A chocolate, a favourite of many, is a brown colour sweet which is basically cacao seeds, roasted and often flavored with vanilla. The nature and colour of chocolates may vary depending upon the colour of the seeds and the process of preparation used. Cacao has been cultivated in many cultures for years now dating back to 1900 BC. It’s believed that earlier these seeds were used to make beverages and were termed as ‘bitter water’ because of the bitter taste in these seeds and in order to get the real flavour, further fermentation was required. After this the seeds are cleaned, dried and then roasted. The shell is then removed and grounded to create cacao mass. Chocolate liquor is the liquid form of this cacao mass. The liquor can be further processed into two forms namely cocoa solids and cocoa butter. When we wish to buy chocolates, we have so many types to choose from. The black chocolate we find is prepared from cocoa solids and cocoa butter. While the normal chocolates, the sweet ones, are basically the mix of sugar, cocoa solids, cocoa butter and other ingredients like nuts, milk etc. There are three main varieties of cocoa beans which are Criollo, forastero and trinitario. Criollo is the most rarest and expensive of all the others because they are difficult to grow due to environmental threats and therefore yield per tree is low. Forastero is the most common bean which is used to produce chocolates and is mainly found in the African regions. Trinitario is a product which results from the mix of Criollo and forastero and mainly comes from Trinidad.
Going back to the history of chocolates, we find that it was initially used as a form of drink rather than the bars we consume today. The vessels used to prepare these beverages indicate that the white pulp around the beans were a rich source of fermentable sugars used for the preparation of an alcoholic drink. During the period of the Mayans, it’s found that chocolate was also used in for ceremonial purposes. The Aztecs, who existed in the period around the 15th century, also show indications of how important chocolate was in the daily life. Other than a form of drink, cocoa beans were also used as a form of currency. Since the Aztecs could not cultivate beans in their farms, it was mostly imported and was a luxury good only used by the higher section of the society.
During the 16th century, when Columbus had made a visit to America, that was his fourth or fifth visit, he found cacao beans when he captured a native canoe along with other goods which were brought back to his home country. Initially when Columbus had introduced chocolate in Spain, it was not readily accepted until when it was introduced in the Spanish courts as a form of a drink and soon proved to be a court favourite. Chocolate was imported to Europe where it was still served as a drink however when it comes to Spanish consumers, they add sugar and honey to remove the natural bitterness. Both the men and the women were said to be greedy for this drink and consumed it in various manners, some hot some cold while other put in other ingredients like milk, nuts and even chili. By 1662, chocolate had been declared that it was safe to drink and that it was not an obstacle to any religious fasts, which then led to an increase in the market for chocolates. The growing market of chocolate shad brought with it a growing slave market as well. The growth and production of chocolate was done by poor wage labours and African slaves, however the final product still remained a good for the high class of the society. With the passage of time, new techniques of production were introduced and new ways of using chocolates were also introduced.
In various religious cultures like in Christianity, chocolates were used during festivals like Easter where chocolate eggs and in some cases chocolate rabbits were produced which were used as sweets and offered to relatives and friends. Chocolates also took the form of gifts which were used during events like valentines’ day or birthdays and marriage anniversaries along with cards. Earlier affordable only by some, today almost a major portion of the society has access to this delicacy. The use or reference of chocolates has also been seen in many books and movies like the children’s novel Charlie and the chocolate factory and is also seen in the story named Like water for chocolate by Laura Esquivel. In the present times we see chocolate being used in designing dresses as well as in other products like perfumes etc.
Coming to the health side, we find that chocolates have both negative and positive effects on health. Different studies have been conducted on chocolates which show that they have the ability to improve the circulatory system and also reduce blood pressure in adults. Dark chocolates contain high levels of chemical called flavonoids which are helpful in reducing the problem of diarrhea. Chocolates can also help in reducing the risk of cancer, cough and various diseases related to the brain. Among the negatives we have obesity which tops the list followed by allergic reactions seen in children. It is found that chocolates can cause lead poisoning and osteoporosis as well.
Chocolate is something which never had a substitute and became popular with time. Even though it has some negatives the positives overcome it making it the only sweet commodity which gives us satisfaction with the least side effects attached to it.