VCT: A Brief History of Chocolate

The pinnacle of chocolate-ness, that which history and tradition has declared The Best, is that which is made in Belgium or Switzerland.

And yet, and yet…The cacao tree isn’t native to Europe; indeed, it doesn’t even grow here save for in tropical biomes. It isn’t even native to Africa. Growing within 20 degrees of latitude of the Equator, it comes from Central America – from Peru and Ecuador and Mexico.

Chocolate began life as a drink, the beans roasted and ground into a paste with water, and flavoured with chili. Introduced to Europe by the Conquistadors, it was only when the Spanish began sweetening it with honey or sugar that this new drink found favour with the court.

And later, experiments were made, to make it better, more consistent, tastier, cheaper. It wasn’t until 1847, though, that John Fry worked out how to make solid chocolate. Then the greats of chocolate began – Daniel Peter used Henri Nestlé’s powdered milk, Rodolphe Lindt invented the conching machine, John and Benjamin Cadbury received a royal warrant from Queen Victoria. And in 1893, Milton S. Hershey established his chocolate factory in Chicago.

Nowadays, the majority of cacao comes from the Ivory Coast, cacao beans having made their way to Africa, and further afield, during European colonisation.

And makers are going the other way – more expensive, artisan, chocolate. Single-origin. Cheap, mass-produced bars are still on the shelves, but there’s growing demand for higher quality. For chocolate which tastes like chocolate, and not sugar or non-cacao vegetable fats. Or is that just me?

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