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Cocoa: a bite sized history

A few weeks ago we were looking at how chocolate is made- we thought we might delve into one of the aspects of chocolate making a little more deeply given its importance, and it also gives us an excuse to examine some of chocolate's history- join us then as we see how it transformed from a bitter drink into a delightful treat.

Drinking chocolate

The process we explained earlier this month is a fairly recent development for processing chocolate- though elements of it are certainly based on much older practices. Chocolate as something to be eaten is fairly recent too. For most of the time it has been used by humans, chocolate has been used to make a drink of one sort or another. The very earliest were probably alcoholic, made using the sugary, and thus fermentable, pulp found inside cacao pods. Eventually the beans came to be the more popular choice amongst peoples such as the Maya and Aztec, who mixed the ground beans with water and often chilli. Chocolate remained a drink after the first Europeans adopted it- the Spanish, in this case. They introduced a long lasting aspect of making chocolate however when they began adding sugar to counteract the bitterness, something that we are all too familiar with these days!

Eating chocolate

Modern chocolate as we know it can be traced back to the time of the Industrial Revolution. In 1828, a Dutchman called Casparus van Houten  developed and patented the Van Houten Press- a hydraulic press which separated up to half the cacao butter from the cacao nibs, leaving a compressed disc that could be broken up into cocoa powder. His son Coenraad also contributed to the world of chocolate when he treated it with alkalised salts: this had the twin effect of making cocoa solids more easily mixed with water (good news for chocolate drinkers at the time) and also made it taste less bitter. The first bar of chocolate was created in 1847 and is attributed to Joseph Fry, one of the family of Quakers who established Fry's chocolates. Whilst other people had worked out that adding extra cacao butter back into cocoa solids made a mouldable chocolate, it was Joseph Fry who created the first mass produced chocolate bar which quickly became very popular.

Milk chocolate

The developments didn't stop there however. In 1875, a Swiss chocolatier called Daniel Peter came up with milk chocolate. It wasn't a simple task though; it's not just a case of adding a splash of milk to the mix! Peter realised that the water had to be removed in order to prevent mildew forming. Together with Henri Nestlé, they hit upon the idea of using powdered milk which solved the problem and gave us perhaps the most popular form of chocolate on the market today! For our final consideration, but by no means the least, is the contribution of Rodolphe Lindt. In 1879 he invented the conche, a machine which does much to develop the final texture and taste of chocolate.

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