The chocolate residue found in an ancient Maya pot suggests that Maya were drinking chocolate 2,600 years ago, the earliest record of cacao use. The Aztecs associated chocolate with Xochiquetzal, the goddess of fertility. In the New World, chocolate was consumed in a bitter and spicy drink called xocoatl, often seasoned with vanilla, chile pepper, achiote (which we know today as annatto) and pimento. Xocoatl was believed to fight fatigue, a belief that is probably attributable to the theobromine content. Chocolate was an important luxury good throughout pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, and cocoa beans were often used as currency. Other chocolate drinks combined it with such edibles as maize gruel (which acts as an emulsifier) and honey.
The xocolatl was said to be an acquired taste. Jose de Acosta, a Spanish Jesuit missionary who lived in Peru and then Mexico in the later 16th century, wrote of it:
Loathsome to such as are not acquainted with it, having a scum or froth that is very unpleasant to taste. Yet it is a drink very much esteemed among the Indians, where with they feast noble men who pass through their country. The Spaniards, both men and women, that are accustomed to the country, are very greedy of this Chocolaté. They say they make diverse sorts of it, some hot, some cold, and some temperate, and put therein much of that "chili"; yea, they make paste thereof, the which they say is good for the stomach and against the catarrh.
Christopher Columbus brought some cocoa beans to show Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, but it remained for Hernando de Soto to introduce it to Europe more broadly.
The first recorded shipment of chocolate to the Old World for commercial purposes was in a shipment from Veracruz to Seville in 1585. It was still served as a beverage, but the Europeans added sugar and milk to counteract the natural bitterness and removed the chilli pepper, replacing it with another Mexican indigenous spice, vanilla. Improvements to the taste meant that by the 17th century it was a luxury item among the European nobility.
At the end of the 18th century, the first form of solid chocolate was invented in Turin by Doret. This chocolate was sold in large quantities from 1826 by Pierre Paul Caffarel. In 1819 F. L. Cailler opened the first Swiss chocolate factory. In 1828 Dutchman Conrad J. van Houten patented a method for extracting the fat from cocoa beans and making powdered cocoa and cocoa butter. Van Houten also developed the so-called Dutch process of treating chocolate with alkali to remove the bitter taste. This made it possible to form the modern chocolate bar. It is believed that the Englishman Joseph Fry made the first chocolate for eating in 1847, followed in 1849 by the Cadbury brothers.
Daniel Peter, a Swiss candle maker, joined his father-in-law's chocolate business. In 1867 he began experimenting with milk as an ingredient. He brought his new product, milk chocolate, to market in 1875. He was assisted in removing the water content from the milk to prevent mildewing by a neighbour, a baby food manufacturer named Henri Nestlé. Rodolphe Lindt invented the process called conching, which involves heating and grinding the chocolate solids very finely to ensure that the liquid is evenly blended.
Toxicity in animals
In sufficient amounts the theobromine found in chocolate is toxic to animals such as horses, dogs, parrots, voles, and cats (kittens especially) because they are unable to metabolise the chemical effectively. If they are fed chocolate, the theobromine will remain in their bloodstream for up to 20 hours, and these animals may experience epileptic seizures, heart attacks, internal bleeding, and eventually death. Medical treatment involves inducing vomiting within two hours of ingestion, or contacting a veterinarian.
A typical 20-kilogram dog will normally experience intestinal distress after eating fewer than 240 grams of milk chocolate, but will not necessarily experience bradycardia or tachycardia unless it eats at least a half a kilogram of milk chocolate. Dark, sweet chocolate has about 50% more theobromine and thus is more dangerous to dogs. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, approximately 1.3 grams of baker's chocolate per kilogram of a dog's body weight (0.02 oz/lb) is sufficient to cause symptoms of toxicity. For example, a typical 25-gram baker's chocolate bar would be enough to bring about symptoms in a 20-kilogram dog.
Recent studies have shown that cocoa or dark chocolate has potent health benefits for people. Dark chocolate, with its high cocoa content, is full of the flavonoids epicatechin and gallic acid, which are antioxidants that help protect blood vessels, promote cardiac health, and prevent cancer. It also has been effectively demonstrated to counteract mild hypertension. In fact, dark chocolate has more flavonoids than any other antioxidant-rich food such as red wine, green and black tea, and blueberries. There has even been a fad diet named "Chocolate diet" that emphasises eating chocolate and cocoa powder in capsules. However, consuming milk chocolate or white chocolate, or drinking milk with dark chocolate, appears to largely negate the health benefits. Chocolate is also a calorie-rich food with a high content of saturated fat, so daily intake of chocolate also requires reducing caloric intake of other foods.
Two-thirds of the fat in chocolate comes in the forms of a saturated fat called stearic acid and a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid. However, unlike other saturated fats, stearic acid does not raise levels of LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream. A 2001 study by researchers at Penn State University found that the flavonoids in chocolate slowed the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, a process that is believed to lead to atherosclerosis.
Mars, Incorporated, a Virginia-based candy company, spends millions of dollars each year on flavanol research. The company is in talks with pharmaceutical companies to license drugs based on synthesized cocoa flavanol molecules. According to Mars-funded researchers at Harvard, the University of California , and European universities, cocoa-based prescription drugs could potentially help treat diabetes, dementia and other diseases.
Chocolate as a drug
Current research indicates that chocolate is a weak stimulant because of its content of theobromine. However, chocolate contains too little of this compound for a reasonable serving to create effects in humans that are on par with a coffee buzz. The pharmacologist Ryan J. Huxtable aptly noted that "[Chocolate is more than a food but less than a drug". However, chocolate is a very potent stimulant for dogs and horses; its use is therefore banned in horse-racing. Theobromine is also a contributing factor in acid reflux because it relaxes the esophageal sphincter muscle, allowing stomach acid to more easily enter the esophagus.
Chocolate also contains caffeine in significant amounts, though less than tea or coffee, according to careful scientific studies and despite a few websites which claim otherwise. Some chocolate products contain synthetic caffeine as an additive.
Chocolate also contains small quantities of the endogenous cannabinoid anandamide and the cannabinoid breakdown inhibitors N-oleoylethanolamine and N-linolenoylethanolamine. Anandamides are produced naturally by the body, in such a way that their effects are extremely targeted (compared to the broad systemic effects of drugs like tetrahydrocannabinol) and relatively short-lived. In experiments N-oleoylethanolamine and N-linolenoylethanolamine interfere with the body's natural mechanisms for breaking down endogenous cannabinoids, causing them to last longer. However, noticeable effects of chocolate related to this mechanism in humans have not yet been demonstrated.
Pleasure of consuming chocolate
Part of the pleasure of eating chocolate is ascribed to the fact that its melting point is slightly below human body temperature; it melts in the mouth. Chocolate intake has been linked with release of serotonin in the brain, which is thought to produce feelings of pleasure.
Research has shown that heroin addicts tend to have an increased liking for chocolate; this may be because it triggers dopamine release in the brain's reinforcement systems - an effect, albeit a legal one, similar to that of opium. See also: chocoholic.
Chocolate as an aphrodisiac
Romantic lore commonly identifies chocolate as an aphrodisiac. The reputed aphrodisiac qualities of chocolate are most often associated with the simple sensual pleasure of its consumption. More recently, suggestion has been made that serotonin and other chemicals found in chocolate, most notably phenethylamine, can act as mild sexual stimulants. While there is no firm proof that chocolate is indeed an aphrodisiac, giving a gift of chocolate to one's sweetheart is a familiar courtship ritual.
There is a popular belief that the consumption of chocolate can cause acne. Such an effect could not be shown in scientific studies as the results are inconclusive.
Chocolate has one of the highest concentrations of lead among all products that constitute a typical Westerner's diet. This is thought to happen because the cocoa beans are mostly grown in developing countries such as Nigeria . Those countries still use tetra-ethyl lead as a gasoline additive and, consequently, have high atmospheric concentrations of lead. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, levels of lead in chocolate are sufficiently low that even people who eat large amounts of chocolate every day are not at risk of any adverse effects.
There are three main varieties of cacao beans used in chocolates. "Criollo", the variety native to Central America, the Caribbean islands and the northern tier of South American states, is the rarest and most expensive cocoa on the market. There is some dispute about the genetic purity of cocoas sold today as Criollo, since most populations have been exposed to the genetic influence of other varieties. Criollos are difficult to grow, as they are vulnerable to a host of environmental threats and deliver low yields of cocoa per tree. The flavor of Criollo is characterized as delicate but complex, low in classic "chocolate" flavor, but rich in "secondary" notes of long duration. Forastero is a large group of wild and cultivated cacaos, probably native to the Amazon basin. The huge African cocoa crop is entirely of the Forastero variety. They are significantly hardier and of higher yield than Criollo. Forastero cocoas are typically big in classic "chocolate" flavor, but this is of short duration and is unsupported by secondary flavors. There are exceptional Forasteros, such as the "Nacional" or "Arriba" variety, which can possess great complexity. Trinitario, a natural hybrid of Criollo and Forastero, originated in Trinidad after an introduction of (Amelonado) Forastero to the local Criollo crop. These cocoas exhibit a wide range of flavor profiles according to the genetic heritage of each tree.
Nearly all cacao produced over the past five decades is of the Forastero or lower-grade Trinitario varieties. The share of higher quality Criollos and Trinitarios (so-called flavour cacao) is just under 5% per annum
Firstly, the cacao pods, containing cacao beans, are harvested. The beans, together with their surrounding pulp, are removed from the pod and left in piles or bins to ferment for 3-7 days. The beans must then be quickly dried to prevent mold growth; climate permitting, this is done by spreading the beans out in the sun.
The beans are then roasted, graded and ground. Cocoa butter is removed from the resulting chocolate liquor either by being pressed or by the Broma process. The residue is what is known as cocoa powder.
Chocolate liquor is blended with the butter in varying quantities to make different types of chocolate or couverture. The basic blends of ingredients, in order of highest quantity of cocoa liquor first, are as follows. (Note that since American chocolates have a lower percentage requirement of cocoa liquor for dark chocolate, some dark chocolate may have sugar as the top ingredient.)
- Plain dark chocolate: sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa liquor, and (sometimes) vanilla
- Milk chocolate: sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa liquor, milk or milk powder, and vanilla
- White chocolate: sugar, cocoa butter, milk or milk powder, and vanilla
Usually, an emulsifying agent such as soya lecithin is added, though a few manufacturers prefer to exclude this ingredient for purity reasons and to remain GMO-free (soya is a heavily genetically modified crop), sometimes at the cost of a perfectly smooth texture. The texture is also heavy influenced by processing, specifically conching. The more expensive chocolates tend to be processed longer and thus have a smoother texture and "feel" on the tongue, regardless of whether emulsifying agents are added.