Sunday, 22 April 2012

Sweetness and Light

                I’ve mentioned coffee and tea recently, so it only seems fair to add a post on the third drink of the beverage trinity – chocolate.

Chocolate was introduced to Europe by the Spanish conquistadors, who brought it back from the Americas; the first recorded commercial shipment was in 1585. As with tea and coffee, it was first popular in court circles and spread to the rest of the populace as increased importation brought down the price. The first chocolate house opened in London in about 1652 – this contemporary tract, translated from Spanish, notes that the tract and chocolate are both available at the Vine Tavern, Holborn. Pepys mentions drinking chocolate as a morning draught several times in the early 1660s. In 1689 Hans Sloane (whose mausoleum influenced the design of the telephone kiosk), developed a milk chocolate drink.

The etymology of the word chocolate is difficult. It comes from the Spanish, who in turn took it from a native American source, but there are numerous possible sources. The commonest one given is from Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, xococ – ‘bitter’ and atl – ‘water’, although others give the Yucatec Mayan chokol – ‘hot’, with the Nahuatl atl.  Some have also pointed out that the Spanish would have had problems with a word like the Nahuatl cacahuatl –‘cocoa water’, as caca in Spanish (and other languages) means ‘faeces’ – not an association you want when faced with a thick brown fluid! Nonetheless, drinking chocolate was extremely popular in Spain – it has been said that ‘chocolate is to the Spanish what tea is to the English’. The Greek name for the genus Theobroma – the cocoa trees – comes from theos – ‘god’ and broma – ‘that which is eaten’, literally ‘the food of the Gods’.

The first chocolate bar made for general consumption was made in 1847 by J S Fry’s and Sons. Joseph Fry, the founder, started making chocolate in about 1759. Fry was a Quaker, and sold chocolate, tea and coffee as an alternative to alcohol. The Cadbury family, whose chocolate firm merged with Fry’s in 1919, were also Quakers. John Cassell was also a purveyor of coffee and chocolate for a time. Fry’s introduced the first chocolate Easter egg to the UK in 1873.

Because dairy products (especially milk) are sometimes used in the production of chocolate, it can be problematic for the lactose intolerant. Chocolate also contains the alkaliod theobromine, which is difficult for some animals, particularly dogs and cats, to metabolise. 50 grams of chocolate can induce theobromine poisoning in a small dog; a smaller dose is toxic to cats, although cats do not have sweetness receptors, and so are less likely to ingest chocolate.

My own favourite drinking chocolate is Charbonnel et Walker’s Chocolat Charbonnel. It is quite expensive, but is a delicious, smooth drink, just the thing for a treat. And the tin is most attractive.

As for chocolate confectionary, my favourites come from Whitakers in Skipton. On family days out in my youth, we would stop in Skipton and always made straight for Whitakers, a habit I still continue to this day. Here are some chocolates I bought there earlier this year. They taste as good as they look.

1 comment:

  1. I have both the hot choc...Christmas present from Emily...and will be in Skipton on Monday for chocolate....and a celebrated pork pie x