Van Houten’s Cocoa Magic
The greatest transformation of chocolate in
history is accorded to Dutch chemist and
chocolate maker Coenraad Johannes van
Houten. In 1828, van Houten patented a
process of extracting fat (or cocoa butter) from
the beans. Van Houten’s press, a hydraulic
machine, separated almost 50 percent of the fat,
leaving behind a brittle ‘cake’ that could be
made into powder. This cocoa essence or cocoa
powder has since then been used as a
concentrate for endless chocolate products.
Van Houten’s magic also led to the making of the
modern ‘eating chocolate’ or the chocolate bar.
Manufacturers began to combine cocoa
with sugar and adding the extracted cocoa
butter to craft solid chocolate, thereby
transforming the ‘drink of the gods’ to the
‘food of the gods’ (and also of his people).
Did you know?
THE MYTHS & LEGENDS
Chocolate has been surrounded by its own share of myths and legends. From the belief in its ‘divinity’ in the medieval ages to modern health-related myths, there are stories galore.
Birth of the Bar
Having extracted cocoa butter, manufacturers went further, melting and combining it with ground cocoa beans and sugar. The smooth and buttery blend was then poured into a mould, and the chocolate bar, we know today, came into being.
Sweet and Savoury Ingredient
The Spanish and Mexicans used chocolate as an ingredient in savoury recipes. Later, it moved beyond being a beverage to becoming a crucial element of Italian, German and Austrian baking, and bakers began to use chocolate as a flavouring agent in cakes and pastries.
Since the birth of the chocolate bar, it has been increasingly put to use in grating, garnishing, frosting and icing of baked foods. Cocoa sauce, the molten form of chocolate, is popular as a flavouring ingredient, dip, spread and a drizzle.
The flavours and ingredients added to chocolate itself know no bounds now. From popular favourites like chili, vanilla, cinnamon, pepper, mint, nuts, raisins, honey, strawberry, raspberry, butterscotch, orange, lemon, banana, coffee, and lavender, to fantastical flavours like bacon, Indian curry powder, lemon grass, kaffir lime, ginger and tea, the list is endless.]
The sensual smell of chocolate has long pleased mankind, and expectedly it has been integrated into perfumes in modern times. Cocoa essence is mixed with essential oils and liquids to create an aroma that is lingering and irresistible, and the market today is flooded with premium brands of chocolate perfumes.
Spa and Therapy
With increasing scientific advances, chocolate has been deemed as extraordinary in the cleansing, exfoliating, and rejuvenation of the skin, leaving it with a glowing look. Chocolate spas have sprung up all over the world offering a range of services, from cocoa butter face treatments and massages to cocoa bean polishing and entire chocolate baths.
The Mayans and Aztecs believed chocolate to be a gift from the gods, so it isn’t surprising that chocolate till date remains the most popular gift for someone special. From grand festivities to a simple display of affection, chocolate as a present never fails to delight.
The Only ‘Tree’?
The Mayans named the cocoa tree cacahuaquchtl. No other tree was considered divine enough to be named; making cocoa their only ‘holy’ tree.
Drink to the Heavenly Grave
A Mayan royal family member was named Au Cacao (or ‘Lord Chocolate’) for his intense fondness for chocolate. Legend has it that upon his death, he was buried with the recipe of his favourite chocolate drink.
I Have the Power!
Aztec king Montezuma used to drink 50 cups of cocoa in a day for vigour and vitality.
Columbus – Not a Lover
The Aztecs gave cocoa beans to Christopher Columbus upon his voyage to the Caribbean, and he even drank their concoction, but didn’t approve of its taste.
In the 16th Century, tamale could be traded for 1 cocoa bean, a rabbit could be bought for 4 beans, 100 beans equalled a turkey hen, and 1 Spanish Real (old Spanish currency) was worth 200 cocoa beans.
A Brazilian writer described the term ‘cocoa fever’, in which early planters don’t see a forest packed with dense vegetation, instead they ‘fantasise’ about rows and rows of cocoa plants and nothing else.
Chocolate was initially criticised in France as a ‘dangerous drug’.
The Chocolate Calm
According to a French historian, the Cardinal of Lyons, France, may have drank chocolate, for ‘calming his spleen’ and ‘appeasing his temper’, a secret that Spanish monks shared with him.
For the Broken Heart!
In France, doctors believed that chocolate had healing properties, not just to treat chronic illnesses but also to soothe ‘lovelorn hearts’.
At the Bottom of the Sea
Sea pirates showed little regard for the valuable cargo of cocoa beans that Spanish and Dutch ships transported. Boatloads of cocoa were thrown overboard in disgust when pirates discovered them.
Food of War
The firm belief in the ‘power’ of chocolate continued during World Wars I and II, when American forces fighting in Europe were boosted by millions of chocolate bars issued as part of their rations.
I’d Marry (for) Chocolate!
Rumour mills of the yore were full of stories of some not-so-well-to-do, beautiful girls marrying aristocrats just so they could indulge in chocolate.
Though it is believed that people are addicted to chocolate, studies show that the sensation of eating it makes people desire chocolate, and it is not addictive.
Chocolates are not the cause of teeth decay, unlike popular perception. Fascinatingly, chocolates don’t stay in the mouth long enough to cause tooth decay.
A Good Perk
The boost a chocolate provides is often credited to high levels of caffeine. However, a 1.4-ounce bar contains 6 mg of caffeine, almost the same as a cup of decaffeinated coffee.
Small is Sweet
The myth that ‘chocolate makes you fat’ can only be attributed over-indulgence, probably due to its alluring taste. In fact, a small bite may actually erase sweet cravings and bingeing.
Some in Asia aren’t too fond of chocolate. For every 1,000 bars consumed by the British, the Chinese eat only one.
Creators Not Cherishers
Ghana and Ivory Coast may be top cocoa producers, but people there are not fond of it and are frugal chocolate eaters. Selling it worldwide is worth more to them than self consumption.