American Heritage Chocolate
Mars, Inc. has got some interesting stuff going on. Not just the M&Ms and the Snickers. Mars also runs a Historic Division. One of the projects of this division has been to reconstruct what chocolate from the Colonial era would have tasted like. After several years of top secret research, a product has come to market: American Heritage Chocolate.
How do we know what chocolate tasted like 200 years ago? Well, unless you can transport your tongue in a time machine, you’re out of luck. The next best thing is to try to reconstruct how food was made, and then taste the result.
So researchers dug into old records, letters, recipe books and inventories to figure out what sort of chocolate colonial Americans might have been able to make: what kind of tools they would use, what kind of things would be added.
First off, no chemicals. Colonial chocolate is by default “all-natural.” So just chocolate, sugar, salt to start with. No milk; milk chocolate won’t be invented for quite some time.
And what about the tools? For chocolate, the difference in tools between the colonial era and today is what makes the biggest difference.
Chocolate beans in colonial America would have been ground on a stone similar to a Mexican metate. Today this grinding is done by powerful machines, making the grain of the chocolate bean infinitesimally small. That is what makes chocolate so smooth. But grinding by hand on a stone would make the chocolate much more grainy, with tiny bits of chocolate nibs.
So this is Mars version of the “heritage chocolate”: dark chocolate, about the sweetness of semi-sweet baking chips. But more gritty, you definitely notice the coarser grind of the chocolate. There is also a strong spicy flavor: chile and cinnamon, primarily. Did colonial chocolate taste spicy? Many different flavors were added to chocolate in the 18th century: amber, musk, pepper, cloves, and vanilla are among the various flavorings mentioned in 18th century recipes. For the particular combination in American Heritage Chocolate, the researchers imagined what other sorts of spices might have been ground on the chocolate stone, giving the chocolate extra flavors when it was ground.
The other think I notice about this historical chocolate is that it sort of crumbles in your mouth, rather than the mooshy melty mouth feel of expensive modern chocolate. Modern chocolate is carefully tempered, repeatedly warmed and cooled within very precise parameters. This what gives chocolate its velvety texture. The colonial chocolate makers didn’t temper their chocolate, so the heritage chocolate is more brittle.
Heritage Chocolate is sold in eating sticks which look sort of rustic, unevenly shaped and dusted with cocoa powder and cinnamon. Mars has spared no expense in re-creating the authentic look of the past with modern methods; evidently a machine has been fabricated that makes the chocolate look like it is formed by hand. It is not clear whether Colonial Americans would actually have eaten their chocolate this way. In the 18th century chocolate was enjoyed as a beverage, melted into water or milk, although uses in cooking and baking began to appear in the second part of the century. But the stick form certainly appeals to modern chocolate snackers. You can also purchase Heritage Chocolate in a cake form for baking or drinking if you want to feel more authentically colonial.
For now, you can only buy Heritage Chocolate in the gift shops of select history museums and heritage sites. It may be very popular in those shops, but it seems a pretty limited market.
Which brings me to the big question about American Heritage Chocolate: Why? It is difficult to comprehend a company like Mars, super competitive in the snacking marketplace, would invest huge sums of money in this kind of geeky project, which has involved not only researching this chocolate, but a whole host of other very un-lucrative historical chocolate research.
I have a theory. It’s about bragging rights. Mars and Hersheys are rivals for America’s chocolate heart. Hershey got there first: the Hershey was making chocolate before 1900; Mars didn’t come along until the 1920s. So when the Mars Historic Division declares the goal of “becoming the undisputed leader in chocolate history,” its about claiming the present by taking over the past. It’s just a theory, mind you. I actually prefer the alternative explanation: with all that money and all those resources, Mars just decided to do something good in the world. It’s possible!
Disclosure: I received samples of American Heritage Chocolate from the manufacturer.