Chocolate is one of those foods that just goes with everything!

It’s for holidays, for date nights and celebrations. It goes with dessert, on top of dessert, inside of it and is equally delicious in hot and cold drinks and ice cream.  There are so many ways you can enjoy your chocolate whether you like milk, white or dark.

Although chocolate is generally considered a sweet and ‘happy’ treat that was not always the case. It actually has a long and complicated history, as well as some underlying ethical issues relating to its production that persist to this day.

Until relatively recently, chocolate was consumed as a bitter beverage rather than a sweet treat. The ancient Aztec, Mayan and Olmec civilizations saw chocolate as a mood enhancer and aphrodisiac. Many other cultures including these ones felt that chocolate had mystical powers, and thus chocolate was considered a treat exclusively for the elite.

The ancient Aztecs could not actually grow cacao beans in their own territory in the dry highlands of central Mexico. They traded with the Aztecs, using cacao beans as currency! The legendary Aztec emperor Montezuma is reported to have consumed three gallons of chocolate a day to increase his libido.

Chocolate travelled to Europe with the European explorers and quickly became a hit in royal circles and then within aristocratic circles. A chocolate revolution happened in 1828 when Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes van Houten invented the cocoa press. The van Houten press could squeeze the fatty cocoa butter from roasted cacao beans, leaving behind a dry cake that could be pulverized into a fine powder that could be mixed with liquids and other ingredients, poured into moulds and solidified into edible, easily digestible chocolate. All of the sudden, chocolate became an affordable treat for the masses.

Other European companies like William Cadbury and Joseph Fry were quick to jump on the bandwagon The Frys became the sole suppliers of chocolate to the navy, making them the largest chocolate manufacturer in the world, and not to be outdone, the rival Cadbury family gained the title of purveyors of chocolate to Queen Victoria. She was so obsessed with its life-enhancing qualities that she sent 500,000 lbs. to her army.

The rest, as they say, is history, and chocolate remains one of the world’s favourite treats.

Exit questions: Is white chocolate really chocolate?

According to Bon Appetite magazine: no.

“White chocolate is made with a blend of sugar, cocoa butter, milk products, vanilla, and a fatty substance called lecithin. Technically, white chocolate is not a chocolate—and it doesn’t really taste like one—because it doesn’t contain chocolate solids. When cocoa beans are removed from their pods, fermented, dried, roasted, cracked open, and their shells discarded, what results is a nib. Chocolate nibs are ground into a paste called chocolate liquor. Chocolate liquor can be separated into cocoa solids, which provide the flavor, and cocoa butter, which is the fat. Though white chocolate contains extracted cocoa butter, it lacks the component that defines real chocolate.”

What about ‘dark chocolate’? What’s the difference?

As per Baking Bites:

“Dark chocolate is chocolate that is made primarily with sugar, cocoa and cocoa butter, and does not contain milk or milk solids. The amount of sugar, cocoa and cocoa butter can vary dramatically from brand to brand, but it is the lack of milk that really distinguishes dark chocolate from milk chocolate. Dark chocolates also often include vanilla and an emulsifier, to keep the chocolate as smooth as possible. In the US, there is not specific minimum cacao percentage for dark chocolate. Cacao percentage refers to the amount of cocoa solids in a product. Cocoa solids are all of the ingredients from a cocoa bean, including cocoa powder, cocoa butter, and chocolate liquor. In Europe, the definition of dark chocolate specifies 35% cocoa solids. Premium dark chocolates have a higher cacao percentage and a higher price tag than less expensive dark chocolates.

“Semisweet chocolate, bittersweet chocolate and extra dark chocolate are all names that have been created to describe different types of dark chocolate, but all three are dark chocolate. There are no strict definitions that divide these sub-types of dark chocolate. They are primarily inventions of chocolate manufacturers to make it easier for consumers to differentiate between dark chocolates with more intense flavour.”

Sources:

The Sweet History of Chocolate

Food and Drink

A Brief History of Cocoa

Ten Reasons Why You Should Eat Chocolate

About White Chocolate

What Is Dark Chocolate?

The History of Chocolate (video)

A Brief History of Chocolate (Just In Time For Valentine’s Day)