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Chocolate, A Sweet Temptation
gourmet articleschocolate, a sweet temptation
August 2002
Chocolate's Roots in Ancient Mesoamerica

We tend to think of chocolate as a sweet candy created during modern times. The tasty secret of the cacao (kah KOW) tree was discovered 2,000 years ago in the tropical rainforests of the Americas. The chocolate dates back to the ancient peoples of Mesoamerica who drank chocolate as a bitter beverage.

For these people, chocolate wasn't just a favorite food-it also played an important role in their religious and social lives.

The ancient Maya grew cacao and made it into a beverage.

The Maya and their ancestors in Mesoamerica took the tree from the rainforest and grew it in their own backyards, where they harvested, fermented, roasted, and ground the seeds into a paste.

When mixed with water, chili peppers, cornmeal, and other ingredients, this paste made a frothy, spicy chocolate drink.

The Aztecs adopted cacao.

By 1400, the Aztec empire dominated a sizeable segment of Mesoamerica. The Aztecs traded with Maya and other peoples for cacao and often required that citizens and conquered peoples pay their tribute in cacao seeds-a form of Aztec money.

Like the earlier Maya, the Aztecs also consumed their bitter chocolate drink seasoned with spices-sugar was an agricultural product unavailable to the ancient Mesoamericans.

Drinking chocolate was an important part of Maya and Aztec life.
Many people in Classic Period Maya society could drink chocolate at least on occasion, although it was a particularly favored beverage for royalty. But in Aztec society, primarily rulers, priests, decorated soldiers, and honored merchants could partake of this sacred brew.

Chocolate also played a special role in both Maya and Aztec royal and religious events. Priests presented cacao seeds as offerings to the gods and served chocolate drinks during sacred ceremonies.

Later, the Spanish conquistadors brought the seeds back home to Spain, where new recipes were created. Eventually, and the drink's popularity spread throughout Europe. Since then, new technologies and innovations have changed the texture and taste of chocolate, but it still remains one of the world's favorite flavors.

Procedure of fabrication:
How does the cocoa bean become chocolate? The cacao fruit are cut from the tree with a machete. They ripen fully one week and after they are opened. The skin between the rows of beans is peeled off and the cocoa beans are left to ferment on the ground covered with banana leaves. Fermentation takes between 2 and 9 days, depending on the bean. The fermentation process gives flavor and color.

Before transforming the bean, they must be dried in the sun for a period of 14 days and are continually turned over. Mixing different beans will give different characteristics to a chocolate. After been perfectly cleaned, the beans are roasted to induce the cocoa aroma. The shell is removed from the bean. The beans are broken and graded. The beans will be finely ground and we will obtain the cocoa mass.

When this mass is brought under high pressure, we obtain cocoa powder in one hand and cocoa butter in another. The first step to prepare the chocolate is by preparing the batter. Raw materials, which are mixed to smooth dough and kneaded.

The batter is finely rolled to get to ensure the smooth and granule free. Afterwards the batter is pressed and finely crushed. This finely crushes the cocoa particles and pulverizes the crystals of sugar. The following step, which is very important, is the conching, the chocolate kneaded in a kneading machine (conch), lecithin and cocoa butter are added to the mass. We obtain the chocolate.

The chocolate for me:
I can remember the chocolate since I was a kid, the Easter eggs, the éclair au chocolat every Sunday, and the chocolate cake of my mother. I discovered the properties and qualities of chocolate when I started the hotel school and I understood that was an unusual product. Most of the people think that chocolate mousse, one of my favorite and most common chocolate desserts, is just a mix between chocolate, eggs, sugar and whipped cream. There is many ways to create a chocolate mousse and each one requires precise steps, it is very important to understand them so you can get a final smoothly and tender chocolate mousse while eating it. The chocolate requires skills and knowledge, working with the chocolate as a product gives me a lot of satisfaction as much as it gives to the guests the pleasure while they are savoring it. I can consider myself as a chocolate lover enjoying the combination of chocolate with different ingredients like spices, fruits, and flowers that give me impressive results.

Chocolate in Japan:

The Japanese are chocoholics. Travel anywhere in the world and you will undoubtedly see Japanese tourists laden with chocolate souvenirs. Major chocolate-giving times in Japan are on Valentine's Day and White Day. Come February 14, most Japanese girls give milk or dark chocolate presents to their husbands, boyfriends, male superiors, colleagues, or even male friends and family members.

Chocolate has been placed into categories to help differentiate the meaning of the gift. Certain chocolate is classified as "giri choco." This type of gift would be appropriate for family and co-workers since "giri" translates to duty or obligation. However, it is also not the type of chocolate you want to receive from a girl you really like since it only expresses respect. Even so, it is better than receiving nothing, since there seems to be anxiety surrounding the concept that a man is not even worthy of receiving even "giri choco."

If a man is very lucky he will receive "honmei," or true love chocolate from someone he likes. This type of chocolate has more to do with the original Western tradition. It is usually a more expensive chocolate and represents true, deep feelings of love.

White Day Women hope to get a response from their "honmei" on March 14th, or White Day. Another confectionery company that decided that March 14th would be a good day for Japanese men to reciprocate and buy women gifts created this day.

The first gifts were marshmallows, and the day was called "Marshmallow Day." However, it eventually evolved into what is now called "White Day." White Day is an opportunity for men to show their feelings for women. Gifts commonly given are white chocolate, cookies, marshmallows and handkerchiefs but also include regular personal gifts like clothing or jewelry.

Each gift is said to have a different meaning. Some gifts mean love, others mean respect and some communicate a sort of "let's be friends." However, the meanings seem to be different from one area and age group to the next. Some say that the tradition is that a man should buy something greater in value than what he received on Valentines Day for each present that he was given.

The traditions vary and change somewhat from year to year. The only element that remains the same is that women give gifts to men on February 14th and that men give gifts to women on March 14th and that chocolate is an integral part of both traditions.

Written By: Alexandre Bourdeaux
A native of Belgium, Alexandre is the Pastry Chef of Four Seasons Hotel, Tokyo, chocolate is his specialty... He would like to thank chocolate company Callebaut ( for their help.

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