Chocolate Conquers the Old World
Several years ago I read somewhere about an order of Mexican nuns who became so besotted with chocolate that they neglected their work, their works of charity, and worst of all, their prayer life. Morning, noon, and night, life revolved around making and consuming chocolate. Eventually, the Holy Father himself sanctioned them by imposing a lifetime ban on the consumption of chocolate in that convent.
Yesterday, July 7th, was Chocolate Day, the observance of the date in 1550 when chocolate was introduced to Europe from the New World. The date is certainly questionable, since Christopher Columbus presented cacao beans (the source of chocolate) decades earlier to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The beans, however, were apparently no more than a curiosity until Hernando Cortes made improvements to Aztec chocolate. In 1519, the Aztecs had welcomed Cortes with liquid chocolate–unsweetened–a beverage that one conquistador described as “a bitter drink for pigs”. The brilliant solution Cortes came up with: mix the drink with copious amounts of honey or cane sugar. Cortes described chocolate as “the divine drink which builds up resistance and fights fatigue,” and within a century its popularity spread throughout Europe’s elite. The first chocolate house was opened in London in 1657.
In 1828, a Dutch chemist found a way to treat cacao to remove the bitter taste, creating “Dutch chocolate”, though now we’re seeing a health trend back to the dark chocolate with a higher cacao content and more bitter taste. No matter, it’s estimated that the average American eats at least a half a pound of chocolate, dark or light, sweet, or a little more bitter, a month. This American probably exceeds that!
But let’s go back to the 15th century and before, and try to imagine: life without chocolate.
“The greatest tragedies were written by the Greeks and Shakespeare…neither knew chocolate.” ― Sandra Boynton
So true, so true!
Happy Belated Chocolate Day, my friends!
“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” ― Charles M. Schulz
All Images: Wikimedia Commons
Sources: Smithsonian.com , The Story of Chocolate, Wired.com