Happy World Chocolate Day!

Posted on July 07 2019

World Chocolate Day

Chocolate is the fundamental comfort food. We reach for it in times of stress and sadness, or when we hit that 3pm slump at work and need a boost of energy.

It is also the marker of holidays, celebrations and romance, as well as a key ingredient in most desserts.

It is safe to say that chocolate is the perfect gift in most situations.

Researchers believe that if it is eaten in small amounts, it is also beneficial to our health. It is said to lower cholesterol, the risk of heart disease and strokes, and decrease the rate of cognitive decline.

It also contains compounds which encourage our brains to release feel-good endorphins.

However, chocolate was not always a food, nor was it sweet. It is believed to have originated as a bitter drink in Mesoamerica as far back as 1900 BC. The pre-Olmec culture is thought to have first cultivated cacao plants in the Central American rainforest. They would ferment, roast and grind the beans into a paste, mixing in water, honey, vanilla and chilli peppers to brew a bitter drink.

The Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs believed chocolate to be the “food of Gods”. In fact, the Mayans even worshipped a god of cacao and chocolate was saved for warriors, rulers, priests and nobles at sacred ceremonies.

The Aztecs could not grow cacao in the dry highlands of central Mexico that were central to the civilisation, so they began trading the Mayans for the beans.

In the 1500s, the Spanish came to Mexico in search of gold and silver. Instead, they returned with chocolate. It remained a symbol of status, power and wealth, but it was no longer a bitter drink —instead they sweetened it with cane sugar and cinnamon.

It was not until 1615 that chocolate came to France. When Spanish King Philip III’s daughter married French King Louis XIII, she brought her love of chocolate with her. Soon aristocrats across Europe were enjoying the dessert. European powers started to grow cacao and sugar plantations in equatorial regions to keep up with the demand.

In 1828, Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes van Houten invented the chocolate press. This enabled chocolate to be solidified into an edible form and lowered production costs, so it was available to the masses.

Today is World Chocolate Day! To celebrate, here is a list of our top five favourite chocolate-producing cities around the world.

Oaxaca, Mexico

Since chocolate first originated in Mexico, it is still a big part of their culture today. Here you can try Mayan-style hot chocolate: thick, foamy, bittersweet and flavoured with chilli flakes. Visitors can also purchase handmade chocolate bars from the markets or mole, a sauce made out of cacao combined with spices.  

Zurich, Switzerland

This is the birthplace of milk chocolate. The city is teeming with shops selling dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and truffles in a range of unique flavours, as well as decadent chocolate cakes. You can even sample freshly made chocolates within 24 hours of production. 

The best Swiss chocolate producers use only premium ingredients and their cream, butter and milk are locally-sourced. In fact, chocolate is so good here that each year the average Swiss person consumes 9.8 kilograms of chocolate, according to Statista.

Brussels, Belgium

With hundreds of chocolatiers located in Brussels, this city is certainly known for its production of this decadent treat. Truffles and pralines are the specialties here!

Madrid, Spain

Chocolate is a major part of Spain’s dessert culture, given they were the first people to introduce chocolate to Europe. Here, chocolate is more often served as a drink. It is heated, sweetened with cane sugar and sometimes spices, and whisked with water to create a thick, frothy drink.

The Spanish also make an excellent thick, bittersweet chocolate dipping sauce called chocolate a la taza. Try it with some freshly made churros!

Paris, France

With over 300 specialty chocolate stores in Paris alone (not to mention the hundreds across the rest of France), it is definitely a city that excels in producing decadent chocolates. Pralines, palets d’or, orangettes and truffles are absolute must-tries. You also cannot go past traditional French bonbons, which are made from square pieces of ganache, dipped in chocolate and filled with an array of different flavours.

In October every year, Paris hosts the Salon du Chocolat festival — the world’s largest event dedicated to cocoa and chocolate. The five-day event sees 500 chocolatiers from around the globe showcasing their creations.

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