A Brief Cultural History of Chocolate

A Brief Cultural
History of Chocolate

Anyone who loves chocolate would be quick to admit that it can easily capture a special place in one's life. But lost in the all-consuming thrill of biting down on a bar of fine chocolate, one can easily forget that chocolate represents more than just a personal pleasure. From ancient feasts to the modern rituals of February fourteenth, chocolate has long played prominent and varied roles in many cultures across the globe.

Food of the Gods

Centuries before the "discovery" of the New World, inhabitants of Central America used cacao beans as a form of currency. In 1513, according to a European report, the cost of a slave was 100 beans.

While in the New World, the Spanish explorer Cortez was served xocoatl, a chocolate drink, by the Aztec emporer Montezuma. The royal concoction was thought so divine that the golden cups used to serve it were thrown away when emptied. Indeed, when the eighteenth century naturalist Linnaeus assigned a scientific name to the cacao plant, he called it Theobroma, or "food of the gods."

Courtiers and Coffee Houses

In 1528, Cortez returned to Spain, bringing cocoa with him. The Spaniards tried the Aztec delicacy and found it too bitter; but with the addition of another New World product, cane sugar, it was soon a favorite among Spanish nobility.

Chocolate remained Spain's secret for nearly a century. Then, in 1615, France's Louis XIII married a Spanish princess; the new queen introduced chocolate to the royal court, where it became as fashionable as champagne is today.

In London during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, coffee houses--England's "penny universities"--served as intellectual centers for

notable figures like Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift. In these establishments, Londoners could try chocolate cakes and rolls "in the Spanish style."

Soon an expatriate Frenchman introduced a competitor: the chocolate house, where the local intelligensia could play cards, hear the latest news, and enjoy the Spanish treat. These places easily rivaled the coffee houses in popularity, and the chocolate phenomenon spread across Europe.

Once England fell in love with chocolate, it wasn't long before their American colonies would too. In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin included 120 pounds of chocolate among a regiment's essential provisions during the French and Indian War. And in a 1785 letter to John Adams, Thomas Jefferson applauded "the superiority of chocolate, both for health and nourishment."

To the Present Day

The rest, as they say, is history. In the industrial nineteenth century, improved modes of prouction and flourishing cocoa plantations ensured that chocolate--in both its drinkable and solid forms--would be widely available and affordable.

Today, chocolate still holds an importnant place in our culture. To many, it is the epitome of culinary delight. To children, it is the sometimes forbidden fruit. High-quality chocolate is always a coveted gift. Traditional holidays such as Easter, Halloween, and of course St. Valentine's Day are integrally linked with the enjoyment of chocolate, a long-treasured treat with a very rich history.

This edition of the Flyer Chocolate Letter is published and copyrighted 1990- by Paris Chocolates, Inc., P.O. Box 1281, Washington, CT 06793, Tel: (800) CANDY BAR. Flyer Candy Bars, chosen the best in New York City by New York magazine, have received rave reviews in such media as The Boston Globe, Chef, Chocolatier, Food & Wine, The New York Times, and WOR Radio, New York.


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