Being a Confirmed Chocoholic, when I first learned we would be moving to Switzerland, Visions of Chocolate danced through my head.
So it shouldn't comes as surprise when I tell you that I am developing a Chocolate Project. More on that in a future post.
This post is intended to lay the groundwork.
A Brief History of Chocolate
Cocoa beans originate from Central America. The Mayans began cultivating them around 600 AD. The cocoa beans were roasted, ground and mixed with water and spices to prepare a frothy drink called Xocolatl. This drink soon spread to the Toltecs and Aztecs. When the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in the 16th Century, it was a well established tradition. And, in the case of the Aztecs, a sacred ceremony reserved for priests and kings.
Hernando Cortes brought the first cocoa, and necessary equipment to make the drink, to Spain in 1528. Not surprisingly, it immediately became popular among the Spanish aristocracy and became known as chocolate. Anna of Austria, who was raised in Madrid, married King Louis XIII of France in 1615 and introduced the chocolate drink to Paris. It quickly spread to the rest of Europe and became the rage among the fashionable wealthy.
By the 19th century, drinking chocolate had declined in popularity. But chocolate in solid form was just beginning. In 1828 Conraad Van Houten, a Dutchman, devised a method to separate the cocoa butter from the cocoa mass. Thus creating the basis for solid chocolate.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Types of Chocolate
There are three primary varieties of chocolate: dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate.
Dark chocolate is the most intense flavor. Under European standards, in order to be sold as dark chocolate it must contain a minimum of 43% cocoa mass and/or cocoa butter (US standard: 35% cocoa). However, fine dark chocolate could contain up to 70% cocoa. And a true dark chocolate connoisseur will seek out chocolates of up to 85% or even 88%. Therefore, dark chocolate is the purest form. Although some sugar and other ingredients must be included or the product is too bitter for even the most ardent of dark chocolate lovers.
The most popular of the chocolates, Milk Chocolate, is made by combining the cocoa mass with extra cocoa butter, milk or cream, sweeteners and other flavorings. Milk chocolate in Europe must contain a minimum of 25% cocoa (US standard: 10%).
White Chocolate is not considered by most to be "real chocolate." Although it does have cocoa butter and fine white chocolate contains at least 32%. It does not, however, have cocoa mass, which gives chocolate its familiar brown coloring and more intense flavor. The European standard requires a minimum of 23.5% cocoa butter (US standard: 20%). It has a very mild chocolate taste and, not surprisingly, is the highest in fat content.
So who eats the most chocolate?
The Swiss rate as the highest chocolate consumers in the world with an average annual consumption of 11.6 kilograms per capita*. (That's close to 20 pounds to those of you living on the other side of the Atlantic.) Although the figure includes all of the tourists who buy chocolate during their visit, the Swiss people (and expats!) who bring it as gifts for family and friends as well as those in nearby countries who cross the border specifically to purchase Swiss chocolate.
The Belgiums are close behind with 10.7 kilograms per capita consumed. Followed by Denmark (10.5 kg), Austria (9.4 kg) and the UK (9.2 kg).
The United States is in 10th place with 5.4 kilograms per capita.
*Chocolate Consumption Statistics provided by ChocoSuisse, the Union of Swiss Chocolate Manufacturers.