National Chocolate Day, celebrated each October 28, is nothing short of a special tribute to mankind’s greatest culinary invention. (Sorry, pizza.) Chocolate can enhance even the most luxurious dessert items. On the other hand, you can get your fix from a simple candy bar. Hint: Try for chocolate with a “high cacao” percentage and low added sugar.
History of National Chocolate Day
The history of chocolate goes back 2,500 years. Aztecs loved their newly discovered liquid chocolate to the extent that they believed Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom, literally bestowed it upon them. Cacao seeds acted as a form of currency. And this was back in the “bitter” chocolate days — before they added sugar! Once chocolate turned sweet — in 16th-century Europe — the masses caught on and turned chocolate into a powerhouse treat.
Several present-day chocolate companies began operations in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Cadbury started in England by 1868. Milton S. Hershey, 25 years later, purchased chocolate processing equipment at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago He started the company by producing chocolate-coated caramels. Nestlé, dating back to the 1860s, has grown into one of the largest food conglomerates in the world.
Did you know that chocolate is a fermented food? That’s right, once the cacao pods are picked, cleaned of pithy white material from the fruit and dried, the cacao beans are fermented. The papery shell is removed and cacao nibs are revealed. Chocolatiers then grind them into cocoa mass, separate them into cocoa solids and cocoa butter, and combine them with milk and sugar, or in the case of white chocolate, just the chocolate butter with milk and sugar.
Today there’s a move toward dark chocolate since it contains far less sugar. Ghana, Ecuador, and the Ivory Coast,all near the equator, have ideal climates for cacao trees and produce some of the world’s best chocolate. It’s best to look for dark chocolate from those regions.
But there’s a dark side. Child labor has become a serious issue. When you purchase “fair trade chocolate,” you’re working to help make cocoa farming more sustainable. Keep this in mind and choose your chocolate wisely.