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When it comes to chocolate, I’ve always been a Cadbury girl. At my childhood UK home, the cows in the field below our garden used to send their milk off to the Cadbury factory at Bournville near Birmingham, and whenever I took a bite of the lovely stuff, I used to wonder if any of “my” cows had contributed to it. Perhaps it tasted the better, for that reason alone.
Cadbury’s, and most modern, mass-produced chocolate, owes its existence to two processes developed in the early 19th-century by Dutch chocolate maker Casparus van Houten and his son Coenraad. They are ubiquitous enough that the industry has been divided into “Dutched” chocolate, and all the rest, ever since.
Coenraad van Houten’s process built upon his father’s discovery that the fat could be pressed out of cocoa beans, leaving a dry powder with greatly-improved storage potential (no rancidity, and much more shelf-stable), and which expanded the possible uses for the product. But Coenraad took it a step further, treating the chocolate with an alkaline and lowering its pH. The resulting product was milder in flavor, and delicious in both powder and a chocolate bar.
For the rest of the nineteeth century, British chocolate manufacturers (Cadbury, Fry, Rowntree) continued to develop and refine their techniques, as did their American counterpart Milton Hershey. On the continent, European chocolatiers did the same, going in a slightly different direction which culminated in the late twentieth-century Chocolate Wars, finally resolved by (what else) a European Union Directive in 2003 telling the respective sides what they had to do in order to have permission to use the word “chocolate” to describe their products.
Now, sadly, everything seems to taste pretty much the same. Globalization at its best. Mondelez International (formerly Kraft Foods) owns Cadbury and Fry. Nestle owns Rowntree. Hershey’s bless their heart, rejected Mondelez’s offer of a $23 billion takeover in 2016 and stands on its own.
This has resulted, as it often does, in a reaction, quite similar to that in other areas such as coffee and liquor. Twenty-first century chocolate snobs promote $173 an ounce chocolate bars containing nothing but cocoa and cane sugar. Scientists, nutrionists, and faddists remind us that natural cocoa which hasn’t been “Dutched” contains more antioxidants and flavonol than that which has. Therefore, we’re supposed to believe it’s healthier, and beneficial–eat more chocolate! Yes! We’re encourage to buy “single source,” “sustainable,” and “ethically produced” products. And $4, $5, $6 chocolate bars are ubiquitously available at the corner drug store and local supermarket. (Some of them are delicious, BTW.)
But what do you think? Are you a chocoholic? An afficionado? An occasional indulger? Do you go for quality or quantity? What is your favorite? Do you ever cook with chocolate? Do you buy “Dutch Processed” or “Natural” cocoa powder? Can you even tell the difference? (Be honest.) Recipes, particularly unusual ones are welcome.