Theobroma cacao in Latin translates as “food of gods”. From its’ leaves to seeds, especially the latter when fermented, dried, crushed, ground and roasted become the bitter form of “chocolate”. The word “chocolate” comes from the Classical Nahuatl word “chocolatl” or “xocolatl” which entered the English language from Spanish. Although this fact is not fully approved as debates are still going on whether the original word was “chokolatl” or “chicolatl”.
Native to Meso-American areas, where the pre-Columbian civilizations flourished before the Spanish colonization, the history of chocolate originated as a beverage mostly bitter, mixed with spices or corn puree and sometimes fermented as an alcoholic beverage. Since then it has been in popular use especially among the upper classes, as determined by the archaeological evidence. Although it was used in official ceremonies and religious rituals, at feasts and festivals, as funerary offerings or as tribute; it was valued for its’ medicinal properties as well. Later on Cacao beans were used as currency even as taxes.
Till the 16th century, cacao was unknown to the Europeans. With the Spanish venturing into the Meso-American areas, cacao was introduced into Spain but gained popularity when the Spanish friars introduced it to the Spanish court. As the plantations slowly spread into the English, Dutch and French colonies, the market and craze for chocolate was gaining ground. Alkaline salts were introduced to chocolate by a Dutch chemist to reduce the bitterness. With the invention of the chocolate press, adding milk to chocolate and evolution of the cacao butter lead to the modern era of chocolate. From then on with artisanal chocolate lines and independent chocolatiers, chocolate has become a feast for the palate as well as the eyes.
“Chocolate knows no boundaries; speaks all languages; comes in all sizes; is woven through many cultures and disciplines… it impacts mood, health, and economics, and it is a part of our lives from early childhood through elderly years.” Herman A. Berliner
Chocolate is one of the rare foods which has a variety of days designated to celebrate it, both nationally, internationally and even locally. Over the years, there are very few food fads which has garnered a lot of attention and interest even in the entertainment, fashion as well as the art world. Why so much fuss about chocolate ?
“Chocolate is the first luxury. It has so many things wrapped in it: deliciousness in the moment, childhood memories, and that grin-inducing feeling of getting a reward for being good.” Mariska Hargitay
Besides forming an essential part of many childhoods, it has become a life saver in most kitchens and restaurants. From the liquid to the solid forms, chocolate has been a favourite for many events, even some board meetings where chocolate is at hand. To quote Johnny Iuzzini, “Chocolate is one of the backbones of the pastry kitchen. It is one of the most important ingredients in our pantry. It is very versatile, it is complex, and it is extremely temperamental.”
With the rising benefits of the cacao bean highlighted especially as dark chocolate, it has made a comeback as a healthy snack. Being a rich source of polyphenols, flavinoids as well as nitric oxide, chocolate has a role in the cardiovascular health. Besides there’s nothing as mood lifting as chocolate when we get stuck in any fiasco.
If any man has drunk a little too deeply from the cup of physical pleasure; if he has spent too much time at his desk that should have been spent asleep; if his fine spirits have become temporarily dulled; if he finds the air too damp, the minutes too slow, and the atmosphere too heavy to withstand; if he is obsessed by a fixed idea which bars him from any freedom of thought: if he is any of these poor creatures, we say, let him be given a good pint of amber-flavored chocolate… and marvels will be performed. – Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
Yet like all good things, chocolate in moderation will go a long way in helping us enjoy this treat for a lifetime. If we indulge in too much of it, we may have a setback later. The fun of chocolate is to savour it in the moment, little at a time to make it last longer. As Forrest Gump says,” Momma always said life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
With the National Chocolate day in two days time, chocolate deserves a little extra attention for the menu. For in life even though,“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt. Charles M. Schulz”