Dark, white, or milk? Pure and simple, like when wrapped in foil in the form of a teardrop? Or enjoyed encasing an almond, cashew, cherry, cream, or a mixture of them?
Chocolate. The most beguiling, most seductive of natural substances, a ubiquitous aphrodisiac.
For millennia, cacao was food for and from the gods, a necessary sacred ambrosia in Olmec, Maya, and Aztec spiritual rituals. The etymology of the word seems to have come from Nahuatl, natives of southern Mexico and Central America: chikolātl
Finding it unappealing to their taste buds, Europeans sweetened it with honey. It quickly found its way into the regal courts of Europe where it remained in the domain of the nobility who jealously guarded it as their divine right. Legend has it that it became a favorite for Casanova, understandably so.
Ah, democracy. What was once sequestered in the realm of the gods and their mortal legates is now available to the masses. Humanize the gods, dethrone their majesties, and enjoy what they did.
A Dutch chemist in 1828 figured a way to reduce the bean to powder, hence Dutch cocoa. Nineteen years later, Englishman Thomas Fry reversed the process and created the first chocolate bar by folding melted cacao butter back into Dutch cocoa.
It didn’t take long before John Cadbury marketed the creamy morsels. By 1868, he was packaging them in a tin in the shape of a heart, and the rest, as tis said, is history.
What is it, though, about chocolate, unlike coffee or tea, that makes it such a magical food? Do its inherent chemical compounds bond with welcoming, agreeable host cells in the bloodstream creating a potion that can transform the most unlikeable character into a charming friend, awaken and sustain passions of the heart, and even bring back to life—resurrect—a moribund, morally uptight community held under the oppressive hand of over-wrought morality?
Those are themes of the novel and film Chocolat. Vianne, the heroine, shows up in the French village right before Lent to open her chocolate shop, a concoction of mixed forbidden fruits conjured from the bitter-tasting cacao bean. She plants the seed in what seemingly in a barren wasteland, but the power of her products—chocolates in various forms from bars to drinks—begin to work their magic.
It’s interesting to note how chocolate has become so entwined in American culture with Valentine’s Day—pre-Lent—and Easter Sunday—post-Lent in the form of bunnies, eggs, et alia. We’ve discovered what the ancients of Mesoamerica and the European nobles knew.
Chocolate: The antidote for American puritanism. Sinfully delicious. Enjoy a bite or brew.