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 Using the most up-to-date research techniques, including access to newly discovered historical documents and new data bases, this team has produced incredible and original in-depth accounts of every aspect of chocolate history that you could imagine.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.”