Culture: The Truth About Chocolate, from Dark Past to Endless Innovation | Wine Enthusiast
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The Truth About Chocolate, from Dark Past to Endless Innovation

Not only do many of us love chocolate, it’s also a favorite way for many to say, “I love you.”

But its history isn’t all sweet.

In fact, chocolate started out as a savory ingredient. Cacao beans, the base of today’s confection, are from modern-day Central and South America, where they were originally fermented into a bitter beverage mixed with chiles.

The crop was culturally and economically valuable. Cacao seeds were so important to the Mayans and Aztecs that they were used as currency.

The Colonial era brought global appetites to chocolate. However, with them came extensive damage to coffee-producing people and regions that began with Hernan Cortes’ violent takeover of the Aztec empire and included the transatlantic slave trade.

When chocolate reached European shores, consumers added sugar, cocoa butter and milk to create the modern treat. Access was limited to the rich until the late 1700s, when the steam engine, cutting-edge technology at the time, made it possible to produce chocolate quickly and in high quantity.

Accessibility brought new fans. Abigail Adams reportedly enjoyed drinking chocolate on a trip to London in 1785, and Benjamin Franklin sold it in his Philadelphia print shop.

Innovations continued as popularity grew. “In 1847, Joseph Fry, an English doctor who heralded cocoa as a healthy alternative to alcohol, blended cocoa powder with cocoa butter and sugar, molded the paste into small blocks, and— voilà!—the chocolate bar was born,” writes Simran Sethi, the author of Bread, Wine, Chocolate.

One century later, U.S. soldiers received chocolate as part of their rations during World War II. Today, Americans eat 100 pounds of chocolate per second. Scientists report cocoa causes the brain to release several chemical compounds that trigger happiness.

How to Pair Chocolate with Wine

In its sweet form, chocolate is a perfect match with flavors that range from citrus to nutty and minty.

Marcus Gausepohl, wine director at Brennan’s of Houston, suggests “ruling out dry wine unless your cacao content is 75% or greater.”

He recommends Brachetto d’Acqui, a sweet, sparkling red wine from Italy’s Piedmont, to go with milk chocolate or chocolate ice cream.

For dark chocolate, Gausepohl prefers Pedro Ximénez Sherry, which offers rich notes of fig and spice that he says “help tame the intensity of the chocolate.”

With savory chicken or pork with mole sauce, Gausepohl recommends a classic Riesling Auslese from the Mosel, which will “let the flavors stand on their own without covering them up,” he says. Mole is exceedingly complicated, after all—much like chocolate itself.

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