A word that brings a smile to everyone’s face the minute they hear it, chocolate is a food product made from roasted and ground cacao seed kernels, that is available as a liquid, solid or paste, on its own or as a flavouring agent in other foods. Cacao has been consumed in some form since at least the Olmec civilization which existed between the 19th and 11th centuries BCE, and the majority of Mesoamerican people – including the Maya and Aztecs – made chocolate beverages.
Also known as the International Chocolate Day, the World Chocolate Day or just Chocolate Day is an annual celebration of chocolate, occurring globally on July 7, which some suggest was because the day was the anniversary of the introduction of chocolate to Europe in 1550. The observance of World Chocolate Day dates back to 2009.
The seeds of the cacao tree have an intense bitter taste and must be fermented to develop the flavour. After fermentation, the seeds are dried, cleaned, and roasted. The shell is removed to produce cocoa nibs, which are then ground to cocoa mass, unadulterated chocolate in rough form. Once the cocoa mass is liquefied by heating, it is called chocolate liquor. The liquor may also be cooled and processed into two components – cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Baking chocolate, also called bitter chocolate, contains cocoa solids and cocoa butter in varying proportions, without any added sugar. Powdered baking cocoa, which contains more fibre than cocoa butter, can be processed with alkali to produce dutch cocoa. Much of the chocolate consumed today is in the form of sweet chocolate, a combination of cocoa solids, cocoa butter or added vegetable oils, and sugar. Milk chocolate is sweet chocolate that additionally contains milk powder or condensed milk. White chocolate contains cocoa butter, sugar, and milk, but no cocoa solids.
By the 14th century cacao beans were being used as a currency, and in the 1500s Spanish explorers brought chocolate back to Spain where it was sweetened with cane sugar and cinnamon and enjoyed by the elite. When a Spanish princess married French King Louis XIII in 1615, chocolate made an appearance in the French court and quickly spread to other European courts. In 1828 Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes van Houten invented the cocoa press which revolutionised chocolate making and was the beginning of its popularity spreading from the elite to the masses. The press could squeeze the fatty cocoa butter from roasted cacao beans, leaving a dry cake that could be ground into a powder to mix with other ingredients and poured into moulds to make chocolate. In 1847, the British chocolate company J.S. Fry & Sons created the first solid edible chocolate bar from cocoa butter, cocoa powder and sugar. By 1879 Rodolphe Lindt had invented the machine which produced chocolate with a velvety texture and superior taste. Other advances followed that allowed for the mass production of chocolate and a significant drop in the price that made it more attainable for the middle classes.
Chocolate is one of the most popular food types and flavours in the world, and many foodstuffs involving chocolate exist, particularly desserts, including cakes, pudding, mousse, chocolate brownies, and chocolate chip cookies. Many candies are filled with or coated with sweetened chocolate. Chocolate bars, either made of solid chocolate or other ingredients coated in chocolate, are eaten as snacks. Gifts of chocolate moulded into different shapes like eggs, hearts and coins are traditional on certain Western holidays, including Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, and Hanukkah. Chocolate is also used in cold and hot beverages, such as chocolate milk and hot chocolate, and some alcoholic drinks, such as creme de cacao.
Although cocoa originated in the Americas, West African countries, particularly Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, are the leading producers of cocoa in the 21st century, accounting for some 60% of the world cocoa supply.
So enjoy the day with some delicious chocolate and share the goodness and sweetness all around.