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Chocolate History : Today




During the early part of the 20th century, new machinery, new lands for cacao-growing, and even the two world wars helped spread chocolate’s popularity.

Today, although cacao farming hasn’t changed much, chocolate manufacturing has become a blend of art and science. Thanks to trade and technology, cacao seeds and chocolate are part of a global market economy that includes most countries around the world.

In the past century, chocolate’s popularity grew so astonishingly that, at times, cacao became scarce. As a result, throughout the world many equatorial countries that had never grown cacao before began to cultivate it.

A few manufacturers today still own their own cacao farms, but the colonial plantations once controlled by Europe and America are gone. Most cacao is now produced by independent farmers or cooperative groups in unexpected places like Africa and Indonesia—far away from cacao’s original home in the tropical rainforests of the Americas.

Cacao is still grown by hand. While machines have made chocolate faster to produce and cheaper to buy, they haven’t changed the way in which cacao is grown.

Chocolate manufacturers must still purchase cacao from farmers who tend, harvest, ferment, dry, and pack the seeds by hand.

Cacao is traded as a global commodity. Cacao farmers sell their product to chocolate-processing companies through traders at the Coffee, Sugar, and Cocoa Exchange (similar to a stock exchange).

Chocolate manufacturers, cacao importers and exporters, trade houses, and producers all buy and sell contracts for cacao crops before those crops are even harvested.

Chocolate is mostly machine-made, not handmade. Converting cacao seeds into chocolate has now evolved into a complex and time-consuming mechanized process that includes several steps.

In assembly-line fashion, varieties of cacao from around the world are blended, roasted, cracked, winnowed, ground, pressed, mixed, conched, refined, and tempered into rich, creamy candy bars.

Chocolate factories operate like science labs. Most large-scale manufacturers run their chocolate-making factories like laboratories. They devise special blends of exotic cacao seeds and create unique recipes for chocolate that hold the secret to brand success.

Precision instruments track temperature and moisture levels and regulate the timing of automated processes within the factory.

Hundreds of new chocolate factories and flavors have come and gone. Over the years, many creative confectioners developed lots of new varieties and flavors of chocolate. A few icons of the early 1900s still survive today.

Hershey got his start making chocolate-coated caramels in 1893. And his competitors, the father-and-son team of Mars, created the malted-milk-filled Milky Way after an inspiring trip to the local drugstore soda fountain.

The military introduced many people to chocolate. Surprisingly, the armed forces helped spread the love of chocolate worldwide. The trend first began in the late 19th century, when Queen Victoria got her soldiers hooked on chocolate by sending them gifts of this nourishing and delicious candy for Christmas.

But the popularity of candy bars really skyrocketed after World War I, when chocolate was part of every United State’s soldier’s rations. By 1930, there were nearly 40,000 different kinds of chocolate.

Although it’s now more affordable, not everyone chooses to eat chocolate. Many Asian cultures have never really developed a taste for the sweet. In fact, the Chinese eat only one bar of chocolate for every 1,000 consumed by the British.

And in countries like Ghana and Ivory Coast, people rarely eat chocolate because it is worth more to them as a trade product than as a food.

Cacao can be used in cosmetics and medicine, too. For many years, chocolate has been more than a food; it has served as a health and beauty aid, too.

Theobromine, a chemical found in chocolate, enlarges blood vessels and is used to treat high blood pressure. In addition, cocoa butter is used in cosmetics and ointments—and even as a coating for pills. Plus, leftover cacao husks make good mulch and cattle feed.

Chocolate is still associated with many religious holidays. Chocolate still plays a part in festive celebrations that are associated with many religious holidays. Most of us expect to eat chocolate in some form near events like Hanukkah, Christmas, and Easter.

In Mexico in particular, chocolate is used to make offerings during the Day of the Dead festival, a time for remembering loved ones who have died.

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