Chocolate – everyone’s favourite treat!
On average, people in the UK eat 11kg of chocolate each every year, but not many of those people know the long history of this delicious dessert. The ancient Olmecs in Mexico were the first known civilization to use cocoa beans which were first recorded as being seen growing wild in Central America back in 1500 BC, however the Mayans were the first civilization to truly love chocolate. They would grind and roast the beans then mix in chilli, vanilla and spices, making a bitter, cold drink that had a similar consistency to gruel. Hot chocolate fans would be very disappointed in the flavour since it was nothing at all like modern hot chocolate drinks. The Aztec people held the belief that cacao seeds had been given from their god of wisdom, Quetzalcoatl, as a gift, and this meant that the seeds were so valued they were used as money. It was thought to be an aphrodisiac and to endow the person who drank it with extra strength. Emperor Montezuma was a huge fan of the drink and would have as many as 50 cups every day. These drinks still exist today in Southern Mexico and are called Chilate.
Spanish explorers brought cocoa beans to Spain during the 16th century and for around 200 years it was solely the preserve of the aristocracy and royalty, being drunk with breakfast while still in bed. During the 17th century, its popularity spread to London where chocolate houses were established and were visited by upper class drinkers. There were 2000 in London alone by the year 1700. Over the last 200 years, chocolate was turned into bars as we know them today, with many of the biggest names in the industry such as Cadbury’s and Fry’s being founded in the 19th century by Quaker families who were trying to persuade people to turn to chocolate rather than alcohol consumption. European rulers set up cocoa plantations around the world, fuelled by their passions for chocolate’s delicious taste, and by the time the 20th century came around, chocolate was widespread around the world, and was considered to be so essential that it was even included in war rations of US soldiers!
Chocolate is so well loved that numerous festivals are now held in its honour around the world. Some of the best known chocolate festivals include:
The biggest American chocolate festival takes place in New York every November and represents a unique opportunity for people to see the different ways in which chocolate can be used. There is a kids zone and even a chocolate fashion show as well as sampling of fine chocolates, demonstrations of cookery using chocolate and book signings.
Belgian chocolate is some of the best known in the world for its quality and delicious taste, so it’s no wonder that one of the top worldwide chocolate festivals would be held there. Every November, the city of Brugge hosts a large celebration of the sweet stuff where visitors can go to a chocolate museum, see chocolate sculptures and art works, taste samples and even paint with chocolate.
The world’s biggest chocolate festival is held in Umbria, Italy and has been in existence since 1994. Hosting more than 500,000 chocolate lovers each October, this festival offers cookery classes, tasting sessions, chocolate sculpting and live entertainment as well as an annual awards ceremony for chocolatiers who take pride in using this wonderful ingredient in the most unique way.
St Stephens in New Brunswick, Canada was given the official title of Canada’s Chocolate Town in the year 2000 after having over 20 years of chocolate celebrating under its belt. The Chocolate Fest takes place in August every year and lasts for a week while unique activities like a chocolate themed brunch, a chocolate museum, a blindfold taste test, a choctail hour, a parade and a treasure hunt take place.
Also held in August is the Chocolate Rush Festival in Melbourne which not only gives consumers the chance to taste their favourite treat but to learn more about its production by attending seminars and education classes. Even children are not forgotten with a kids class, and adults can enjoy Fairtrade chocolate and wine pairing sessions.
Although the UK is a nation of chocolate lovers, it only has the 7th highest chocolate consumption in the world at around 3 bars each week per person. The Swiss are the world’s top consumers, and 40% of all of the chocolate eaten worldwide is consumed in Europe. Most chocolate is eaten as a snack between meals, and over a fifth of all chocolate is eaten during the evening, between the hours of 8pm and midnight. There are now countless companies which produce chocolate all over the world, and several of these are now Fairtrade companies which source their cocoa beans responsibly. The chocolate industry in the UK is very lucrative, being worth almost £4 billion a year, and chocolate sales continue growing, with a projected increase of 35% in sales over the next 5 years. An amazing number of chocolate products are created every year, with around 8000 new products being introduced globally every year.
It’s no wonder that dark chocolate has proved to be so popular in the last few years since it has been found to contain over 300 different chemicals including minerals and vitamins such as magnesium, potassium, iron and calcium that are essential for human health. One cup of cocoa made with pure cocoa powder contains twice the amount of antioxidants as that contained in green tea and it also contains the natural painkiller dopamine as well as serotonin which boosts feelings of happiness. Surveys have even revealed that people in the UK prefer eating chocolate to taking a holiday overseas, with a small gift of chocolate being listed in the top five ranking of the Happy Poll. It’s easy to see, then, why giving chocolate as a gift has long been a popular choice, both in the past and today.