Dear Straight Dope:
We recently had a discussion with some German friends about the relative merits of American vs. European chocolate. While I happen to agree with them that German chocolate is far superior to American chocolate, they also tried to convince us that the English put blood in their chocolate to make it a richer color. Does this mean I can get mad cow disease from eating Cadbury Easter eggs?
kathyh in honolulu
SDStaff Jillgat replies:
Oh, those zany blutwurst-eating Germans, always quick to pull your leg. The British may eat blood pudding, but they’ve never added blood to their chocolate. Cocoa is what gives chocolate its rich color.
The cocoa bean is the seed pod of the theobroma cacao tree from the Amazon forest. These trees are now cultivated in Africa and Southeast Asia as well as Latin America. Europeans may brag that their chocolate is the best, but the bitter version was popular in the Americas for thousands of years. The Mayans had cocoa plantations in the Yucatan at least as far back as the 800s.
Columbus found the natives drinking “xocoatl” and trading the beans as money when he landed in what is now Nicaragua in 1502. Some say he brought it back to Spain with him, but other sources say he really wasn’t interested in cocoa enough to load any onto his ship. If this is true, it’s one more example of how the progress of civilization would have been accelerated if women had been allowed to be world explorers.
About ninety years later, Hernandez Cortez conquered part of Mexico and noticed the Aztecs drinking this stuff he thought tasted pretty awful, but he also saw them using the beans as currency. So, being the quick-to-make-a-buck conquistador that he was, he established a plantation there in the name of Spain where he could “grow money.” Cortez brought cocoa beans back to Europe, where they soon figured out that it tastes a lot better if you add sugar to it.
It was just a drink until the late 1600s when Europeans began eating chocolate rolls and cakes in chocolate emporiums, the most famous being the “Coffee Mill and Tobacco Roll” in London. Chocolate was already popular in Italy and Spain and showed up in Germany in the early 1700s. In the mid 1800s, a Dutch guy named Conrad J. Van Houten invented a cocoa press to squeeze out the fat. Then he added cocoa butter back into the cocoa powder and sugar mixture and made the first chocolate candy. Daniel Peter, a Swiss candymaker, added milk and invented milk chocolate as well as improving some other steps in the chocolate making process. My main man Richard Cadbury invented boxed chocolates in England in 1868. Ghiradelli and Hershey were making chocolate in the U.S. soon afterwards.
The main ingredients of eating chocolate are a paste of the inner kernel (or “nibs”) of the chocolate bean, extra cocoa butter, vanilla, lecithin (a soy product) and milk if the final product is milk chocolate. Less milk and less sugar means a darker color of chocolate.
There is no blood in chocolate, but some people, like Straight Dope Message Board administrator Lynn Bodoni, may have chocolate in their blood. One other interesting blood/chocolate connection — chocolate syrup was used to simulate blood in the black and white movies Night of the Living Dead and Psycho (the famous shower scene).
SDStaff Jillgat, Straight Dope Science Advisory Board
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