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DECK THE HOLIDAY'S: 09/15/10

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

HALLOWEEN AND CHRISTMAS, WHAT DO THEY HAVE IN COMMON?......FOR WE ADULTS, IT'S ALL ABOUT THE CHOCOLATE!!! AND LOTS OF IT!!!


  Chocolate is one of the few foods known to man about which people are actually passionate.  We're talking about a wild, burning compassion; one that continues to grow with each delicious bite. For some of us, chocolate s considered to be a necessity of life.
   Eating chocolate feels good.  Some physicians claim that chocolate has something to do with the hormonal imbalance that happens within the body from time to time.  Psychiatrists go so far as to say that chocolate could be a substitute for sex ( especially after you've been married for a while!), particularly when sex isn't available or just not very good (like I said before, after you've been married for a while!!!).  There are lots of theories as to why we want or need chocolate, none of which are proven but all of which are interesting to explore.  Particularly, if that exploration involved more chocolate.
   Most people believe that the Aztec Indians should be credited for the invention of chocolate.  They certainly held the cocoa bean in high esteem, even using it as currency.  It is said that the Emperor Montezuma sent cocoa along with gold and silver to meet the ship of explorer Hernando Cortez, although it is uncertain whether he meant the gesture as a "bribe" or a "gift" from one conqueror to another.
   History indicates that the Aztecs also used their prized cocoa beans to prepare a drink.  The recipe was heavily guarded and basically reserved for those of royal descent.  They believed that the drink improved energy and imparted wisdom.  Montezuma reportedly drank as much as 50 cups each day because he thought it improved his sexual prowess.
   Although the Spaniards did not care for the Aztec drink--citing that it was too bitter for their taste--they still took it back to Spain where it eventually underwent several changes.  This first change involved adding cane sugar to the chocolate in order to sweeten it and take away the bitter taste.  Other changes involved the mixing in of other spices like vanilla.  Finally, someone decided to try heating the drink to see what effect that might have on its taste.  This proved to be the first truly successful version of what eventually became known as hot chocolate; European style, not the watered down version Americans drink.
   Hot chocolate became popular among the Spanish aristocracy who opted to treat it much as the Aztecs did, reserving it for those with power and prestige.  However, as its popularity grew, Spain eventually decided to plant cocoa beans.  This gave way to a profitable business for the country.
   The Spanish managed to keep the art of the cocoa industry a secret from the remainder of Europe for nearly 100 years.  However, a Spanish princess who married into French royalty is believed to be responsible for literally "spilling the beans" about the delicious new drink.  Following the pattern set by the Aztecs and mirrored by the Spaniards, the drink was, at first, primarily reserved for those inside the royal court.  Of course, being the culinary trendsetters that they were, the French eventually ended up popularizing the drink.  The popularity of chocolate spread across the channel to Great Britain and eventually made its way to the Americas.
   The invention and perfection of the steam engine, which mechanized the cocoa grinding process, made it possible to move chocolate into mass production.  This helped lower the price of the delicacy, making it affordable for a much larger cross section of people.  A few years later, the invention of the cocoa press further improved the quality of chocolate by making it possible to squeeze out part of the actual cocoa butter.  This offered the food a smoother consistency and a greatly improved flavor.
   Actual eating chocolate was not available in that form until 1847.  An English company introduced this texture that was far removed from the former grainy, gritty chocolate of old.  This new food was still somewhat expensive to make.  So, for many years, the delicacy remained something that the poor didn't have the opportunity to experience.
   It was a Swiss manufacturer named Daniel Peter who, in the late 1800's invented a method of adding milk to the chocolate to further refine its taste and smoothness.  America embraced the chocolate phenomenon and is actually responsible for opening the very first chocolate factory.
   American manufactures over 7 billion pounds of chocolate each year and consumes almost 100 pounds of the confection per second.  However, it is the Swiss that consume the highest amount of this confection at 22 pounds per person per year.
   Chocolate is used to commemorate holidays like Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter and special events like birthdays and anniversaries.  People use chocolate as a snack between meals.  They use it to get started in the morning (I've been known to eat a snickers bar on some mornings on my way to work) and to get ready for bed at night (don't forget to brush your teeth before you go to bed though!).  Even the U.S. government uses chocolate as a way to feed the human spirit when soldiers are away from home.  Today, the U.S. Army D-rations included three 4-ounce chocolate bars.
   Although once believed to be responsible for all of the ills of life like acne, obesity, and heart disease, scientists now disagree, albeit in varying degrees, regarding the actual negative effects of chocolate.  Clinical studies have exonerated chocolate as a cause for or a factor in acne.  Also, contrary to belief, most overweight people report that they do not eat excessive amounts of chocolate.  In fact, recent reports indicate that the sugar intake of these individuals tends to be below average.  Even today's dentists tend to believe that chocolate--eaten in reasonable quantities--can be less likely to cause tooth decay than other forms of candy or sweets.
   What recent scientific studies do tend to agree on, however, is that dark chocolate is much healthier for routine consumption than is milk chocolate.  Caution, however, everything is better in moderation.  Well except for those of us who are hooked on chocolate!!

Some Chocolate Facts:
  • The microwave oven was invented after a researcher walked by a radar tube and a chocolate bar melted in his pocket.
  • In October 1973, Swedish sweet maker Roland Ohisson of Falkenberg was buried in a coffin made of nothing but chocolate. (If he was still alive he probably could of eaten his way out)
  • The triangular shape that Toblerone chocolates are packaged in, is protected by law.
  • Chocolate was used as medicine during the 18th century because it was believed that it could cure a stomach ache.
  • The first chocolate bar was made in 1847 by Fry's chocolate factory located in Bristol, England.  They were the ones to mold the first chocolate bar that was suitable to be distributed to the public.
  • Consuming chocolate was once considered a sin during the 16th and 17th century.  During that time it was provided in the form of a drink and since drinking wine during lent was a sin, so was drinking chocolate.
  • There are some types of chocolates that are actually good for the arteries and heart.
  • Chocolate comes in milk, white, semi-sweet, dark, bitter, bittersweet, and unsweetened form.