THE DELICIOUS CHOCOLATE CHEMISTRY I: WHERE EVERYTHING BEGUN

Ah, the chocolate! Almost everyone likes chocolate. It has chocolate for all tastes. And nowadays there is chocolate even for those who have food restrictions, such as allergies and intolerances or for those who are vegan. But what does chocolate have that makes us like it so much? And what’s the story of chocolate? And especially: how is it currently produced? This is what we will discover in this delicious series of texts!

Chocolate, so popular today, has a very old origin. But it has not always been accessible to the general population and much less consumed in the way it is today. Oh, and also did not always have that sweet taste as we know it today and that makes it so dear. In this first text of the series, let’s start talking about some of the history of chocolate.

The chocolate came in the region of Central America known as Mesoamerica, which is the name used to refer to the region where the Mayan people lived. Currently, Mesoamerica would correspond to Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Evidence suggests that from 1900 BC the grains of native cacao trees were used. According to records, the grains were crushed and mixed with corn flour and peppers, giving rise to a refreshing and bitter drink.

The oldest civilization in Latin America, known as Olmec, would have been the first people to convert the cocoa plant into chocolate. Centuries later, the Mayas and Aztecs began to associate the drink with deities, believing that it would have been presented by a God known to the Maya as Kukulkan and the Aztecs as Quetzalcoatl. Mayan chocolate was a fermented beverage made from roasted and ground cocoa beans mixed with pepper, water, and cornmeal, which after being transferred from one container to another created a thick foamy drink called “xocolatl,” which meant “bitter water” .

The Aztecs had a similar drink, and because they lived in the highlands of Central Mexico, far from the Mayan rainforests, they could not have their own cocoa plantations, so they used cocoa beans as their barter, they drank chocolate in festivities and gave it to soldiers as a reward for defeated battles, in addition to using it in rituals. Unlike the Mayas, chocolate was, for the Aztecs, a luxury drink, to which few Aztecs had access. They believed that wisdom and power were acquired by eating the fruit that came from the cacao tree, and the drink was so precious that they possessed specific containers of gold to drink it.

Although no one knows for sure when chocolate arrived in Spain, historians believe that the first record of the meeting of Europeans with cocoa came in the 1500s, when Hernan Cortes discovered chocolate on an expedition to the Americas when he visited the village known like Tenochtitlan, ruled by the Aztec emperor Montesuma, who would have offered the drink to the Spanish colonizer. The settlers would have returned with grain shipments and the drink would have gained the reputation of aphrodisiac. Initially, its bitter taste made it popular for medical applications, such as for curing stomach problems. But over time it was sweetened and mixed with honey, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, almonds and many other substances, becoming popular in the houses of the Spanish aristocracy, which had special dishes for drinking. The Catholic monks also worshiped the drink and began to use it in religious practices.

Some time later, the chocolate began to spread by neighboring countries to Spain and soon throughout Europe. As the trend spread throughout Europe, soon many countries began to establish their own plantations in countries along the Equator. Chocolate production was difficult and time-consuming for large-scale production, as it involved the use of plantations and slave labor from the Caribbean and African coasts.

Curiously, Belgium was a Spanish territory and therefore had easy access to cocoa beans and chocolate recipes. Belgium also had a colony in the Congo, where there were plantations of cacao trees. This explains why Belgium is today so famous for its chocolates.

Chocolate remained popular among the European aristocracy, but until then it was exclusively consumed in its liquid form. But the Industrial Revolution also completely changed the universe of chocolate, with the appearance of the hydraulic press for cocoa, invented by the Dutch Van Hauten, in 1828. The press allowed the separation of the cocoa butter from the powder, so that the powder could be used both in beverage solutions, and recombined with butter to generate chocolate in its solid form as we know it today. Thus was born the modern era of chocolate.

In 1879, Rodolphe Lindt created the shelling machine, which transformed the sandy chocolate paste into a rich and smooth blend. Around 1900, a coating machine replaced the task of manually dipping each chocolate. In 1895, Jean Neuhaus began to “wrap” nuts with chocolate. In 1912, he perfected the technique of shaped chocolates, or chocolates (known as pralines), by adding fillings inside a chocolate “peel”. In Belgium, bonbons stuffed with creams, ganaches and marzipans were so successful that a new box had to be created. Ballotin, the French word for “gift box”, was invented to keep the bonbons from breaking.

Soon after, a Swiss company started to mix powdered milk with chocolate, creating the famous milk chocolate. In the 1900s, chocolate was no longer an elite product, but became more available to the general population. To meet demand, more cocoa plantation was needed, which can only grow near the equator. Rather than slave labor continue to be sent to cocoa plantations in South and Central America, cocoa began to be planted on the west coast of Africa, with Côte d’Ivoire accounting for most of the world’s cocoa production.

Associated with the growth in consumption of chocolate, cocoa plantations in Africa and the chocolate industries, there are many abuses that exist today. Many of the plantations throughout West Africa, which supply Western enterprises, still use slave and child labor. This is a complex problem that continues to this day, even with the efforts of many multinational companies to create partnerships with African countries to reduce these practices.

The past of chocolate, associated with luxury, something aphrodisiac and often forbidden, makes part of this connotation still loaded today. But beyond all the past, the chemistry of chocolate also explains many of these associations. Chocolate has phenylethylamine, a natural stimulant that stimulates the production of dopamine, responsible for the sense of well-being and also associated with the aphrodisiac property of chocolate. In addition, chocolate has an amino acid called tryptophan, from which serotonin is derived. Serotonin is also a neurotransmitter responsible for the sense of well-being. The chocolate also has theobromine, a compound capable of blocking inhibitory neurotransmitters.

To sum up, besides being tasty, when consumed in moderation and especially depending on the type of chocolate consumed, it can bring many health benefits.

BIBLIOGRAPHIC REFERENCES:

The history of chocolateThe History Of Chocolate In 120 SecondsWhere does Chocolate Comes From?The History of Chocolate: The Mayans and AztecsThe History of Chocolate: Part 2 – EuropeanAs 7 Marcas de Chocolate que Utilizam Trabalho Escravo Infantil.

To read the other texts of the series The delicious chocolate chemistry, access the links below.

THE DELICIOUS CHOCOLATE CHEMISTRY II: SEED PROCESSING.

THE DELICIOUS CHEMICAL OF CHOCOLATE III: EVERYONE COMES FROM LIQUOR

THE DELICIOUS CHOCOLATE CHEMISTRY IV: CHOCOLATE FACTORY