Britain’s favourite naughty indulgence
The ultimate comfort food and everyone’s naughty indulgence, a lot of people would say they eat too much chocolate. No sooner have you finally got rid of the remnants of Christmas chocolate biscuits than it’s Easter, when, quite frankly, it’s just the done thing to eat too much. But how much do you know about chocolate, and more importantly, how can you give in to your chocolate passion other than by just eating more?
Chocolate- but not as we know it- was first consumed as a drink, hundreds of years ago, by the Mayans and Aztecs in Mexico and Central America. It was a spicy, bitter drink. The Mayans called it xocoatl, meaning ‘bitter water’, and it contained chilli and other spices. Cocoa beans were considered to be valuable, with merchants using them to trade for cloth, and chocolate played an important role in royal and religious events.
The conquistador Hernan Cortés brought cocoa beans back to Spain in 1528, where it became popular amongst the rich elite. They kept it a secret, because cocoa beans were in short supply. Only monks were allowed to process cocoa beans, and they left out the traditional chilli and added cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar instead. English and Dutch sailors found cocoa beans in Spanish ships they captured on their way back from the New World, but they didn’t know what they were and threw them into the sea, thinking they were worthless.
Eventually chocolate reached other parts of Europe as people came across chocolate on their travels, and chocolate reached England in the 1650s. As it became more widely available, it entered British society by way of chocolate houses, like today’s coffee bars, where people could meet friends over a cup of chocolate. Sir Hans Sloane, an English doctor, was the first known person to add milk to drinking chocolate, on a trip to Jamaica in 1687. He brought his milk chocolate recipe back to England, and sold it as a medicine.
In the nineteenth century, chocolate was becoming more and more popular, and to meet the new demand, cocoa plantations were built in the West Indies, Africa and the Far East. As a consequence, the price of cocoa beans gradually fell, and chocolate became more accessible.
As for the origins of our biggest home-grown chocolate manufacturer, John Cadbury was originally a grocer who experimented with chocolate in his Birmingham tea and coffee shop. He opened his first factory in 1831, where he manufactured drinking chocolate and cocoa. Rowntree’s of York, now owned by Nestlé, also originated as a family grocery business.
In 1847, J.S. Fry & Son, who eventually merged with Cadbury’s, made the first bar of chocolate. Cadbury’s introduced a solid chocolate in 1849, but it was when John’s son George brought back a cocoa press from Holland in 1866 that chocolate changed forever- the press removed some of the excess cocoa butter and suddenly cocoa and drinking chocolate was much tastier. The excess cocoa butter removed from the drinking chocolate was mixed with cocoa powder and sugar and resulted in a chocolate bar that could easily be moulded.
In 1875, a Swiss manufacturer added powdered milk to make the first milk chocolate bar. Then Cadbury’s introduced their own milk chocolate bars in 1897- still a coarse, dry eating chocolate, but more like the chocolate we know today than the bitter drink which the ancient central American civilisations drank. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Indulge your passion- chocolate-themed fun
This is a fantastic idea for a get-together, fundraising or marketing event or even a hen party. Thorntons at the Trafford Centre offers chocolate tasting events, from £10 per person, subject to minimum numbers, and will come to your place of work or house, armed with chocolate. It’s a great way to get a party or social event going, with a talk, quizzes, competitions and enough chocolate to put you off for life! Contact Thorntons on 0161 749 7501.
Easter refrigerator cake- a delicious way to dispose of those left-over Easter eggs…
Melt 350g of pieces of milk chocolate egg, 3 tbsp golden syrup, and 150g butter in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water, and mix in 175g of raisins or chopped glace cherries, 350g chocolate sweets (like Smarties or crushed mini eggs), and 125g digestive biscuits. Pour into a tray lined with greaseproof paper measuring approximately 9’x9’. Refrigerate overnight. Cut into bite-size squares using a sharp knife, warmed by dipping into boiling water. — Enjoy!
Why not give Cadbury World a try? It’s only an hour down the M6, in Bournville (ring any bells?), Birmingham. It’s on the Cadbury factory site, and you’ll be greeted with the smell of chocolate in the air to whet your appetite. You can learn about the history of Cadbury’s and how chocolate is made, and there are demonstration areas and the chance for children to experiment with writing their name on chocolate. There’s a children’s playground and, best of all, you will be given free chocolate throughout your visit. Although you’ll have paid for it with the entry fee, I suppose…
Current prices are: adults £13.45; children £10.10; family (includes 2 children) £41.20; family (includes 3 children) £48.90; under 4s free; senior citizens and students £10.30. If you’re a real addict you can even get an annual pass! Go to www.cadburyworld.co.uk for more information.
Try Slattery’s Patissier and Chocolatier, Manchester if you want to have a go at making your own, or if you want to give a chocaholic friend or family member a present they’ll remember. They offer many different courses, including a half day course for £70. They also offer chocolate courses for children. Go to www.slattery.co.uk for more information.
10 things you didn’t know about chocolate…
- In Britain, we spend around £4 billion a year on chocolate.
- Terry’s Chocolate Orange was originally an apple. In 1954 the apple was phased out and replaced with an orange.
- It takes a year’s crop from one tree to make just 454g of cocoa.
- We like to keep it simple: Dairy Milk is the nation’s favourite chocolate bar.
- The chocolate we eat is toxic to dogs even in relatively small quantities- so buy your dog treats from a pet shop.
- Cocoa butter melts at very close to body temperature, which is why chocolate melts in the mouth.
- Fry’s chocolate cream is one of Britain’s oldest chocolate bars, dating back to 1866.
- The founders of chocolatiers Fry’s, Cadbury’s and Rowntree were all Quakers.
- Theobromine, found in chocolate, is a mild stimulant to humans but is much more potent for horses, so its use in horse racing is prohibited.
- Plain dark chocolate contains less sugar than milk and white chocolate.