Chocolate History

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Cacao history is linked to cacao plant which, on the basis of botanic research, was present in the Amazon and Orinoco 6000 years ago. The first cacao cultivations were made by Maya peoples in 1000 BC and, afterwards, by the Aztecs who were engaged in cacao cultivation and chocolate production. They associated chocolate to their godness of fertility.
Cacao was consumed in occasion of religious ceremonies and offered with incense as a sacrifice to gods.

Besides liturgies and ceremonies, chocolate was used in America as a drink, called xocoatl, often spiced with hot pepper, vanilla or pepper. This drink was produced hot or cold, with added water and other thickening or nourishing ingredients, such as corn meal, minerals and honey. This drink had the effect to relieve tiredness sensation, an effect probably due to the contained theobromine.

In the pre-Colombian period, in Central America, cacao seeds were used as exchange coins and measurement units.

European civilizations knew cacao only in 1502 thanks to Cristoforo Colombo; During his fourth and last journey to America, he landed in Honduras where he had the chance to taste a cacao drink. Coming back to Europe, he brought some cacao seeds to King Ferdinando and Queen Isabella of Spain. But he did not attach any importance to the discovery, because of the bitter taste of cacao drinks. Only with Hernàn Cortéz in 1519 cacao was widely spread in Europe. He came to the New World from Spain and local peoples thought he was God Quetzalcoatl, who, according to the legend, had to come back within that year. Emperor Montezuma welcomed him with open arms and offered him a cacao plantation and its proceeds.
In 1585, the first registered loading of cacao arrived in Seville, where there was “The Royal Council of Indies” by which the Spanish Crown controlled commercial traffics, the administration, and all military and religious sectors of its overseas colonies. Chocolate was always served as a drink, but Spanish monks, who had a traditional experience in blends and infusions, added some vanilla and sugar to correct its natural bitterness. For the whole sixteen century, chocolate remained an exclusive product of Spain so that cacao cultivations were increased. Cacao appears in Italy only in the seventeen century, thanks to a merchant of Florence and, in the same period, it is spread in the other European countries. In the seventeen century, chocolate was a prestigious drink in all European contexts, and the Dutch skilled sailors got the world control and trade out of the Spanish. Until the eighteen century, chocolate was considered as a panacea for all pains and miraculous virtues were attributed to it. Brazil, Martinique and the Philippines increased cacao cultivations. At the same time, many European towns enjoyed a good reputation for chocolate manufacturing, and the preparation of chocolate drinks slowly became a passion for most people.

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Beneficial Effects

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We report here below some statements of the famous Italian doctor Umberto Veronesi, taken from the section "Our health" of the magazine "Oggi"; " …chocolate isn’t bad for your health, if you do not eat excessive quantities, as for any kind of food. In all conscience, I can absolve chocolate from several accusations, I confirm this as a man, a doctor, and a person who is interested in science.
Recent studies have shown that a balanced quantity of chocolate can be integrated to your diet to prevent cardiovascular disease. This because chocolate is rich of antioxidant polyfenols, which protect our arteries, strengthen the immune system and reduce cancer risks…..chocolate fats are made of a third of steatic acid, which doesn’t affect cholesterol and increases glycaemia less than other sugars…..dark chocolate is the healthiest sweet because it is vegetable.
It has stimulating and anti-depressive effects on the nervous system. Stimulating effects are due to serotonin, a substance which provides a sense of psychological wellbeing, by improving the active connection between nervous cells. Further more...chocolate is also a vasodilator, in other words, it increases the size of brain blood vessels..."
Effects on heart: a study dated 2003 made by the National Institute of Research on Food and Nutrition of Rome states that chocolate is good for your heart, because dark chocolate increases the blood antioxidants concentration.
Effects on arteries: Doctor Roberto Corti of Zurich University has shown that dark chocolate can slow the arteries hardening. This study was published in the magazine "Heart".
Effects on depression: the presence of phenylalanine or serotonin in chocolate favours the reduction in depression.
Effects on acne: there are no scientific studies which demonstrate the real connection between acne and chocolate.

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Advise on Tasting

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When you taste any kind of food, your senses try to judge the product quality. In order to apply this method in a correct and successful way, it is necessary to follow some practical rules, for achieving the expected results. Remember that tasting must be made on an empty stomach, in an odourless and noiseless room, with no distractions. When you make repeated tasting, you should alternate with some water or neutral bread crumbs, in order to cleanse taste buds before the following tasting. To help the taster, we will give some advices on how discovering product qualities by using his senses. We suggest you to make chocolate evaluation by following the sensorial phases listed here below.

Visual phase: chocolate must have a smooth surface, with shining and uniform colour.
Olfactory phase: it is important to define the aromatic perceptions resulting from ingredients and, specifically, cacao variety, cacao roasting, cacao butter or, in some cases, spices.
Tactile phase: when you touch the chocolate bar, you should feel a smooth surface, a hard surface, which slowly becomes soft and melts when your hand is warm.
Hearing phase: when you break up the chocolate bar, you should hear a dry crack in case of plain chocolate, a softer crack for milk chocolate, and see a clear breaking line without crumbs.
Tasting phase: when the chocolate meets taste buds and melts, it must communicate different sensations such as: the bitterish taste of roasting, softness, rotundity, intensity and long lasting taste (especially in extra dark chocolate), spicy aftertaste in case of spicy chocolates. Milk chocolate is characterized by a creamy consistence, sweet and bitterish taste, almost intense and long-lasting. It is important to get balanced perceptions, without favouring one in particular.

Preservation of chocolate: in order to preserve chocolate quality, it is important to choose a room with weak light (no direct light), without extraneous smells, with temperature from 16 to 22 degrees, and 45-55% of humidity. By following these simple advices, you will preserve the products quality for a long time, thus avoiding any unpleasant changes of chocolate look and taste.

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