When chocolate won the hearts of Baroque Europe in the 17th century, Cosimo de Medici III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, was not one to be left out. Medici was one who “spared no expense to summon the rarest and most precious condiments from all sections of the globe to his table” (Coe & Coe, 2013, p.142); chocolate was surely one of these condiments. The best-known recipe that came out of the Medici court was the coveted and covert jasmine chocolate, concocted by Medici’s physician, Francesco Redi. The jasmine chocolate recipe came to fame, not only because of chocolate’s supposed health benefits, but also because of its status as a culinary innovation and social power in Baroque Europe. To date, the jasmine chocolate recipe—and flavored chocolates at large—plays a role in our consumer culture and relationship with chocolate.
Chocolate itself made its entry to Europe under the guise of a panacea. The Spaniards stripped the original spiritual and ritual implications chocolate held for the Mesoamericans, labelling chocolate as a medicine fitting in the Galen humoral theory, which was popular in the Baroque Age (Coe & Coe, 2013, p.126-128). Paolo Zacchia, a Roman physician, suggested that drinking chocolate in the morning helps comfort the stomach and aid digestion (Coe & Coe, 2013, p.138). It was under such health claims that chocolate made its entrance. While chocolate was introduced as a medicine, its usage expanded as it gained popularity around royal courts.
Yet while chocolate has its health benefits, this alone did not explain why Redi’s jasmine chocolate recipe was so sought after. Flavoring chocolate was not a novelty. In fact, flavoring often had to be used to conceal the taste of the high fat content of cacao beans, the precursor of drinking chocolate (Schulte Beerbühl, 2014, p.14). The flavor that chocolate takes on was often a homage to regional and national taste preferences: Spaniards and French preferred vanilla, Englishmen treasured mint (Schulte Beerbühl, 2014, p.15), and the originators of chocolate—Mesoamericans—included spices like chili (Martin, 2020).
Redi himself was a curator and innovator of flavors. Redi produced his own twist on chocolate by introducing novel European ingredients—“the fresh peel of citrons, and lemons, and the very genteel odour of jasmine” (Coe & Coe, 2013, p.145). Redi believed that together with more traditional Mesoamerican flavorings like cinnamon and vanilla, these exquisite scents have a “prodigious effect” towards consuming chocolate (Coe & Coe, 2013, p.145). In other words, these scents elevated the already wonderful chocolate tasting experience. As a spice, chili was not popular in Italy. However, other flavor elements viewed as more baroque (and perhaps Eurocentric) were highly coveted and popular in the European courts.
While Redi was willing to divulge his recipes for chocolate laden with citron, lemon, and ambergris scents, he guarded his jasmine chocolate recipe jealously, politely refusing requests from nobles for sharing the recipe (Coe & Coe, 2013, p.145). When the recipe was finally made public after Redi’s death, it was still incredibly challenging to recreate. The recipe required picking a significant number of fresh jasmine buds in the morning, layering it with cacao nibs, and allowing the buds to bloom while mingling with the scent of cacao. Modern recipes estimate that around 250 jasmine flowers were required per kilogram of cacao nibs per day (Amore, 2014). To add on to the laborious process, this layering technique needs to be repeated for 10-12 days (Segnit, 2018; Coe & Coe, 2013, p. 146).
As later culinary documentations agreed, Redi’s creation was truly an innovation, as it is incredibly challengiing to create and retain a floral note in chocolates—and food in general. Notably, this unique and delicate jasmine flavor was completely natural, as it was flavored with Jasminum sambac, a species of jasmine native to southern Asia, India, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka (Lippi, 2009, p. 1102). Imaginably, it was likely challenging and expensive to acquire such flower. As a shortcut to achieving flavor, people use absolutes, also known as essential oils, nowadays. It was perhaps the challenge of creating this jasmine chocolate that earned its fame, garnering the title of the most “baroque” of all chocolate.
Beyond a gastronomic feat, or perhaps because of this culinary innovation, exquisitely flavored chocolates became a symbol of status and prestige. Cosimo III’s jasmine chocolate was often sent to other European courts as a gift (Lippi, 2009). It was also used to rival the products of other courts, such as the Spanish chocolate paste (Lippi, 2009). In a lavish court like the Grand Duke’s, one can imagine how this tightly guarded recipe was a showcase of the ability to produce rare commodities, in turn displaying the opulence of the court. Chocolate was not merely a medicine or a delicacy to enjoy: it was a statement of power. It was under the name of fame that chocolate elevated beyond medicinal.
This trend was not unique to Italy. When it entered Baroque Europe, chocolate was first associated with royalty and nobility— as a delicacy that was inaccessible to the public. With the innovations of floral chocolates, it was not soon before the “Gift of Gods” (Martin, 2020) was given as a gift of power around Baroque Europe.
As it transcends to modern times, what is the significance of jasmine chocolate to us? Importantly, the social significance of the jasmine chocolate and flavored chocolate at large still remain today. It is no surprise that we have taken some hints from Baroque Europe, as chocolate continues to serve as gifts during special and daily occasions.
As a testament to jasmine chocolate’s popularity, people still attempt recreate this painstaking recipe. A quick Google search for “jasmine chocolate” returns both recipes and products. The website “It’s Tuscany” boasts a small piece of the famed jasmine chocolate from “Granduca de Toscana” for 5 euros. Beyond jasmine, the recipe also contains cinnamon and candied orange and appears to use some flavor extracts of vanilla and jasmine (we do not know if this is artificial or natural). If Redi were alive, he would not have approved this usage.
Towards a more laborious attempt, Italy magazine reveals the below recipe recreating the famed jasmine chocolate during “La festa dei Gelsomini” (The Jasmine Festival) (Amore, 2014). The process documented the amount of labour and care devoted to such a work of art. As evidenced in this recipe, the historical influences of chocolate have a strong hold on our present view, relationship with, and preferences of chocolates. And yes, jasmine chocolate still has the popularity it had back in Baroque Europe.
For its significance in gastronomical innovation, health, and politics, the Grand Duke of Tuscany’s jasmine chocolate recipe is one to be remembered. While chocolate was introduced as a medicine to the European courts, it was quickly popularized, and the innovation of floral scents elevated the Tuscan court’s social status. Redi perhaps did not forsee the long-lasting popularity of his chocolate through present day, yet he inspired a lasting elevation in technique, in flavor, and in power. As Redi aptly stated: e secondo l’arte si fa il cioccolato—chocolate is made, according to art (Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, 2014)
The Renowned Jasmine Chocolate of The Grand Duke of Tuscany
(Recipe from Coe & Coe, 2013, p146)
10lb [4.5kg] toasted cacao beans, cleaned and coarsely crushed
Fresh jasmine flowers
8lb [3.6kg] white sugar, well-dried
3oz [85g] “perfect” vanilla beans
4 to 6 oz [115 to 170g] “perfect” cinnamon
2 scruples [1/12 oz, 2.5g] ambergris
In a box or similar utesil, alternate layers of jasmine with layers of the crushed cacao, and let it sit for 24 hours. Then mix these up, and add more alternating layers of flowers and cacao, followed by the same treatment. This must be done ten or twelve times, so as to permeate the cacao with the odor of the jasmine. Next, take the remaining ingredients and add them to the mixed cacao and jasmine, and grind them together on a slightly warm metate; if the metate be too hot, the odor might be lost.
Amore, K. (2014). The Medicis’ Favourite Jasmine Chocolate is Recreated in Sicily. ITALY Magazine. Retrieved March 8, 2020, from https://www.italymagazine.com/featured-story/medicis-favourite-jasmine-chocolate-recreated-sicily
Antica Dolceria Bonajuto. (2014). Il Cioccolato al gelsomino del Granduca di Toscana da una ricetta di Francesco Redi. Retrieved March 8, 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vb0hi-mEDkg&feature=emb_logo
Buchanan, A. (n.d.). The Politics of Chocolate: Cosimo III’s Secret Jasmine Chocolate Recipe [Billet]. The Recipes Project. Retrieved March 7, 2020, from https://recipes.hypotheses.org/5454
Coe, S. D., & Coe, M. D. (2013). The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.
Lidz, F. (n.d.). The Delicious, Ancient History of Chocolate and Vanilla. Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved March 8, 2020, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/delicious-ancient-history-chocolate-vanilla-180972551/ Lippi, D. (2009). Chocolate and medicine: Dangerous liaisons? Nutrition, 25(11), 1100–1103. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nut.2009.08.002
Martin, Carla D. “Chocolate Expansion”. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. Feb. 12, 2020. Class Lecture 3.
Schulte Beerbühl, M. (2014). Diffusion, Innovation and Transnational Cooperation: Chocolate in Europe (c. Eighteenth–Twentieth Centuries). Food and History, 12(1), 9–32. https://doi.org/10.1484/J.FOOD.5.105141
Segnit, N. (2018). Lateral Cooking: Foreword by Yotam Ottolenghi. Bloomsbury Publishing. Sesamo. (n.d.). Granduca’s Jasmine chocolate. Retrieved March 8, 2020, from https://www.itstuscany.com/en/granducas-jasmine-chocolate/