Valentine’s Day is upon us and as a former restaurant worker, I am very grateful that I will not be spending the popular holiday in another busy restaurant, making certain that scores of couples receive a culinary treat. Instead, I would like to recognize a tropical plant that makes this day a little bit sweeter for countless numbers of conoisseurs. For what would this day be without the tasty little treat, we call chocolate.
Chocolate is a forest product that is processed from the large pod of the cacoa tree, Theobroma cacoa. Today, these trees are grown in plantations throughout the tropical regions of the world, but originally the tree grew only in the forests of Central America. At first a bitter drink was made from the fermented by-product of the seeds. The beverage was prized by many of the Native peoples and then when the Spanish arrived in the New World the drink was taken back to Spain. Here in the Old World, sugar was added, but chocolate continued to be consumed as a liquid.
Development of a chocolate as an edible solid did not occur into the 18th century when large mechanical devices were built that could process the natural solids of the seeds of the cacao tree. From that point on, chocolate grew as a specialty item, which could chewed and consumed as a candy or baked good. From those early years of chocolate manufacture, the tasty morsel has seen its popularity spread world wide. As a result today there are large plantations and chocolate factories located throughout the world, so chocolate can be enjoyed by everyone.