World Chocolate Day – what better excuse do we need to consume as many sweet, glorious gooey treats as we possibly can? The team at Lancaster House share one of their chocolate delights.
Before we get down to the real business of chocolate chomping, we did a little research and found out a few facts about one of the nation’s favourite obsessions.
Strange myth says that the gods squabbled about whether to share its secret with humans. Wars have been wages over it, it’s been used as currency, as medicine, rationed to soldiers, given as a treat to children, an alcoholic beverage, good for you, bad for you, bitter, sweet, served hot, cold, dark or white – whatever you think about it, a thirty-three billion pound worldwide industry tells us that we love to consume it! ‘It’, of course, being Chocolate.
The Cacao tree, with its bean cargo, was first discovered in the Amazon
Fruit of the Cacao tree
basin and was gradually transported through south and Central America. When pollinated, the seed forms a kind of ‘ear’ which holds 30 – 40 brown-red almond shaped beans which are bitter to the taste. It is believed that the fermented, sweet pulp may have been served as an alcoholic drink as early as 1400 BC.
The Mighty Aztecs
During the supremacy of the Aztecs, they demanded chocolate payment as a tax, or rather a ‘tribute’ to their rule. To give us an idea of the value of these beans, at that time 100 beans could purchase ‘a canoe filled with fresh water or a turkey hen’.
Christopher Columbus brought cacao beans to Europe after his 1502 mission trip. It didn’t take off in popularity until Spanish friars introduced a much sweetened version to the royal court. Over the next 100 years it spread in popularity throughout Europe, first in the ranks of the wealthy.
Chilli and Chocolate, an ancient combination
Recent trends for dishes combining Chilli and Chocolate cannot be attributed to the ingenuity of any modern celebrity chef. The ancient Mayan people mixed the cacao beans with chilli peppers and cornmeal.
Western Africa produces two thirds of the world’s cocoa, with the Ivory Coast contributing half. Sadly, over the years, the cocoa market created a thriving slave market and, even today, children are trafficked for use in the industry. There are, however, an increasing number of health-food and anti-slavery organisations now campaigning against this dreadful abuse.
a. 1847, Joseph Fry discovered how to make chocolate mouldable, by adding back into the mix the cacao butter that had previously been extracted.
b. 1875, Henri Nestle invented milk chocolate (and we love him for it). Powdered milk was added to the cacao bean and butter mixture.
c. 1879, Rudolph Lint invented the conching machine which improved the taste of chocolate and made it the smooth delight that we know today. Conching grinds the gritty textured liquid and produces particles smaller than the human tongue can detect. High quality chocolate is conched for around 72 hours, lesser grades only get 4 – 6 hours conching.
The team at Lancaster House needed no encouragement to celebrate World Chocolate Day. Featuring on our menu…