A consuming passion
A favourite of royalty and of freedom fighters on trial for their lives, chocolate has resonated through history — though the story of its cultivation hasn’t always been so palatable, writes Nadine Dreyer
The English king feared sips of hot chocolate would inspire hotheads to plot to chop off his head
Mae West once joked: “I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.” The Hollywood diva just about summed up our relationship with chocolate. Its scientific name is Theobroma cacao, which aptly translates as “food of the gods”. She also said: “To err is human but it feels divine.” Luckily, this Easter weekend is the perfect excuse to indulge in the food of the gods — in the spirit of tradition of course. Nobody can resist chocolate. Barack Obama keeps in superb shape, but he once confessed to a weakness for Fran’s Chocolate Smoked Salt Caramels. Not surprisingly, sales shot up 50%. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had to apologise for eating a chocolate bar in parliament during a late-night voting session, flouting the rule that members are only allowed to drink water in the house. Che Guevara — the poster boy for all things revolutionary and once minister of industry in Fidel Castro’s government — opened Cuba’s first chocolate factory in Baracoa, the country’s oldest and most remote city.
‘And that would be cake’
You can buy a bar of Bob Marley chocolate filled with hazelnuts and hemp. And, don’t try this at home, but powdered chocolate was once laid out to be snorted cocaine-style at a Rolling Stones party.
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth is a chocoholic. According to the former royal chef Darren McGrady, she would approve “anything we put on the menu that had chocolate”. (However, her majesty did insist it had to be the dark variety.)
In the 1660s Charles II tried to close down London’s chocolate and coffee shops, places where intellectuals and radicals gathered. The English king feared sips of hot chocolate would inspire hotheads to plot to chop off his head.
In the 17th century, Pope Alexander VII mediated between two orders of monks over whether or not chocolate was officially a drink — and could therefore be consumed on fasting days. He ruled that chocolate was indeed a drink (demonstrating the diplomatic finesse that must have gotten him the top job in the first place).
When Marie-Antoinette married Louis XVI in 1770, she brought her personal chocolate maker with her to Versailles. He was given the official title of “Chocolate Maker to the Queen”. (It is not known whether the chocolatier suffered the same fate as his mistress.)
Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic and nonstop across the US, packed slabs of chocolate and flasks of hot cocoa to give her energy on her long flights.
On June 6 1944, more than 160,000 troops stormed the beaches of Normandy during the D-Day invasion. One of their secret weapons was the chocolate bar included in their emergency rations. The high-energy bar was designed to taste little better than a boiled potato, so soldiers wouldn’t be tempted to eat it unless they really had to.
Pop-art icon Andy Warhol described his recipe for cake. “You take some chocolate … and you take two pieces of bread … and you put the candy in the middle and you make a sandwich of it. And that would be cake.”
Stalin and a sweet tooth
In the immediate aftermath of the October revolution in 1917 in Russia, zealots performed somersaults over each other to demonstrate their Bolshevik credentials. Chocolate was denounced as a decadent luxury only the despised bourgeoisie could afford. There was an abrupt about-turn in the 1930s when Joseph Stalin held up chocolate and other luxuries as proof that the communist utopia had finally been attained. Stalin boasted: “Life has become better, comrades. Life has become more cheerful.”