Chocolate Day: How the world celebrates its love for chocolate
Circa 2018. Cadbury celebrated seven decades in India with a new tagline: Kuch Accha Ho Jaye, Kuch Meetha Ho Jaye. Few, including the brand that had shouldered much of chocolate’s rise as an unparalleled sweet treat globally, could fathom how the new phase would rework the wheels for chocolate supremacy. Chocolate by then was already a well-known, beloved treat worldwide – and often ruled the roost when it came to celebratory treats, both as a drink and food. So what is the story of chocolate and how did this once rare commodity become a part of celebrations worldwide.
How did chocolate – a 5,000-year-old ingredient that spent most of its years as a drink rather than an eat – garner such glory? Curiously, and quizzically too, the history of chocolate or Xocōlātl began right at the top. Since its discovery by the Olmec people, chocolate remained a privy of the privileged. Worshiped as the personification of Quetzalcoatl (god of wisdom), this uniquely bitter and oddly sweet concoction, despite its fame as this miraculous antidote, flourished in power corridors. Even the army could have a swig only while going to a war or winning it. Thus, earning chocolate its famous moniker, Theobroma Cacao – gift of the gods or food of gods.
Rise of Olmec ‘Liquid Gold’
Crazily, this perception of chocolate carried forth without much change for the most part of its early years. From the industrious Mayans to the decadent Aztecs, chocolate and its bitter, grainy dark drink remained somewhat of a novelty and valued enough to garner one a fortune – health and otherwise. Chocolate beans as recent as the 15th century was the currency that paid salaries, brought land, lifestocks, ships, grains and even an army of slaves when necessary. It was the old world’s ‘liquid gold’ – sacred yet royal, a gift that had to be earned. The only exception was King Moctezuma II, known to enjoy no less than 50 cups a day for pleasure!
It was in fact Moctezuma who introduced chocolate to the new world when he offered his share of 50 golden jars to Spanish conqueror, Hernán Cortés. Much to the king's disappointment, Cortés and his men are said to have relegated the drink as ‘suitable for pigs’. Despised initially, chocolate soon earned its space as a nourisher when the Spanish ran out of their supply and turned to the bitter concoction. The Spanish bid at survival proved to be the turning point for chocolate. The year was 1521 when chocolate reached the court of King Charles V.
From Old to New: A Haute Pursuit
It is here that the story of chocolate took a fascinating turn, coming closer to its modern avatar, as a velvety, sweet, rich treat influenced by the Spanish conqueror and the Cistercian monastery of Piedra in Aragon where reportedly the first chocolate was made. The drink instead of chili now had warmer spices including cinnamon that accentuated its sweet notes. The Spaniards fell to the new chocolate, hook, line and sinker. The addictiveness of chocolate that was now a hot drink and less bitter earned the ire of the church who tried in vain to denounce it. Instead the little discord made it a favorite among high society. Chocolate drink makers soon earned the same position as the Ottoman Kahveci Usta did for coffee – and were often gifts from one royalty to another. Spanish princess Anne of Austria is said to have introduced the custom of drinking chocolate at breakfast to the France court when she married Louis XIII of France. Later Marie-Thérèse, wife of Louis XIV, consolidated the supremacy by making hot chocolate a customary court drink. Such was the love for cocoa that a chocolate craftsman was the only thing Marie-Antoinette was allowed to bring as part of her entourage when she married Louis XVI! Soon, pastry chefs worked round the clock finding new combinations like orange with chocolate. There are a ton of delightful recipes like Bournville Orange Squares and Chocolate Orange Spice Cake that use this classic combination of orange and chocolate even today.
Raising the Cocoa Bar
An object of outrageous fascination, chocolate enticed the intellectual world too, who worked tirelessly to champion chocolate as the ultimate aphrodisiac. Two individuals who contributed to this were Joseph Storrs Fry, who patented the process of grinding cocoa beans with a steam engine, and the other Coenraad Johannes Van Houten who created the process of separating cocoa fat from ground cocoa paste thus enabling the creation of cocoa powder, or its fancier cousin, Dutch Chocolate.
Thanks to these two innovations, by 1847, the world knew of two amazing chocolate products – the chocolate bar and the cocoa powder for a delicious hot chocolate. Following years saw artisanal chocolatiers like Cadbury and Rodolphe Lindt turn chocolate into a smooth, rich decadence. While Cadbury with its bars became Queen Victoria’s official provider, Lindt refined the conching process to create one of our best associations with chocolate – smooth and melt in mouth.
From Dark Bitter to Sweet Treat
By the 1880s, chocolate had not only transformed into this irresistibly sweet, rich, pleasurable treat that we know today, but it had spread from its place in royal chambers into the homes of commoners and their celebrations. But it was not until World War II that the world finally got a taste of the Olmec gold in its sweet avatar. Once again, chocolate took part in history as a nourisher and was part of the soldiers’ kit. And, that is how the first tin of cocoa powder arrived in India and became a part of the food dialect, where milk and sugar-sweetened hot chocolate became the toast to many celebrations. Bars were mostly exported and often were bitter and enjoyed by a few.
Cadbury history: The Making of Dairy Milk
It was not until Ahmed A. Fazelbhoy, one of our earliest and finest chocolatiers, set up Fantasie Chocolates in 1946 when the game for the liquid gold changed in India. The available chocolate was still fairly bitter at this point and had to be tweaked – more sugar, milk solids, and cocoa butter – to gain any traction. Cadbury realized this soon enough. So when the Queen’s brand set shop in 1948, it worked with Fazelbhoy to create what is today synonymous with every Indian child's happy childhood – Dairy Milk. A recipe that many brands tried emulating but in vain.
And, so it was with Dairy Milk that the story of chocolate arrived at its present place, earning its final stars as the ultimate celebration treat. Sweet, rich, smooth, velvety, it was everything that we think and know about chocolate today.