Thursday, March 04, 2004

Theobroma, the food of the gods... a.k.a. Chocolate!!!

Hey Kari:

Speaking of guilty pleasures... if I recall, you have some fondness for chocolate? I seem to be surrounded by people who love the stuff and so I've become a social partaker of the sweet stuff. Well, maybe I should just confess... I've been known to buy the stuff for absolutely no reason other than to have some for myself. I sometimes buy it for others to assuage my guilt!

I recently received a link to this page about the realm of Swiss Chocolate from a good friend. It covers some history about chocolate, plugs (of course) the virtues of Swiss Chocolate and describes the business side of the industry.

Here is their link to some history. Excerpt:
The great botanist Carl von Linnaeus was by no means the first to recognizee the unique merits of the plant to which he gave the botanical name of "Theobroma Cacao L." "Theobroma" means "food of the gods". Cocoa was already recognized as such by the Toltecs, Mayas and Aztecs, from whom we got the name "cacauatl". Around 600 AD the Mayas were already cultivating cocoa in Central America. They used the cocoa beans to prepare a very nourishing drink, which they called "Xocolatl", from which we probably get the modern word "chocolate".
How about a little quiz of your chocolate business IQ?

In the USA, in 2001, what was the per capita consumption of chocolate?
A. 0.4 kg
B. 1.4 kg
C. 4.9 kg
D. 13.1 kg

How many tons of cocoa was harvested from 2001-2002
A. 99 thousand
B. 875 thousand
C. 2.8 million
D. 45.2 million

Which nation was the top harvester of cocoa?
A. Brazil
B. Indonesia
C. Ivory Coast
D. Kenya

You can get these facts and more by plowing through this page. If you just want the answers to the quiz, click on the comments link below this post.

To read about the science of chocolate, check out this site prepared by Exploratorium.

I was surprised to learn that initially, the stuff was part of drinks. Excerpt:
The chocolate of these Mesoamerican civilizations was consumed as a bitter-tasting drink made of ground cacao beans mixed with a variety of local ingredients.
Eventually, it would take the form we now know and love. Excerpt:
But it wasn't until 1828 that the "modern era" of chocolate making and production began.

In 1828, Dutch chocolate maker Conrad J. van Houten patented an inexpensive method for pressing the fat from roasted cacao beans. The center of the bean, known as the "nib," contains an average of 54 percent cocoa butter, which is a natural fat. Van Houten's machine -- a hydraulic press -- reduced the cocoa butter content by nearly half. This created a "cake" that could be pulverized into a fine powder known as "cocoa." Van Houten treated the powder with alkaline salts (potassium or sodium carbonates) so that the powder would mix more easily with water. Today, this process is known as "Dutching." The final product, Dutch chocolate, has a dark color and a mild taste.
Today, the Swiss are famous for their chocolate, and rightly so. In the late 19th century, they developed a number of processes that contributed greatly to creating the solid chocolate candy that we all enjoy today. Two major developments occurred in 1879. First, Daniel Peter, a Swiss chocolate manufacturer, had the idea of using powdered milk (invented by Swiss Chemist Henri Nestle in 1867) to make a new kind of chocolate, milk chocolate. Second, Rudolphe Lindt invented a process called "conching," which greatly improved the quality of chocolate candy by making it more blendable.
In Los Angeles, I'm always discovering new places and I've heard on KNX-1070 Newsradio that there is a store called Leonidas very close to where I live. In their web page, they make this alluring statement:
Our decadent hand-made chocolate collections consist of the finest Belgian chocolate blends filled with a variety of rich ganaches, smooth and impossibly light fresh creams, creamy caramels, and our heavenly hazelnut praline paste. Leonidas famous Belgian chocolates are air-shipped from Belgium to Los Angeles, then directly to you. Why deny yourself the pleasure of the finest chocolates money can buy?
Click over to this page for their wide assortment of offerings.

Can you guess how much one pound of this chocolate costs? If you have clicked on the web page you will know. But if you haven't yet take a guess and check your answer by clicking yet again on the comments link below.

Anyway, I hope to make it out to the store someday soon and buy some to taste what it is all about. I'll be sure to blog back once I recover from bouncing off the walls from all that sugar.

Have a nice weekend,

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