A brief history of chocolate
Early people attached importance to this tree discovered in Central America 3000 years ago in the land of the Olmec people. For all of its early history it was fermented into a bitter, frothy beverage, used for religious and social purposes by the cultures of Mexico and South America, including the Maya and Aztecs, and referred to as the “drink of the gods.” The Aztecs believed that cacao was the source of spiritual wisdom, tremendous energy and enhanced sexual powers.
Christopher Columbus was the first European to encounter chocolate, but it was left to Hernando Cortez to conquer the Aztecs in the early 1500s, carrying beans back to Spain as spoils of war. It took nearly a century for the Spanish to “spill the beans,” but the mystery of chocolate was eventually introduced to the rest of Europe.
The clever Europeans began heating the chocolate and adding sugar and spices like cinnamon and vanilla to make a more palatable drink. Expensive chocolate was saved for the elite, but the Industrial Revolution changed the processing of chocolate, finally making it available to the masses at an affordable price. With the aid of Quakers like John Cadbury, chocolate soon began to resemble the candy we love to consume today. Many Quakers fled to America due to religious persecution; one such Quaker, Milton Hershey, opened his first plant in Pennsylvania in 1900. Names like Cadbury, Lindt, Ghirardelli, Hershey and Nestle began to emerge, and are still among the largest chocolate producers today.
The armed services are largely responsible for the popularity of chocolate in America, included in G.I. rations in WWI. Upon returning from the war, the doughboys were fond of their chocolate candy, and as civilians wanted more of the same. In WWII, U.S. soldiers even introduced chocolate to the Japanese.
The popularity and importance of this “food of the gods” has not changed, becoming one of the most popular flavors in the world. Chocolate molded into different shapes has become traditional on certain holidays: bunnies and eggs for Easter, coins on Hanukkah, Santa Claus and other holiday symbols on Christmas, and hearts on Valentine's Day.
Chocolate as medicine?
Can moderate consumption of high-quality chocolate be good for you? Some physicians at U.C. Davis, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard Medical School think so, having unveiled research linking flavonols in cocoa and dark chocolate to the maintenance of healthy blood pressure and overall cardiovascular health. Other studies have found that dark chocolate has proportionately more antioxidants than other foods that are better known for their health-giving properties, such as red wine, green tea and berries.
Consumption of chocolate triggers the release of endorphins, which may account for that warm, fuzzy feeling induced in some chocoholics. This may explain why chocolate is such a popular gift at Valentine’s Day.
One taste is never enough!
For chocolate lovers, two local events are not to be missed. The first is CHOCOLATE DECADENCE 2009 on Feb. 5 at the Hudson-Essex Loft in Automobile Alley. The event showcases decadent chocolate treats crafted by premier local restaurants and caterers, along with smooth jazz, wine and champagne, gourmet coffees, and a Valentine auction. You can enjoy your chocolate while at the same time helping to beautify Historic Automobile Alley.
Francy Palmer of RCB Bank of Nichols Hills, co-chair of the event, said that past events have featured fabulous chocolate creations, and even some savory dishes using chocolate, such as molé sauces. This year, one of the participants will be creating a special chocolate fantasy beverage for the event. www.automobilealley.org/chocdec.html
The Firehouse Art Center hosts the 27th ANNUAL CHOCOLATE FESTIVAL Feb. 7 at Norman North High School. This popular event was ranked third among food festivals in the U.S. by the Food Network, and has won the Frontier Country Grand Award for Best Food Festival in Central Oklahoma.
Tickets to the Chocolate Festival are always the hottest tickets in town. “The tasting of fine chocolate includes savoring the texture, defining the flavors, and indulging one’s entire being in the moment. At the Chocolate Festival, there are entire lifetimes of moments waiting to happen. It’s just dreamy – something you must experience at least once in your lifetime,” says Kris Abbey, Festival participant.
The Premiere ticket includes 15 chocolate samples, a drink, and a container for leftovers (what leftovers?).
While attendees enjoy their chocolate, the proceeds will go to the Firehouse Art Center, which provides art education to Norman and surrounding communities. http://normanfirehouse.moonfruit.com
For many, chocolate has become a necessity in life, as evidenced by the word “chocoholic.” Chocolate can be an indulgence or reward, therapy for a stressful day, or soothe an attack of the blues. Whether in the form of a bar, drink, cake, mousse or fondue; enjoyed hot, warm, cold or frozen, milk or dark; whether served with sweet or savory food, true chocoholics love it all!