A Blog of Chocolate

Mostly true facts about our favourite medicine…

by Barry Forrester

Did you know that the specific gravity of chocolate is 64.1kg.m.?  Really…. it is.

Actually, it really doesn’t matter what the specific gravity of chocolate is.  What matters, specifically is that chocolate exists. Without it, the world would be… well, I really don’t want to go there.

A world without chocolate would indeed be a different place. For a start, the Majestic Aztec pyramids would probably be a block of flats; it was the inspiration provided by chocolate that created these great monoliths. Not, as often postulated, an alien species. Although when they eventually did turn up, it was of course to mine Cacao… really.

It is generally believed that the Mesoamericans (Aztecs) first discovered Cacao a couple of thousand years ago. Immediately it became iconic. These people were pretty smart and straight away understood that they had discovered something special. A whole lot of dogma sprung up around cacao and it was generally worshiped and even traded as a currency for a short while.

Someone soon realised however that edible money was problematic, especially as it was believed to be a powerful aphrodisiac, and so they flipped over to gold which also was lying around in abundance. This was pretty much globally adhered to until the American government in the greatest robbery of all time, stole all the gold from its citizens and removed the gold standard from the currency in about 1965 (or there abouts).

Back to chocolate though, as is customary. The Spanish arrived on the scene with a firm message that everything was a sin. Anyone one who was caught having fun (this was basically considered to be anything from eating chocolate to human sacrifice, often both) would burn in hell, shortly after having their heads chopped off. Once the cacao reached Spain however, it became a favourite amongst those who had, and from there on the civilised world embraced “chocolate without sacrifice” as it infused its way into the hearts and minds of us all. There is the key: the mind.

The Aztecs had a theory. Cacao had some magical qualities. The cacao harvest was a very special time of year. For thirteen days prior to the harvest there would be sexual abstinence. Then after the harvest there would be sexual…. well, just an orgy really, and chuck in a little human sacrifice. I guess you can see why the Spanish got spiky when they were invited to witness such happenings.

Any way the chocolate was attributed with having powerful qualities. Indeed two thousand years later we know that cacao contains Phenethylamine. This chemical is also produced in the brain when we are in love and induces that gooey euphoria that one tends to experience when one is in that space. Funny enough, there is also present in cacao a particular enzyme inhibitor known as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor or MAOI. Without the MAOI the PEA would be oxidised in the digestive system and have little or no effect.  So it’s for good reason that throughout history Cacao has been associated with everything from loving romanticism to a ritualistic aphrodisiac.

But as the old adage goes; “Chocolate aint chocolate.” Not really sure what that means, but maybe there’s more to chocolate than meets,…er, the eye, or maybe a block in the hand is worth two in the … ah, bush? Actually, what this means is that chocolate is infinitely variable, in its quality and its incarnations. From the humble (horrible) Mars bar type products which contains as little as 10% chocolate to the high quality Swiss and Belgian chocolates Callebaut and Belcolade, and Organic and Raw  chocolates which contain up to 90% cacao. Chocolate is now being presented not just from global regions but from cacao sourced from single plantations. In this way chocolatiers can showcase the quality and delicate nuances between cacao crops grown in varying locations and conditions.

Look for Fair-trade chocolate when you’re buying as this makes a great difference to the lives of the growers and to the industry as a whole. Ivory Coast, Dominica Republic Ghana and Belize all have well established fair trade cooperatives/organisations. For example, under Fair-trade standards the Kavokiva Cacao Cooperative, founded by 600 Ivory Coast farmers in 1999, receives a minimum price of $1,600/tonne for its cocoa beans, or the market price if higher. After crashing to around $750/tonne in 2001 the market price has hit highs of over $3,500 in recent years because of concerns over supply (aka market manipulation). Producers also receive the additional Fair-trade premium of $150/tonne reserved for community, business or environmental improvements.

Whether you like your chocolate with Milk, Chilli, Almonds, Shiraz, Beer, Hibiscus, Lacuma, Raw, or  warm ganash running down your chin, it’s all there for the taking.  Here are a few “mostly true facts” about Cacao. See if you can separate fact from fantasy.

  1. Americans use about one million litres of milk a day in chocolate production.

  2. The Swiss eat 8 to 9 kilos of chocolate a year per person.

  3. Blame Fondue:  Knipschilt ( I kid you not) chocolates of Denmark certainly leads the bunch, when it comes to price. Featured top of the list by Forbes Magazine at a cool $5000 a kilo.

  4. Someone who owns an organic skincare company recently sprained her wrist opening a block of chocolate.

  5. The first “species” ever to prepare chocolate from Cacao is the orang-utan from Borneo. The male would harvest the bean and crush it together with a local species of fire ant. It was then left in the sun to cure and was duly wrapped in a banana leaf and presented to the female in hope of some ”jungle lovin.”  Sound familiar?


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