The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - SEVEN DAYS | EATING OUT - Aoife McEl­wain


Choco­lates, spe­cial sup­pers and flow­ers go hand-in-hand with St Valen­tine’s th­ese days, but con­fec­tionary and fancy din­ners are a rel­a­tively new thing when it comes to this ro­man­tic hol­i­day.

It wasn’t un­til the 1800s when food, mostly in the form of con­fec­tionary, be­gan to be as­so­ci­ated with Fe­bru­ary 14th, when an early ver­sion of Love Hearts, known as Con­ver­sa­tion Lozenges, be­gan to be linked with the hol­i­day in the late 1800s. It was also in Vic­to­rian times that choco­late was first given and re­ceived on the day of St Valen­tine’s.

Choco­late has a long her­itage, though for most of its his­tory it has been con­sumed as a drink. His­to­ri­ans be­lieve the Me­soamer­i­can cul­tures in the Amer­i­cas first cul­ti­vated the ca­cao tree as early as 1400BC. The Aztecs used ca­cao beans as cur­rency. Ca­cao was un­known to Euro­peans un­til many cen­turies later, when colo­nial­ists be­gan their ex­plo­rations into the con­ti­nent. On his trav­els through the Amer­i­cas, Christo­pher Colum­bus’s son Fer­di­nand was struck by how much the na­tive peo­ple val­ued the ca­cao beans, which he mis­took for al­monds. “I ob­served that when any of th­ese al­monds fell,” he wrote, “they all stooped to pick it up, as if an eye had fallen.”

Choco­late ar­rived in Europe in the 16th cen­tury as a drink­ing choco­late, with added sugar. It wasn’t un­til the late 1800s that ma­chin­ery and in­no­va­tive pro­cesses led to the mould­ing of choco­late to eat as solid chunks.

Be­fore the ar­rival of such in­dus­trial ad­van­tages, the la­bo­ri­ous pro­cess­ing of the ca­cao bean was man­ual. In the 17th cen­tury, ca­cao plan­ta­tions owned by English, Dutch and French colonists ap­peared in the Amer­i­cas, re­ly­ing on the work of low-wage labour­ers and African slaves.

The in­ven­tions of Dutch chemist and choco­late maker Coen­raad van Houten and his father Cas­parus, also a choco­late maker, were piv­otal in choco­late’s his­tory. The van Houtens in­vented a press­ing ma­chine that re­moved about half the nat­u­ral fat, or ca­cao but­ter, from ca­cao beans mak­ing choco­late cheaper and more con­sis­tent in qual­ity.

This Dutch ma­chine-pressed choco­late helped English choco­late maker Joseph Fry fig­ure out a way to mould choco­late, cre­at­ing solid choco­late chunks and bars. Com­pa­nies such as Lindt & Sprungli, Cad­bury, Nestlé and Mil­ton S Her­shey be­gan to make solid choco­lates in the late 19th and early 20th cen­tury.

Dec­o­rated box

Richard Cad­bury is said to have been one of the first choco­late mak­ers who had the idea of link­ing choco­late treats to Valen­tine’s Day. He was an artist as well as a busi­ness­man, and his com­pany launched dec­o­rated boxes of choco­lates to be given as gifts on Fe­bru­ary 14th, with the sug­ges­tion of sav­ing the boxes as a place to store se­cret love let­ters. The Vic­to­rian choco­late boxes were a big hit, and the idea spread to most of the Western world over the next cen­tury.

The tra­di­tion of choco­late gifts on Valen­tine’s Day made its way to Ja­pan in the 1950s, when Ja­panese con­fec­tionary com­pany Moro­zoff be­gan to pro­mote the hol­i­day. There’s a the­ory that a Moro­zoff ex­ec­u­tive mis­trans­lated the tra­di­tions of Valen­tine’s Day, lead­ing to the com­pany pro­mot­ing the idea of women giv­ing men choco­late and not the other way around.

To­day, this tra­di­tion pre­vails through the giv­ing of giri-choko, or “obli­ga­tion choco­late”, where women are obliged to give men, in­clud­ing their co-work­ers, choco­late treats on Fe­bru­ary 14th. Hon­mei-choko, or “true feel­ing choco­late” is the choco- late they give to some­one they re­ally care about.

In the 1980s, the Ja­panese Na­tional Con­fec­tionary In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion in­vented a day for men to re­turn the favour. March 14th is known as White Day, a day when men are en­cour­aged to give the women in their lives white choco­late as a gift.

In Korea, women also give men choco­lates on Valen­tine’s Day, and White Day is cel­e­brated, too. The tra­di­tion fol­lows that those who don’t get any choco­lates head to the near­est Chi­nese-Korean restau­rant to con­tem­plate their sin­gle sta­tus over a bowl of black noo­dles.

To­day, two-thirds of co­coa is pro­duced in western Africa, with half of the to­tal amount sourced from Cote d’Ivoire. The co­coa mar­ket is a volatile one, which means that work­ers suf­fer from fluc­tu­at­ing con­di­tions, which re­ally makes the case for seek­ing out choco­late made from care­fully sourced beans. Clon­akilty Choco­late is made, bean to bar, with 100 per cent Fairtrade co­coa and sugar bought from farm­ing co-op­er­a­tives in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries by Cana­dian choco­latier Al­li­son Roberts, who makes a range of choco­late in her choco­late fac­tory in Clon­akilty, Co Cork (clon­akilty­choco­

Hazel Moun­tain Choco­late in the Bur­ren sources rare Trini­tario ca­cao beans to make its out­stand­ing bean-to- bar choco­late. It hosts choco­late-mak­ing classes and tours of its fac­tory through­out the year (hazel­moun­tain­choco­ A voucher for one of its tours or classes would make an ideal vir­tual choco­late gift this Valen­tine’s Day.

Choco­late: ooz­ing with love

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