thin and watery to thick and solid. These dishes were high in nutrients and very healthy. They also were inedible by our standards and a far cry from the chocolate we eat today.
Toltecs Take the Territory
By 900 A.D., a new group of peoples emerged to challenge the empire of the Mayans. The Toltecs captured the Yucatan Peninsula and then some. Much of the wrangling between these nations was over who controlled the cacao-rich lands, and who had cacao trading rights.
The Toltecs also saw cacao as a divine gift, believing the god Quetzalcoatl had given the bean to men and taught them how to cultivate it. Quetzalcoatl was banished by the other gods for offering this divinely delicious food to mortals, but he swore to return. This legend continued centuries later into the age of the Aztecs, and when Cortes, the Spanish conquistador, showed up in the 16th century, the great Aztec King Montezuma believed it was Quetzalcoatl returning.
The Aztecs: The Gold Standard
The Aztecs led an empire of almost 15 million people between the 14th and 16th centuries. Theirs was an aristocratic society, and chocolate was reserved for the rich and the nobles. In fact, the Aztecs prized the cacao bean so highly that it was their form of currency. The bean also was used as money in Central American markets long after the Aztecs were gone, as late as 1858.
Cacao Currency Fraud
Forgery has been a popular scam for centuries – early civilizations did it with fake cacao beans. A practice of passing bad cacao “coins” was in use in Pre-Columbian times. Forgers would take empty cacao shells, fill them with earth, reassemble them and palm them off as real.
The beans were the natives' "coins." A list of Aztec trading prices looked something like this:
1 small rabbit = 30 cacao beans
1 turkey egg = 3 cacao beans
1 large tomato = 1 cacao bean
The royal storehouses had “vaults” full of this currency. One estimate listed the yearly expenditure of dried beans at 11,680,000. Some of these beans went to pay the king’s attendants. Others went into the king’s chocolate drinks—and he drank a lot of chocolate. Montezuma was rumored to enjoy 50 cups a day.
The Aztecs consumed chocolate in liquid form, as did the Mayans. It was served cold and frothy. The foam was believed to hold chocolate’s fundamental essence, and the ritual of creating the foam is seen in Aztec artwork. They’d pour the chocolate mixture vertically from one vessel to another, back and forth to make it froth. Today, many Mexican communities still value the foam so much they let their cacao beans calcify and turn white before grinding to ensure a heady mug of chocolate.
At this point, chocolate was still a bitter - tasting brew and contained a mish-mash of corn, flavorings and spices. But this would change after the Spanish arrived in the New World.