The dark side of chocolate

Excerpt of Sophie Hohaus' great work

Cocoas history began over 3500 years ago in middle america. During this long period of time, it became more and more important [imagine a life without hot coco - I can’t].

The worldwide raw cocoa processing amounted to 2800800 tons in 2013 and 2014. 35% were used from the European Union (10.4 alone from Germany). All Africa only used 20,3%.

Before focusing more on growing areas, as well as on cocoa farming, here are some facts about cocoa and chocolate:

  • Chocolate comes from a fruit tree; it’s made from a seed.
  • Studies have demonstrated that one of the major saturated fats in chocolate does not raise cholesterol like other hard fats–meaning chocolate can be enjoyed in moderation (Research to date supports that chocolate can be enjoyed as part of a balanced, heart-healthy diet and lifestyle).
  • When talking about consumption of chocolate, Germany is number two with 9 kg per person per year, and only surpassed by Swiss with 12 kg per person per year.
  • About 2.26 million children between the ages of 5 - 17 worked in the cocoa production of the Ivory Coast and Ghana (in 13/14).

Though it is believed that the origins of the cocoa tree lie in South America, it was discovered 1500 BC in today's Mexico, in Central America.

Archaeological findings from the small town of Puerto Escondido in Honduras suggest that the cocoa was already used for the preparation of beverages in 1100 BC. Researchers have discovered the chemical substance theobromine occurring exclusively in the cocoa plant in Central America. However, the shape of the vessels suggests that at that time the bean was not used for the preparation of the beverage, but the fruit pulp surrounding it. It was fermented so that it contained up to five percent of alcohol and was finally served at important ceremonies.

Around 1000 BC, the people of the Olmecs, the ancestors of the Aztecs and Mayans, discovered the cocoa bean as a liquid food. They prepared a nutrient-containing drink from the ground beans. This original drinking cocoa was seasoned with water, seaasoned with peppers, vanilla, salt and, if necessary, some cornmeal for the thickness, and was, except for some honey, unsweetened. Later, the recipe was adopted by the Aztecs and Mayas. Consumers were, however, reserved to nobles, warriors, and priests, as it was a very costly luxury. In central Mexico, the heartland of the Aztecs, cocoa trees did not grow and, therefore, had to be imported from the warmer areas southwest of the country.

Numerous hieroglyph tablets prove that cocoa also played a major role as payment, also because of its long shelf life in the roasted state (A turkey was approximately 100 beans in 1554).

As a gift of the gods, called "chocol haa", the cocoa tree was revered in the culture of the Mayan, from about 300 to 900 AD, and regarded as the embodiment of fertility and life. From 1200 AD onwards, the Aztecs, as a source of manpower and wisdom, also attach great importance to it and derive its name "xocolatl" from the creator god of the wind, heaven and earth: Xocóatl (Quetzalcoatl)

Cocoa’s first contact with Europe was with Christopher Columbus in 1502. As a spanish conqueror, he was quite confused about cocoa beans as payment on the market. Still, he took some back home to Spain. Shortly after, from 1519-1522, spanish conqueror Hernan Cortés subjected the aztecs and soon learned to value the brown gold as payment. Back in Spain, he started to build plantations and to cultivate cocoa farming. The conqueror firstly did not enjoy the newfound cocoa drink until the 17th century when they added sucrose (a small conflict with the church whether the sweet coco was candy or, such as beer, a drink - the decision was made in favor of cocoa).

Meanwhile, cocoa also arrived as medicine in Germany, became popular and was finally ready for the public in the 19th century.

A separation of the forms for drinking cocoa and table chocolate was initiated by the deoiling of cocoa, invented by Coenraad Van Houten in 1828. He developed a hydraulic press which separated the cocoa powder from the butter. With the industrial revolution, drinking cocoa and, from 1847 on, also table chocolate became mass products affordable for everyone.

On cocoa plants in the European colonies, slaves were used as forced laborers, first in the two main production areas of Ecuador, as well as Venezuela, and a little later also in Brazil, the Caribbean and the Dutch colonies of South America. Around 1900, São Tomé and Príncipe, an island group dominated by Spain, became the world's largest cocoa producer. Contrary to a ban on slavery on plantations in all relevant cultivating countries, unofficial reports about the survival of compulsory labor provided for a little later in the chocolate industry. In response, Cadbury and other great English chocolate makers, São Tomé and Príncipe, broke off all economic relations and boycotted the island state. However, cocoa consumption rose further and is today (in 2015) at over 3,889,000 tons worldwide.

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