Chocolate Passion, the new guide to chocolate
by Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty
editors of Chocolatier magazine.

A History of Chocolate
A Wiley Online Culinary Seminar with Timothy Moriarty

A History of Chocolate Discussion will focus on the history of chocolate, from its origins in pre-Conquest America on through to the present, and the way in which the cacao bean became the luxury it is today.

1. Have there been any attempts made to cultivate the cacao tree farther north of the equator (i.e., here in the U.S.)?
We have heard of experiments in cross-breeding the three types of cacao trees (producing the criollo bean, the forastero bean and the trinitario bean) to make them more productive and pest-resistant. But no, so far, cacao trees thrive only in geographical areas within 20 degrees (roughly 600 miles) north and south of the equator. Only in these regions is there the necessary stable climate of heat (temperatures that never fall below 68 degrees F), humidity, rainfall (between 70 and 90 inches a year), damp soil and heavy shade the trees require. Strictly speaking, however, cacao *does* grow on U.S. soil -- in Hawaii, where the Hawaiian Chocolate Company has been cultivating cacao for some ten years.

2. Given chocolate's roots in South America -- as I understand it -- how is it that the parts of the world best known for chocolate products are generally in Europe? Is there also a tradition of fine chocolate-making in South America where the beans originate?
Way back in the 16th century, Europeans took the secret of chocolate making to their own countries (Spain was first); it was Europeans who first sweetened chocolate and flavored it in ways that appeal to our modern palates. Since then, chocolate making has been an important part of the cultures of many of these European countries -- obviously, the Swiss, the Belgians and the French, but also the Germans and Italians, to some extent. It is a matter of tradition and culture, but also of finance, and probably some secret techniques in blending, roasting, etc. It is also a matter of western technology and strict adherence to sanitary conditions. There are now some companies in South America that are manufacturing their own chocolate. El Rey from Venezuela is the prime example; the company makes an excellent chocolate. But truth be told, although El Rey has been in existence for thirty or more years, it was not until management decided to import European equipment, expertise, sanitary standards and techniques that they produced a chocolate that was competitive on the world market.

3. How did mole evolve from early uses of chocolate? Isn't it fairly close to the way the Aztec used to eat it, with peppers and such?
Most accounts of the invention of mole point to nuns in Puebla Mexico. Notified at the last minute of an impending visit by an important personage, the nuns took stock of all they had in the larder. They slaughtered a turkey and sauced it with a combination of unsweetened chocolate, chilies, onion, nuts and sesame seeds. And yes, this is close to the Aztec recipe for chocolate, which consisted of pulverized, fermented, roasted cacao beans with water and flavored with chilies.

4. Is it true that chocolate can be a substitute for sex?
Ye Gods, no. Chocolate is a completely unacceptable substitute for sex or hugging or family joshing or any other substantial emotional intimacy. HOWEVER! Eating chocolate *can* be a very sensuous experience, and if no sex or hugging or whatever is on the horizon, why, by all means, enjoy.

Chocolate has enjoyed a reputation as an aphrodisiac since those crazy Conquistadores first laid eyes on the "pagan" ways of the Aztecs (who did regard chocolate as a medicine, but probably not as an aphrodisiac). This reputation positively flourished in the courts of the French kings of the 18th century. The art and literature of the time is thick with erotic imagery in connection with chocolate, partially propelled by the writings of the Marquis de Sade, who mixed the erotic qualities of chocolate with its ability to disguise poisons. Casanova, too, used chocolate (and champagne) as a means of seduction.
In the court of Louis XV, Madame de Pompadour took her chocolate with ambergris to stimulate her desire for the king -- it was said that she was cold to him. Madame du Barry was the opposite: she was reputed to be nymphomaniacal and encouraged her lovers to drink chocolate in order to keep up with her.
Today, in our age of science, you will read articles in magazines that claim that chocolate is an aphrodisiac based on studies from reputable universities. Partially true. Scientists have isolated phenylethylamine (PEA); this is a stimulant (found in small amounts in some foods, including chocolate, and also found in the brain) that raises blood pressure and heart rate. A miniscule amount of PEA is released by the brain at moments of emotional euphoria.
The problem is that there is no evidence that dietary PEA increases PEA in the brain. So eating chocolate probably won't (physiologically) give a person that feeling of euphoria. P.S.: Among the foods that contain more PEA than comparable servings of chocolate are cheddar cheese, salami and pickled herring. A standard serving of smoked salami, for example, contains more than four times the PEA of your average chocolate bar.

5. Is there any history of chocolate in Asia? I can't recall ever coming across any Chinese or Vietnamese recipe that calls for chocolate.
No, thus far, the dessert tradition of most Asian countries does not include chocolate, but that is slowly changing. In the past few years, the people of Japan have embraced chocolate in a big way, with their own huge celebration of Valentine's Day. European and American companies are trying to find a way to penetrate the market in China, either through imports or by building plants in China, but the difficulties of doing business over there (so many trade restrictions, bureaucratic entanglements, etc.), combined with the warm climate, have prevented it. Which is all to the good: more chocolate for you and me.

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Copyright: Tish Boyle, Timothy Moriarty, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved

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