American Heritage Chocolate

November 22, 2010 at 10:00 am 3 comments

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!

More at Mars also has another research division working on the chocolate genome and related chocolate biology; see my post Coming Soon: Glow in the Dark Chocolate

Disclosure: I received samples of American Heritage Chocolate from the manufacturer.

Entry filed under: Candy Reviews, Chocolate. Tags: , , .

What else is in Candy? 1926 version Candyman on the Documentary Channel

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. LevoDextro  |  November 24, 2010 at 9:20 am

    This reminds me of the Antica Dolceria Bonajuto Chocolate Bar which is sold on Amazon and other web spots. It has the same “primitive methods” approach to chocolate. The blurb on Amazon, which may or may not be just marketing states:

    “The family-run chocolate shop in Modica, Sicily, continues the tradition of chocolate making just as it was when the Spaniards introduced the cacao to the people of Modica in the 1500’s. The first chocolatiers learned how to make chocolate using Pre-Columbian methods-coarsely grinding cacao, sugar and spices together, forming the resulting thick, pastey mixture into bars, and then letting them cool. From 1880, when Francisco Bonajuto opened the doors to his chocolate bottega to this very day, Antica Dolceria Bonajuto has not strayed from the steps and methods of this artisan produced chocolate, which is minimally processed and full of flavor. When tasting this chocolate, the first thing you notice is the texture, which is gritty and crunchy because of the big granules of sugar left half-dissolved in the bar. Then you notice the big, cocoa-y flavor, mixed with cinnamon.

    sugar, cocoa mass, cinnamon”

    So…., if we can believe it, forget about Colonial America, this chocolate goes all the way back to 15th/16th century Europe.

    In any case, I have tasted it many times and really enjoy it. It has a roughness (very similar to the description of the Mars Heritage chocolate) that is very appealing.

    At least to a chocolate nut.

  • 2. Chocolate in Colonial America | One Writer's Way  |  November 26, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    […] The Candy Professor: A Review Of American Heritage […]

  • 3. rowdyguns  |  March 8, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    Mars and American Heritage Chocolate suck. They have a very unique product that they introduced to the historical minded public – a very tasty chocolate they have mastered thru recipies from colonial times. This was “trade chocolate” in early times.
    They put an exhorbitant price on this simply because they had a unique “colonial” product and tourists were buying it.
    And, as if they weren’t greedy enough, in short order they raised their prices another 30%.
    Mars is simply the epitamy of bottom feeding money mongers that have taken gross advantage of what is an historical product that all Americans should be able to appreciate at normal prices. Their inflated prices simply refect their greed. In endorsing this product, the Amercan Heritage commitees have also shown their true colors. None of these groups are out to promote our American heritage. they’re simply all out for themselves and unfortunatly, to see how bad they can screw and cheat the people, the tourists, that are there to enjoy, appreciate, and support them.
    They are no more than hypocritical SOBs, I will never support any American heritage programs after seeing the blatant overpricing that has become the normal business practice of Mars in particular. And the colonial towns that can’t seem to get by without “sticking it” to the American public.


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