History of Favorite American Food Chocolate Part 2

About the history of the favorite American food chocolate, information on its nutrition, roots and more.



The first chocolate factory was built in Switzerland in 1819, but it was an American who brought the chocolate bar within the reach of the common folk. Milton Hershey had a long and erratic career as a candy maker before hitting the jackpot with a milk caramel recipe. By 1900 he had put his talent and fortune to work perfecting an easy way to make milk chocolate, which had first been concocted in 1875 but was still rare and quite expensive. He did it, and mass production of Hershey bars began in 1904. The huge plant in Hershey, Pa., has storage facilities for about 90 million lb. of cacao beans.

The American candy industry has a list known as the "Sweet Sixteen" candies, those that have led the nation in popularity for decades--and every one of them is chocolate or chocolate with other ingredients. People in the U.S. eat almost 4 billion lb. of candy each year, and chocolate accounts for about 71% of the total--making it a $2.1 billion industry. Eighty percent of the worldwide production of cacao beans comes from the "Big Five": Ghana, Nigeria, Brazil, the Ivory Coast, and Cameroon. The African trees produce a variety of bean known as Forastero, which is inferior in taste to the South American variety, called Criollo. Mild, delicate, and difficult to grow, the Criollo crop now accounts for only 10% of the world total; for many years it was the principal bean in chocolate manufacturing. At one time Hershey's had a fine Ecuadorian Criollo crop, but it was ravaged by disease, so now they use a blend of between four and six kinds of beans, mostly from Ghana and Nigeria.

Other modern economic realities threaten to reduce the quality of chocolate further. The traditional drying of cacao beans in the sun has largely been replaced by mechanical processes, and it appears that the truly skillful roasting of beans has become a lost art; it is hard to find even Criollo beans that are cured to former high standards. Worse still, artificial chocolate flavorings are steadily replacing the real thing, even in "chocolate" bars. In recent years, many major candy companies have substituted a vegetable oil for a major part of the cocoa butter in the coating of various "chocolate-covered" products. According to the Food and Drug Administration (and taste) standards, this coating cannot be called chocolate. With prevailing economic realities, other bars seem doomed to an equally dire fate, and chocolate drinks, which started the chocolate craze thousands of years ago, are now almost certain to contain no trace of the real thing.

If the chocolate bar can be condemned as a nutritional land mine, it is through no fault of the cacao. The bean is about 90% digestible and is comprised of 40% carbohydrates, 23% fat, and 18% protein, with traces of riboflavin, calcium, and iron. The real villain is, of course, the bar's high content of sugar, which causes tooth decay and untold other physical problems, including obesity. One ounce of milk chocolate provides over 150 calories. While some may opt to decrease this sugar intake by noshing on semi-sweet or dark chocolate, these types actually have to contain more sugar than milk chocolate in order to be palatable.

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