Today when we hear the word chocolate, we often picture a chocolate bar or small treat. We think of a sweet taste and often consumed as a dessert or delicacy. In various forms from luxurious truffles to drugstore bars, chocolate is often found in a person’s life today in a much different way of the past. First discovered by the ancient Mayans, chocolate consumption was not only bitter but also found in different forms than the most commonly present on the market today. The flavour that today’s society associates chocolate with is unparalleled to its original ways of consumption transformed by humans’ decisions to combine cacao powder with various other flavours and spices.
Historically known as cacao in reference to the raw material, cocoa was born as a result of the anglicization of the word cacao in reference to the commodity to be sold or processed. With consumption linked to “unhealthy” or “treat like” ideas, it is to some’s surprise that the main substance in chocolate is found on a cacao tree. Grown on the cacao trees we find cacao pods which are a colourful fruit encapsulating a seed within; the cacao bean. Undergoing processing, cacao beans become a chocolate liquor which can also be referred to as cocoa liquor. Processing this chocolate liquor, we arrive at cocoa butter, which is described as waxy and rather than the brown colour we usually associate chocolate with is actually and ivory-yellow solid (Lecture 2). By pressing the cocoa butter, we get cocoa powder which is frequently used in baking today. To arrive at the chocolate, we know today the seeds of the cacao plant must be roasted, husked and ground, then combined with other flavours, usually sugar and vanilla, to create your favourite chocolate bar.
Going back in time:
Going back in time to the 16th century, Mesoamerican’s classified chocolate as a native good similar to that of beans and squash. Through the use of a Geographic Information System, researchers are able to depict the areas and times in which chocolates flavours differed and how they evolved to the common good today. Representing a luxury during that time, cacao beverages were the most common form of consumption of cacao. These drinks however, were found in combination with goods we don’t usually consume today. Experiences described as “flowery immersion” (Sampeck 2017) provide imagery for the flower additives to the cacao beverages. Having been a luxurious edible as well as medicine, the numerous combinations define its use during early consumption. Cacao was viewed as quite a unique substance at the time, varying from its liquid form to a solid, was solely based on its preparation and preferences of the consumer. With strong ties to religious beliefs, ceremonies, and “superpower” like traits, chocolates ability to be consumed was taken much more seriously in comparison to our consumption today. The evolution of the tastes and flavours associated with each new transformation of chocolate has significant ties to historical advances over the substance’s lifetime.
Recipes: spicy to sweet to floral to umami to nutty to starchy
Chocolate during the 16th century did not describe the solid substance we consume today but rather described one of many cacao drinks. Tools used to create various recipes have also proven to have evolved over time. Originally made with a molinillo, a special type of stirring stick; the finished product was kept in a spouted pot and finally poured into a steep-sided cup. These tools used are much different to the large machines and factories presently involved in the production line for chocolate. Molinillos allowed Mesoamericans the ability to froth the beverage acting similar to a whisk, giving volume to the fatty liquid. In addition to the whisking, pouring from a great height allowed for air bubbles to enter the liquid on its way into the steep cup from the spouted pot. It was most important to the Mesoamericans to ensure that the preparation process such as the one described above be completely accurately in order to achieve the desired flavours for the beverage. Additionally, the variety and degree of ripeness of the cacao bean were just as important as the processing of cacao. Inscriptions in Mayan pottery and archeological remains describe the combination of cacao with honey, flowers, aromatic herbs, achiote, sugar, vanilla, chili, and various fruits (peaches, apricots, oranges) (Sampeck 2017).Original tastes seem to fair on the bitter side while pre-Columbian and colonial period recipes begin to incorporate natural sweeteners.
Used for centuries to whip up a foam on hot-chocolate drinks in Mexican and Central American kitchens
The Princeton Vase: Women on far right demonstrates pouring of chocolate beverage from height
Silver chocolate pot
With recipes varying mostly by geographic locations, the availability of resources determined which flavours were used in combination with the cacao to achieve each concoction. Records show that common spices used in combination with cacao for Europeans include cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, saffron, nutmeg, ginger, and clove (Sampeck 2017). It is evident based on these flavours that the tastes in various parts of the world seem to take individual themes. With Europeans inclined to a earthy, musky, spicier flavour, the Mayans and Spanish preferred a sweeter sensation. The commencement of trading of substances among countries jumpstarted the wide array of recipes that blossomed from attaining new spices and flavours from others. Although each spice added a new dimension to the taste and feeling of consumption of cacao, one of the most important and sought-after combinations for countries on either side of the Atlantic Ocean involved that of honey or fruit.
Recipes from the British impacted chocolate flavours by acting as a generic starting point for much of the creations across Europe having combined cacao with a wide array of ingredients, much more in fact than any other European place. With such a large array of recipes chocolate became an opportunity for each location to explore their environment and preferences to arrive at a combination they chose to consume.
Interestingly, certain recipes continued to have the chocolate name in them when in fact no cacao was included in the mixture. The name stuck due to the similar preparation style to that of chocolate beverages and included combinations of spices and flavours that would typically be found in combination with cacao powder.
Evolution over time:
Beginning in the 18th century, recipes for chocolate began to shift from a liquid substance to a solid matter. As slavery became more prevalent, the production of cacao heightened, allowing it to be used by commoners. The prestigious power of chocolate was stripped with mass amounts being consumed on the daily by all individuals of society. The famous chocolate company Nestle, gave rise to milk chocolate in the 17th century by combining condensed powdered milk, sugar and processed chocolate (Lippi). By 1847, the first chocolate bar was created by a company called J.S. Fry & Sons, made from cocoa butter, powder and sugar. Soon after Lindt curated the conching machine which allowed for production of the creamy chocolate ganache that fills their popular truffles (Klein). The 20th century opened the door to the creation and enjoyment of various chocolate flavoured solid treats, combining large amounts of sugar and other additives in order to ensure preservation and enjoyment (Fiegl).
Advertisement for Fry’s Chocolate, 1847.
Manufacture of first chocolate bar in England.
Fiegl, Amanda. “A Brief History of Chocolate.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 1 Mar. 2008, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/a-brief-history-of-chocolate-21860917/.
Klein, Christopher. “The Sweet History of Chocolate.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 14 Feb. 2014, http://www.history.com/news/the-sweet-history-of-chocolate.
Lecture 2 Slides: Professor Martin
Lippi, Donatella. “Chocolate in History: Food, Medicine, Medi-Food.” Nutrients, MDPI, 14 May 2013, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3708337/.
Stacey Schwartzkopf and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “Substance & Seduction: Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica”. eds. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017.
Edwards, Owen. “A Historic Kitchen Utensil Captures What It Takes to Make Hot Chocolate From Scratch.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 1 Sept. 2007, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/kitchen-utensil-chocolate-stirring-from-scratch-cacao-161383020/.
Khan, Gulnaz. National Geographic, 11 Sept. 2017, http://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/destinations/north-america/guatemala/anitgua-maya-chocolate-making/.
Lecture 5: Professor Martin
“The Princeton Vase (y1975-17).” Princeton University, The Trustees of Princeton University, artmuseum.princeton.edu/collections/objects/32221.
“The Silver Chocolate Pots of Colonial Boston.” Colonial Society of Massachusetts, http://www.colonialsociety.org/node/1359.