The True History of Chocolate – part two

7 Jun

This is Cosimo de Medici III right after his doctor had sent him to fat camp. He certainly looks like a pleasant fellow for a bigotted hypocrite.

In my last post on this book we talked about how the Mayans discovered chocolate, how Spain discovered the Mayans and how everybody was drinking chocolate for their health.  I have to say that I’d take chocolate over trepanning any day.  Though not everyone agrees with me.

Anyway, I promised you just a little bit more info from this stupendous book and I aim to deliver.  So let’s talk about some famous chocoholics, shall we?  Our first notable is Cosimo de Medici III.  Now the Medicis are kind of a mixed bag as some were brilliant patrons of the arts and served as gifted rulers.  Others were, well, Cosimo III.  Let’s take his wife’s reaction to him as an illustration.  She hated the guy so much that it nearly drove her insane.  Remarks from his contemporaries include saying that he was “weak, vain, bigoted and hypocritical” and that he ate so much that his “complexion was not so much ruddy as inflamed”.  But he was a champion of chocolate so perhaps he wasn’t all bad.

Then there was the Marquis de Sade whose name is now synonymous with joy from pain.  Let me use it in a sentence “the people in charge of my checking account are a bunch of sadists”.  He was imprisoned or hospitalized for madness much of his life.  His poor tortured wife was to receive numerous requests to deliver all things chocolate.  Cocoa butter, cookies, cocoa butter, mocha coffee and a special cake.  “I asked… for a cake with icing, but I want it to be chocolate and black inside from chocolate as the devil’s ass is black from smoke”.  With such loving, tender words from her husband it is little surprise that his wife spent the rest of her life in a convent.

But not all chocolate fans are bad guys.  Some solved problems that made chocolate what it is today and I plan to continue to enjoy their work for a long time to come.  Henri Nestle, for example, was able to pull most of the moisture out of milk to make powdered milk.  Then in 1867 his partner Daniel Peter added cocoa or powdered cacao.  Thus these Swiss gentlemen brought us the heavenly manna that is milk chocolate.

But the Swiss weren’t done yet.  Not by a long shot.  Another fellow by the name of Jean Tobler developed a method called conching.  Up until his discovery in 1899 all chocolate bars had been crumbly and dry.  Building on the work of Nestle and Peter he was able to smooth out the texture by a prolonged beating process.  De Sade would have liked that.

We then see the bigwigs of Hershey and Cadbury setting up shop in the early 1900s.  They set up small communes for their workers, the largest of which was Hershey’s self-titled town in Pennsylvania.  They began the work of mass producing chocolate so that it became an affordable treat.  Then Cadbury’s makes a Valentine’s Day box of chocolates and the rest is history.  Beautiful, tasty history.

There is plenty more that I could write about the magic that is chocolate.  In fact, right now I’m dying to tell you that the Cadburys were Quakers, just like the guy who makes my oatmeal.  Or that there are newer brands cropping up that don’t use pesticides to grow the cacao and use fair trade to sell the bars they produce.  But I think that you should just read the book and find out all this for yourself.


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