Are you drooling yet? Go ahead, wipe your chin. I’ll wait.
Just in time for Halloween! A treatise on that treat of treats!!! To research this book about chocolate, Newquist suffered through chocolate tasting after tasting, from “Venice to Vietnam.” I’m sure it was a horrible slog.
Who isn’t interested in chocolate? But, arguably, a poor writer could make it a yawn-inducer. Luckily, Newquist knows how to engage readers with tantalizing questions like “What is chocolate, really?”
He also makes good use of the cacao historical drama, starting with Spaniards and the Aztecs. The invaders took cocoa back to Spain and tried to keep this tasty powder on the down low, effectively denying its existence so they could keep it all to themselves. But the Italians got their hands on some and started selling it. Then the Swiss got a taste while visiting Belgium, etc. etc…Did they really think they could keep this a secret? So cocoa became a quick sensation that only the wealthy could afford, of course.
Newquist walks the reader through the growing environment for finicky and fragile cacao trees,
the process of drying the beans and roasting the nibs, and then provides a recipe for the reader to make their own version of the original spicy-bitter drink known as Xoxolatl (pronounced “sho-co-latl” or “ca-col-ahtl”). Yes, that’s the word that eventually became “chocolate.”
In the chapter titled “Chocolate Meets Milk—By Way of Baby Formula,” readers learn how cocoa slowly transformed from a bitter drink into the super sweet or super rich treats we eat today. Funny thing is? It was an accident. No, I’m not going to tell you what happened. He also lets you in on why European chocolate smells different from American chocolate. Intrigued?
And then there’s the industrial espionage and competition among the leading chocolate families such as the Lindts, Hersheys, Ghirardellis, Mars, Toblers, Nestlés, Cadburys, and Peruginas. The stuff of spy novels, what with Forrest Mars (a money-grubbing control freak) occasionally working for competitors and stealing their ideas.
Hershey, as it turns out, was a philanthropist with no heirs, who built an entire town and free school for orphans and children with difficult home lives, an establishment today that is the largest free kinder through 12th grade boarding school in the U.S.—all paid for with profits from the Hershey Company.
Other stories include that of Harry Reese, a former Hershey employee, who got the idea to fill a chocolate cup with peanut butter. Then there’s the origin of M&Ms….And on and on…Repeatedly, I found myself fighting the urge to head to the grocery store for whatever candy was being discussed.
And as uncomplicated at the ingredients for chocolate are, the production process is one of the most complex (and often closely guarded secret from company to company) for any kind of food. Chapter 11, “From Bean to Bar,” gives you an idea of just how complicated this process is.
And for the super scientists among you, there’s even a chapter about the chemistry of cocoa.
We all know that theobromine and caffeine, two chemicals that stimulate the human brain, can potentially kill dogs. But chocolate contains other chemicals, like phenylethylamine, a substance created by the body when humans fall in love. Surprise!!! Gives added meaning to those Valentine’s Day candies, doesn’t it?
OK, I’ll stop with the pictures. I’m sure you probably need to head to the grocery store right now. Or to the bookstore to buy this book. And after you read it, you can eat it. Just kidding.
Newquist includes a brief glossary with chocolate-related terms and an index to quickly find info about specific companies, processes, or history. It’s truly a well-written, sweet page-turner of a book.