THE ROMANTIC HISTORY OF CHOCOLATE
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.
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 (clonakiltychocolate.com).
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 (hazelmountainchocolate.com). A voucher for one of its tours or classes would make an ideal virtual chocolate gift this Valentine’s Day.
Chocolate: oozing with love