"Chocolate” the word rolls on the tongue as smoothly as the warm gooey dark velvety oozy decadent confections themselves! A decadence that is inconceivable when looking upon the yellow-green pods of Cocoa hanging somewhere in the Amazon! Split open these pods of the Cacao plant and inside you will find a mild tasting, subtly bittersweet chocolate flavored white pulp (considered a delicacy by Amazonian Indians), embedded with dark, purple-colored seeds. It is these seeds that - after being dried and processed - will become "chocolate beans". This is the first step in making Chocolate.
Chocolate - the confection and flavor - as we know it today might be the favored flavor of 50% of the world's adult population but its climb to this pinnacle has been a long one. The 3000 year old species of plant – the Cacao – that Chocolate comes from is native to the region called Mesoamerica which stretches from central Mexico to north-western Costa Rica. Legend purports the discovery of Cacao was made by the Olmec, a Mayan Indian civilization around in approximately1500-400BC. Around 250 to 900AD, these ancient Mayans, brought cacao into their backyards. They also streamlined a rudimentary method of processing cacao. Interestingly early versions of chocolate were nothing like the chocolate bar or Hot Chocolate we know today. They were a foamy beverage made with corn, cacao and spices that were bitter! Yes bitter, because the Mayans did not know sugar (although honey was used in some versions). Over time these valued beans came to be used as currency and made their way into the coffers of the Aztecs of Central Mexico through trade or a ‘Tribute” paid by those conquered by the Aztecs. From the coffers cacao soon conquered the goblets of Aztec nobility. So enamored of Chocolate was Aztec emperor Montezuma II, that supposedly consumed up to 50 golden goblet-fuls of “xocolatl” - a version of the beverage flavored with vanilla –daily! (A rather risqué rumor amongst food historians attributes this practice for his potency with his numerous wives).
In 1502 Columbus discovered America and carried intelligence on Cacao home to Spain. Herman Cortez followed in 1519 with an eye to plundering and amongst the treasures he carried back were cocoa beans. A few years later the Aztec empire succumbed to the Spaniards who took over the “tribute” system along with and monopoly of the supply of cacao. They added sweetness to Cocoa and then carried it to the world!
Chocolate first came to Europe in 1585 but was still served as a beverage. By the 17th century it was a luxury item among the European nobility and the end of the 18th century saw the first chocolate in solid form. The 19th century was a period of many landmarks in the history of chocolate making; Dutchman Coenraad Johannes van Houten patented a method of extracting fat from cocoa beans thus making powdered cocoa and cocoa butter and developed the Dutch process of treating chocolate with alkali to remove bitterness, Englishman Joseph Fry made the first edible chocolate in 1847, followed in 1849 by the Cadbury brothers and Swiss candle maker Daniel Peter with the assistance of neighboring baby food manufacturer Henri Nestlé succeeded creating milk chocolate.
Chocolate only made its way to India sometime in the 20th century. According to food historian K. T. Achaya in his book A historical dictionary of Indian food “A factory to make chocolate set during the first world war in Bilimoria, Bombay Presidency, by a person called Sardesai soon closed down as did two others put up about 1936. Sathe biscuit and Chocolate Co. Ltd. was established in Pune during the second world war, and before the war ended more factories had come up in Bombay, Agra and Madras. By independence about 550 tones of Chocolate were Cocoa powder and chocolate were manufactured in India with import of these figures well below this figure.
Although the Chocolate industry is a relatively unorganized sector, there is a lot happening. Cadbury and Nestle are well entrenched in India and offer stiff competition to home grown Amul. Cadbury alone buys 10,000 tones of cocoa from Kerala annually, plus additional quantities from the other two cocoa-growing States, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. In addition to all of these locally produced options, the days of carrying suitcase-fulls of international brands home from overseas trips is also past with international brands like Toblerone, Ritter Sport, Mars, Snickers, Twix and Bounty Lindt & Sprungli are readily available off super market shelves and even at local Kiranawalla and corner stores. Chocolate might have meant a slab of indulgence or a cup of comfort however to Indians has so far but India’s culinary scene is fast catching up with Chocolate trends that are playing out around the world and the finer selection for real chocolate lovers and appreciators is imported by designers.
Gourmet handmade chocolate seems to be gaining popularity in India if my Diwali and Christmas gift booty is anything to go by! I remember as a child gorging on the characteristically foil wrapped chocolate we used to get from the Taj Mahal Hotel’s bakery. More recently Sister hotel, Taj president has launched a line of Chocolates by Sugar n Spice in a range of flavours including nuts, fruit, flowers, spices coffee and even Chilli. Fantasie Chocolates - at one time the only address for fine chocolate in Mumbai are celebrating have launched the "LUXOR" line of handmade premium Chocolate as part of their 60th year celebrations.
Chocolates from the JW Marriott
The J W Marriott also launched a signature line of Hand made chocolates early this year. Bangalore’s old favourite is the 'Ooty Chocolates' store that sells handmade using genuine, quality ingredients such as mint, nuts, almonds, raisins, butterscotch and their lip smacking combinations and Chennai’s Le Chocolatier teems with the flavours of praline, nougat, orange, almonds and hazelnut.
The capital has got its own chocolate revolution happening with the opening of the Chocolate box at the Radisson MBD Hotel Noida which in addition to offering designer handcrafted Swiss chocolates, for the first time in India offer a unique experience as well. Chocolate making happens real time, right before ones eyes so patrons can sample the delicious offerings with the entire process; chocolate flakes falling out of the flaking machine, melting of the chocolate, its tempering and molding happening before ones eyes. Chocolates can be customized to individual specification as well.
Chocolates from The Chocolate box
The Chocolate Box also does chocolate in various form and textures – colored chocolates, designer chocolates, truffles, soft center pralines, and rochers.
To enjoy Chocolate you have to get the right chocolate. In her book Spoil yourself: a chocoholic guide to Melbourne, self confessed chocoholic Suzie Wharton who also runs guided Chocolate tours of Melbourne says, " There's a better way to appreciate good quality chocolate than to guzzle it down in one go. Take the time to taste the chocolate, really taste it, and you'll come to love it all the more." She goes on to explain that chocolate, which is solid at room temperature, melts at body temperature and Cocoa butter is the smooth vehicle that transports the flavours of chocolate to our taste buds. According to Uma Iyer, restaurant owner and chocolate connoisseur it is this Cocoa butter that separates good Chocolate from bad, "Commercially made Chocolate in India does not incorporate cocoa butter, it uses other fats that have a varying melting point. Quality Chocolate should melt on your tongue within 10 seconds because it melts at body temperature and once melted it should coat your tongue but not leave a residue but this is not the case with most Indian chocolate made with fats other than Cocoa butter that leave a residue."
Chocolate Lounges are hot all over the world - these establishments only serve Chocolate. I discovered them with a vengeance on a recent trip to Melbourne so I was very excited to hear that Mumbai has its own Chocolate lounge “Le Chocolate lounge” but my visit there proved extremely disappointing. Their Hot Chocolate was too milky and there was a general air of tiredness to the place. Luckily the BBC was having a Chocolate festival at the time which was far more satisfying albeit temporary. The place that really meets the mark for Chocolate currently is the Mocha cafes around the country. They have been serving up some delicious Chocolate treats of late; A big bowl of Dark, Rich Chocolate served hot, with Seasonal Fruits, Marshmallows, Custard filled Profiteroles, Pound Cake, Chocolate coated butter cookies & Whipped Cream in a chocolate fondue or if you like your Chocolate hot, there is the decadent their Lava Lava - Molten Chocolate, under a simmering Brownie. Otherwise try “That Chocolate Thing..” a Rich Gooey Flourless Chocolate Cake layered with dark Chocolate Ganache served with Chocolate Ice Cream. And if you just can’t get enough there is a Mt. Brownie of it - Stacks of Chocolate Brownies with a gooey fudge sauce and Walnuts… Got Vertigo yet? That’s an incredibly decadent chocolate cake piled four stories high - Indulge! I am also looking forward to sampling Cocco's Chocolate Lounge of the Gourmet street banner which has recently opened to business in Mumbai.
Google 'chocolate and health' and you get more than seven million citations, manufacturers the world over are touting the health benefits of the cacao bean (not mentioning the calories) -- from lowering blood pressure to elevating your mood to pumping you full of anti-oxidants and India having recently discovered gory stats for Diabetes and heart failure is on a health conscious drive so it is not surprising that there are health conscious options an offer as well. Almost every Chocolatier has sugar free options but Fantasie’s Luxor line will also carry a line of health bars. Zeba Kohli of Fantasie recommends the Crystallised Indian Gooseberry “The Indian Gooseberry is said to be very healthy. When coated with molten chocolate it is exquisite to taste and has high nutritive values so is ideal as a quick energy booster and a healthy option for children". She also says that the Sugar Free Roasted Peanut Bar is superbly balanced in flavour and most suited for the calorie conscious and Diabetics.
Chocolates seasoned with spices like Chillies are already popular but others like saffron, wasabi (Fantasie carries some) and even cheese will enter chocolate boxes. Drinking chocolates will make an entrance into the mugs of adults, and restaurants will add shots of scotch, brandy or liqueurs to hot chocolate. Upscale food shops to will feature high-priced nibs and chunks, supermarkets will double their baking-chocolate selections as brands like Vahlrona, Hershey's, Ghirardelli's and Scharffen Berger increase cacao content of baking bars and trumpet their contents on the label.