Posts filed under ‘Chocolate’
What kid hasn’t dreamed of a huge chocolate bunny to call her own, a massive hunk of melty bliss to be consumed in one of several equally messy ways. I liked to break off the head first, then eat shards down the sides. My daughter prefers the ear-sucking method. Web-sites are devoted to bunny-eating controversy. So imagine my horror when I came upon Snapsy, the snap-apart chocolate bunny.
We can thank some horrid committee at Hershey’s for dragging the hallowed chocolate bunny into the food wars. You know the story: obesity, big food, sugar kills, eat your kale. Snapsy is Hershey’s answer to the food police.
The package promotes the bunny as “easy to snap and share,” but seriously, who shares Easter candy, especially bunnies. This travesty has nothing to do with sharing. I can just imagine how it went down in the marketing meeting: mothers are going to love this! They can give Junior this whole bunny, then faster than you can say “bait-and-switch,” they can break it into sensible portions and morsel them out one at a time.
Just look at how sad and ugly little Snapsy has become compared to his artful 3-D cousins. Snapsy is the chocolate bunny reduced to a flat, lifeless form whose contours serve the purpose of portion control and fun-sapping.
I’m all for most of the new food orthodoxy–except when it comes to candy. Listen: candy is supposed to be FUN! There should be room for silly, crazy, excessive, pleasurable, messy, kooky candies, especially when it comes to giant chocolate bunnies.
So a book about chocolate has to be really extraordinary to get my attention. This one is: Chocolate: History, Culture and Heritage, edited by Louis Evan Grivetti and Howard-Yana Shapiro (Wiley, 2009).
Well, I’m being a little unfair. This is no ordinary book. This is an enormous and exhaustive compendium: nearly 1,000 pages, including 56 articles and 11 appendices. The articles are written by experts in fields ranging from food history to archeology to chemistry.
This volume is the fruit of the chocolate history group, a loose aggregation formed at UC Davis and sponsored and funded by Mars, Incorporated. In 2004 the group was expanded and a fresh infusion of Mars funding allowed for scholars and researchers from the U.S., Canada and Britain to join in the project. Using the most up-to-date research techniques, including access to newly discovered historical documents and new data bases, this team has produced incredible and original in-depth accounts of every aspect of chocolate history that you could imagine.
It is not, admittedly, a book for the casual reader. And at a list price of $99.95, it is likely to be found mostly in research libraries and very specialized private collections. But for food historians and the candy-curious, it is a good book to know about. If you are wondering about, say, chocolate’s use in whaling voyages, or the evolution of chocolate manufacturing techniques, this is the work to consult. Here’s a link to the table of contents, fun reading in itself.
There is a lot of concern these days about corporate influence on academic research. This volume, and the enormous work of research it represents, absolutely would not exist were it not for the funding from Mars, Inc. Obviously Mars has a stake in producing more positive images of chocolate. But this research is significant in much more profound ways. The emphasis here is on the history of the making and eating of chocolate, not on the current faddish studies of chocolate’s purported health benefits. Chocolate history, like food history more generally, gives us a window on all kinds of aspects of everyday life in the past.
If Mars is benefitting from this work, it is only in the most indirect ways. So I say, thank you Mars. This is an excellent resource, and I’m very happy that Mars was willing to fund it.
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.
Decadent chocolate indulgence. Luscious pleasure. X-rated snacking. It feels good, but oh, the guilt.
Not any more, ladies. Hero Nutritionals to the rescue. The diet and supplement company has just launched the first ever ‘multivitamin dark chocolate supplement,’ part of the “Healthy Indulgence” line of chocolates. It’s 60 percent cacao solids dark chocolate, with a multivitamin thrown in the mix.
Founder and CEO Jennifer Hodges explains:
“Our goal was to develop the most premium supplement for women that makes taking vitamins enjoyable and satisfies chocolate cravings without guilt. … [They are] completely natural and utterly indulgent.”
Indulge, satisfy your chocolate cravings, without the guilt. Which is to say, if your chocolate doesn’t have vitamins mixed in, you should feel guilty about it, because it’ s just candy. But if you sprinkle a little vitamin C and vitamin B-12 on top, you’ve got a “nutritional supplement.”
But don’t we need vitamins? If you are a healthy person eating a diverse diet, you’re getting plenty of vitamins. Vitamin deficiency is a disease of poverty and dietary inadequacy. People who buy “Healthy Indulgences” and gummy bear vitamins are not suffering from a lack of vitamins in their diets.
It appears that the pleasure of chocolate is only allowed when it is cloaked as being “therapeutic.” Don’t enjoy it unless it’s good for you. Pleasure is medicalized: enjoy your body by prescription, under a doctors orders.
This is also another example of the miracle of candy transfiguration: add this or that and it’s not candy any more, and if it isn’t quite food, it nevertheless can stand in for health, purity, and virtue.
“Healthy Indulgences” are being marketed to women: the imagery and language clearly evoke a specifically female sensual pleasure. I’m not sure what dad’s candy vitamin is going to look like, but we can surely look forward to a day in the not too distant future when the whole family will be eating candy gummy vitamins and chocolate vitamin supplements, and still feel so righteous for taking care of their health by avoiding candy.
Mars, Inc. announces today that its researchers have sucessfully decoded the genome for chocolate (specifically, the Theobroma cacao tree). This gives Mars an important edge in bragging rights over rival Hershey, who had sponsored a French government team of scientists team in a head to head race to sequence the DNA of the cocoa bean. Team Hershey isn’t quite finished yet, but promises that their report will be just as good.
You may be surprised to learn that Mars has a huge research arm dedicated to all things chocolate in support of its quest for global candy domination. Mars, Inc. is a closely held private company famous for its secretiveness and inaccessibly, so it’s hard to know just what the company is up to. But Mars seems to have an entire division dedicated to speculative chocolate pursuits; Howard Yana-Shapiro is the “global director of plant science and external research” at Mars. And Mars has other intellectual interests. Mars collaborates with UC Davis to sponsor the “Chocolate History Group.” In 2009, Mars sponsored the publication of Chocolate: History, Culture and Heritage (Wiley) featuring 57 scholarly essays by 100 experts documenting and analyzing the history and culture of chocolate.
The Mars scientists will make their genome sequence public and prohibit restrictive patents based on the genetic data. So this new science is all for the public good: it may lead to more disease resistant trees, higher yields, better tasting chocolate. One area researchers are particularly interested in is flavonoids, chemicals found in chocolate that are believed to have important heath benefits. So we may be seeing genetically modified, flavonoid boosted “neutraceutical” chocolate in the future, tasty medicine available without a prescription.
But I think these utilitarian ideas of enhancing chocolate betray a lack of imagination. Once you start messing around with the genome, why stick to such boring stuff as flavor and flavonoids? Scientists have isolated the DNA code that makes certain jellyfish flouresce, and transferred it to mice. But why not glow in the dark chocolate? Think how that would revolutionize late night snacking. And once you do that, you could go farther: how about using the gene that makes certain bacteria eat oil to create a chocolate bar the dissolves your belly fat? Or how about inserting the animal gene that makes hair grow: watch out, Rogaine! Of course, you’d have to be careful with that one, since the last thing anyone wants is a chocolate bar that grows hair.
More at the New York Times: Andrew Pollack, Rival Candy Projects Both Parse Cocoa’s DNA (15 Sept 2010)
If you are a fan of Hershey’s and a history buff, you might know the excellent book by James McMahon called Built on Chocolate: The Story of the Hershey Chocolate Company. This is a lavishly illustrated authorized company history. McMahon is the curator of the Hershey Museum, and he had access to the company archives to reproduce examples of goods and ephemera from every era of Hershey.
But here’s one he didn’t include:
This is a 1906 ad for milk chocolate wafers in a novelty package. The bag looks like a mail bag. But there’s more:
The mail car creates an intriguing display for the individual mail pouches. This is in a period when the idea of retail display is really in its infancy. Hershey had very fancy wrappers for his goods, suggeting that part of his success was in grasping early on the importance of presentation.
Milton Hershey had perfected his milk chocolate formula only a few years before, and began selling the first milk chocolate bars made in America in 1900. Milk chocolate “kisses” would be introduced in 1907. So this 1906 milk chocolate wafer is something in between, an intermediate step between the full-size bars and the foil wrapped kisses. It’s hard to say just how big this mail sack is, but since a milk chocolate bar for eating was sold at 5 cents in 1906, this 10 cent portion must have been substantially more.
This ad appeared in Confectioners Journal in October 1906.
For more on the history of Hershey’s Kisses, see my related posts:
Scotland has its Loch Ness Monster. Canada has its Sasquatch and Big Foot. Tibet boasts the Yeti. And the little town of Rhinelander, Wisconsin has the Hodag.
I just returned from our annual family vacation/in-law visit to Rhinelander, and so I had a chance to brush up on my Hodag lore. And to explore any possible Hodag candy connections, of course.
The Hodag is a fearsome beast, long and squat like an alligator, with sharp spines all down its back and a fat head, broad toothsome mouth, and curved horns. Hodag watchers dispute furiously: is it black, or dark green? Does it have fur, or scales, or hide?
One man claimed to have captured a Hodag, long ago. His name was Gene Sheppard, and his antics and feats of strength and bravery are the stuff of Rhinelander legend. Gene Sheppard was a lumber man around these parts, and the story goes that one day he was out in the woods minding his lumber business when he spotted a strange and fearsome beast. Sheppard rushed back to tell his lumber buddies, and they plotted the animal’s capture. With wile and luck, Sheppard trapped the monster, called it a Hodag, and made a tidy penny charging fair-goers and carnival crowds for the chance to gaze on the fierce creature.
Sadly, some spoil-sport turned on the lights. The creature in Sheppard’s cage was exposed as a fraud. What appeared to be a growling monster with glowing eyes in the dim light of the huckster’s tent turned out to be nothing more than a stuffed dummy. But Sheppard insisted he had really seen the Hodag out in the forest, and that it was still out there. And today, that Hodag, or perhaps the son of the son of the Hodag, continues to roam the woods around Rhinelander.
So when we visited, we decided to go on a Hodag hunt. As we searched Rhinelander high and low, we located several specimens, some fierce and some friendly.
Heading out to the woods, we hoped for a glimpse of a live Hodag. Weary with searching, we were about to give up when we stumbled on a sure sign: Hodag poop. The characteristic trail of green and white droppings led us deeper into the woods. We searched and listened for any strange noises. And then we found this:
Neither wood nor fiberglass nor stuffing, we concluded that this must be the real Hodag. We had a brief tussle before we landed the beast.
And if not exactly the “animal” we expected, we did discover that it was very tasty.
If you’d like to taste your own Hodag, check out the Fun Factory, where you can find dark chocolate Hodags like mine, along with Hodags in milk chocolate and “green and white” as well as an assortment of Hodag Poop, “carefully gathered from a secret Hodag den in Rhinelander.”
I’m back from my Wisconsin adventure with some candy stories to share.
We spend our annual vacation at a cottage was on a lake outside a small city called Rhinelander in Northern Wisconsin. Rhinelander (population 8,000) is a pretty non-descript town, with a derelict main street struggling to keep its head above the rising tide of Wal Mart and Home Depot. You wouldn’t come here unless, say, your in-laws lived in the town. But the area surrounding Rhinelander is green and unspoiled, dotted with lakes and vacationers fleeing Chicago. It’s what they call the “north woods”: flat, woodsy country, anchored by the Wisconsin River.
The history of Rhinelander is all about wood. This is Paul Bunyan territory, where plaid flannel and sharp axes provided the raw materials for a growing nation. In the nineteenth century, Rhinelander was a major hub in the processing and transport of logs and raw lumber. Today, Rhinelander is a factory town. There’s the paper factory, where wood pulp and chemistry do their magic.
And then there’s the Fun Factory, where the raw materials are of the sweeter sort.
The Fun Factory sells ice cream, a few house made chocolates, and an eclectic assortment of those strange candies that may or may not have been around for 75 years: Cow Tails, Choward Violets, Laffy Taffy. This is the kind of place that won’t survive trying to compete with the Walgreen’s and Walmarts in town, so don’t look for your typical brand names. For the candy curious, it’s a gold mine.
I found a few oddities that intrigued me. One of them was this Pop Rocks Bar, whose name pretty much gets at what it is: chocolate and pop rocks in the form of a candy bar. Cybele May’s review at Candy Blog reports the debut of this bar in 2007, but I suspect I’m not the only one who’s never seen one.
This is a small bar, especially by American standards. But the bar wasn’t made to American standards, I suspect. The wrapper says it was made in Spain. I think in Spain they may be a little behind the U.S. in the whole “supersize” phenomenon.
I was so curious about this bar that I rushed out to the Fun Factory porch to try it before the nice lady had even closed the cash register drawer. My assistant tasters (aka husband and daughter) were with me; what good luck to discover that the bar is scored in precisely three pieces.
When you bite into the bar and work the chocolate a bit in your mouth, there is a lot of fizzing and popping and explosive crunching. You know the sensation from Pop Rocks, but the chocolate sort of muffles the effect (in a good way, I think). The “pops” in the bar are colorless and flavorless, so the chocolate is all you taste. The pop is pure sensation.
The closest comparison would be a chocolate bar with those rice crispie crunchies in it, like Nestle Crunch. But a rice crispie that melts in your mouth just turns to sog, where as a pop rock that melts in your mouth explodes. So where a Crunch bar asks you to take action to get the crunchy effect, Pop Rocks lets you passively await a crunch and pop and snap that happens to you. The pops will pop, they just won’t stop. So don’t try this one unless you’re good and pop-ready.
Now I didn’t find the Pop Rock bar to be particularly “good.” The chocolate seemed cheap and waxy, and I wanted it to melt more smoothly to work the popping effect without so much chewing on my part (if you chew, the pops pop better). I only ate one square, and I didn’t feel I would need to continue, on that day or any other.
I sat there on the Fun Factory porch with the sort-of melting chocolate and the fizzing and popping in my mouth, and I thought: champagne. Popping chocolate is for grownups, for parties, for nights when the champagne corks are shooting toward the ceiling and the bubbly is flowing in fountains. Popping chocolate should be smooth, European, melting to the touch. Popping chocolate should be a morsel passed in golden cups on silver trays as the sun sets on the Riviera.
Popping chocolate is a brilliant idea, but not for kids and 7Elevens. This one needs a do-over by a real chocolatier. Call it “champagne chocolate” and pass it to the grownups, and I think you’ve got a hit on this season’s society circuit.
I’m looking forward to a Candy Professor night on the town: Jeri Quinzio, the author of the award-winning book Of Sugar and Snow: A History of Ice Cream Making, is lecturing and hosting an ice cream tasting here in New York City.
Ice cream and candy have been happy fellow travelers throughout history. Although candy making and ice cream making required different sorts of skills and equipment, they tended to operate in close proximity. The venerable Confectioners Journal, which began publishing in 1874, included ice cream making and fountain recipes until the 1940s. The Chicago area trade journal published in the first decades of the twentieth century was called Candy and Ice Cream. These days the only candy you’ll find at Baskin Robbins or Cold Stone Creamery is mixed into the ice cream. But when I was a kid, the ice cream parlor and the candy shop were usually one and the same.
Until fairly recently, the term “confection” referred both to frozen sweets like ice cream and non-frozen sweets like candy. Check out the wrapper on your Popsicle next time you flag down the ice cream truck. It says on the side that it is a “quiescently frozen confection.” That means it doesn’t get shaken around as they freeze it, and that it is in the same culinary category as candy and Cracker Jacks.
My research focuses on candy, so I was pretty happy to pick up a copy of Quinzio’s Of Sugar and Snow, which fills in the ice cream side. Her book is filled with all sorts of delightful ice cream stories. My favorite is one about the collision of candy and ice cream, perhaps for the first time: the story of the Eskimo Pie.
According to the story, Eskimo Pies were the brain child of a fellow in Iowa, Christian K. Nelson, who taught high school and ran an ice cream parlor on the side. One day a kid came into the store with a nickel and a dilemma. He wanted ice cream. He wanted a chocolate bar. But he only had enough money for one or the other, and he just couldn’t make up his mind. I’m sure we all can sympathize.
In any event, we don’t know what Nelson did on that particular day in 1919. Maybe he chipped in another nickel of his own. Maybe he broke the chocolate bar in half. Maybe he sent the kid packing. But he went home that night with an idea.
Nelson experimented over the next few months with different combinations of ice cream and chocolate until he hit on the right formula for a chocolate-coated bar of ice cream. He called it the “Temptation I-Scream Bar.” The Bar was a reasonable success. But things really took off after Nelson met Russell Stover, who was working at that time with an Omaha ice cream company. They decided to go into business together. They changed the name to “Eskimo Pie,” and started selling the bar for 10 cents. The bar was a big hit (although I note that the kid with the nickel was still out of luck). Nelson and Stover were so successful that they started licensing the rights to local ice cream manufacturers. Quinzio tells us that “by the spring of 1922 they had twenty-seven hundred licensees and were selling a million Eskimo Pies a day.” That’s a lot of ice cream!
I had noticed advertising in the 1922 trade journals for chocolate coatings to make “Eskimo Pies,” and Quinzio’s story of their manufacture explains why. Nelson patented his chocolate coated ice cream bars, and the manufacturing license was for the process and the brand name “Eskimo Pie.” That meant that ice cream companies who wanted to make Eskimo Pies would buy their own ingredients and chocolate coatings.
H.O. Wilbur and Sons was one of the contenders for the Eskimo Pie supply market. Their ad gives you an idea of what an ice cream bar looked like in 1922. Also it’s interesting to notice the igloos, polar bears and “eskimos.” Famous expiditions to the Arctic regions in the early 1900s had made Americans were fascinated with all things “eskimo.”
Unfortunately, Nelson and Stover ran into legal troubles that drained their finances, and their business broke up in 1922. But two things came out of us that we still enjoy today: Eskimo Pies and their myriad offspring, and Russell Stover Candies. Yes, it’s the same Russell Stover. He left his ice cream past behind and went on to found one of the most recognized brands of American candies.
Source: The story of Eskimo Pies is told in Jeri Quinzio, Of Sugar and Snow: A History of Ice Cream Making (University of California Press, 2009), 173-174. Wilbur ad from Confectioners Journal March 1922.
Nestle’s new WONKA line of chocolates has me a bit mystified.
Cybele in her review of Wonka Exceptionals Domed Dark Chocolate over at candyblog.net described the new product and packaging as:
[T]he quality of the chocolate is much better. The chocolate is smoother, has a bolder flavor and of course the fact that the ingredients are better should make it easier for families to choose Wonka. I’ve compared them before to Dove and Hershey’s Bliss – but what these have going for them is that the packaging is all about imagination – the bright striped foils are going to appeal more to kids than the sedate and elegant positioning of Dove or Bliss.
I agree with her description, but it seems kind of schizo to me. On the one hand, the quality of chocolate and the pricing put the Wonka line in competition with Dove and Hershey’s Bliss, chocolates that convey adult sophistication. On the other hand, the packaging is all bright colors and psychedelic swirls, more like the packaging on “extreme” kids candies.
I was confused. Who is supposed to buy these? They seem too expensive and too big for kids to buy for themselves; is it about parents who want to buy “quality” candy for their kids? That doesn’t make sense to me either: parents who are worried about the “quality” of their children’s candies are looking for organic and natural ingredients, not “premium” lines.
And as more and more reviews of the Wonka products have been circulating on the great candy blogs, my confusion has festered. Higher prices, wackier packaging, for whom?
WONKAnation: it’s a bus. A tour. Bands. Parties. Free candy. The WONKA Chick. Dude, its endless summer with Nerds and Gobstoppers in the mix. It’s a Twitter feed promising “instantaneous awesomeness!” It’s The OFFICIAL WONKA talkin’ about “you and your rockin’ WONKA style!”
The new WONKA isn’t about the little kiddies at all, its about that new demographic, those 20 and 30 and 40 somethings who want to rock and roll all night and party every day: kiddults.
Just like those kiddults, WONKA is grown up chocolate with attitude:
WONKA is bringing a pinch of whimsy, a bucket of imagination and something a little unexpected to the all-too-stuffy premium chocolate category.
So take your stuffy Scharffen Berger, your boring Green & Black, your dull Dove. WONKA’s in the house. Dude.