Food of the Gods
Developed in childhood and guarded with a passion over a lifetime, the love of chocolate is for many an indulgence they would be hard pressed to fore-sake. When experts talk about chocolate they generally refer to the plants and its beans, prior to processing, as "cacao," and anything made from the beans as "chocolate." The word "cocoa" is usually attributed to the powdered form of chocolate, which is often used for drinks and in baking. The word "chocolate" derives from the Aztec word "xocoatl," which was a bitter tasting drink brewed from cacao beans. Most would agree that the Latin name for the cacao tree is most appropriate, since Theobroma cacao translates as "food of the gods."
Innovations in Production
While many confectioners around the globe are producing high-quality and innovative chocolates, the most famous chocolatiers are the Swiss, who, during the late 1800s, were the first to develop the processes that created the chocolate bars that are known and loved, today. In 1879, Daniel Peter came up with the idea of using the powdered milk that chemist Henri Nestle had invented in 1867 to make milk chocolate, while Rudolphe Lindt invented the process known as "conching," which made chocolate more blendable and improved its quality. Nestle and Lindt & Sprungli went on to become world leaders in the chocolate industry.
Trading Chocolate Options
The world's first cocoa bean future was started at the New York Cocoa Exchange in 1925 and in 1986 the first cocoa options began trading. Cocoa futures are a very popular and active future trading contract and they have enjoyed a high volume recently. They are predominantly traded on two exchanges - the Euronext.liffe in London and the Intercontinental Exchange in New York. The labor-intensive production of what is a difficult crop to grow, Cacao trees originated in the Amazon some 4,000 years ago, and the Mayans worshiped these trees as symbols of fertility and life. Ancient carvings of cacao pods on their temples, illustrate how important this crop was. As the Mayan territory grew from Central America to reach the northern portions of South America, reaching from the Yucatan Peninsula to the Pacific Ocean coast of Guatemala, the Mayans cultivated the earliest known cacao bean plantations in the Yucatan. By 1200 AD, the Aztecs attributed the cacao plant to the god Quetzalcoatl who, they believed, came down from heaven on the beam of a morning star, bringing with him a cacao tree stolen from paradise. Cacao beans fast became a sought after currency among both the Mayans and Aztecs. When the Aztecs strengthened their power in Mexico by conquering tribes, they demanded that the tribes bestow cacao beans upon them.
The European Debut of Chocolate
When Columbus introduced the cacao bean to Europe, in the Spanish Court, it received a less than favourable reception and its currency value was not capitalised upon. It was not until Hernando de Oviedo y Valdez went to America in 1513 and reported that he purchased a slave for 100 beans and dinner for four beans that its value started to gain attention. In 1528, Hernando Cortes presented the Spanish Court with cacao beans and how to prepare sweet drinks from the bitter beans, with the simple addition of sugar. The Spanish experimented adding vanilla, cinnamon and other spices to the mix and the cacao beans popularity increased from that point on, taking Paris and London by storm in the mid 1600s. Although native to Central and South America, the cacao bean is cultivated widely around the equator, and can be found in Africa, the Caribbean, South-East Asia, New Guinea and Samoa.
The majority of cacao beans are grown on small, family run farms, of which there are more than 3.5 million around the world, with two-thirds located in Africa. There are three main varieties of cacao trees; the Forastero produces 90 percent of the world's cacao beans, while the Criollo is the rarest.The Trinitario is a hybrid of the two, and possesses the rapid growth qualities of the Forastero and the superior quality of the Criollo. Trees take around ten years to reach peak productivity and each pod on a cacao tree produces 20-50 beans. It takes some 400 beans to make one pound of chocolate. Most beans are harvested between October and January and the delicate nature of the trees, requires crops to be harvested manually.
Chocolate is Good for You
As if anyone needed a reason to eat chocolate, research is increasingly evidencing the health benefits of chocolate. Scientists believe that one ounce of high-quality dark chocolate each day is beneficial for a person's health, since it contains a high level of flavonols or antioxidants, which are thought to help cells resist the damage caused by the free radicals formed through normal bodily processes and as a result of environmental toxins and contaminants.