Today we went to the rainforest to learn about chocolate. We had to cross a massive bridge. It was nearly as long as our garden.
First we tried some chocolate beans. After that we ground some beans and ate them. Eventually we made a drink. Next we had melted chocolate on a spoon and I had five spoonfuls. Finally we had milk and dark chocolate. I preferred the dark chocolate because the milk chocolate was crunchy.
The first recorded use of chocolate was in 1100BC.
Chocolate comes from cacao trees that grow naturally in a band 20 degrees north and south of the equator. The trees also need around 2000 mm of rain every year. They live in temperature zones of 21 - 32 degrees.
The Aztecs used cacao beans as their currency. A slave would have been 100 beans.
Cacao was so valued that it was offered to the Gods as a drink and only used by the nobles in society in golden goblets. When the Spanish came to America they were offered this cacao drink as a greeting. The Europeans did not like the bitter taste and offended the Aztecs causing the start of much trouble.
Later on the Spanish adjusted the drink using their own ingredients. They added milk and sugar to make it a sweeter drink.
Chocolate making is a complicated process. First the beans are grown then picked. The pods were not as I expected. They were oval shaped, brown , yellow or red and slightly smaller than a rugby ball. The indigenous people used their heads to open the pods.
Inside the pods were rows of beans coated in a white slimy substance. We tried the slime and it was horrible. Mum and Dad however thought it was sweet and delicious. In the past the saliva was used to start the fermentation process. This took seven days. Next the beans were dried, then cleaned then roasted. After roasting the shells were removed to reveal the cacao nibs. The nibs smelt like a delicious mixture of coffee and chocolate.
Next the nibs were ground using volcanic stones. (Oscar helped with this process using modern technology). Hot water was added to these nibs to create a hot chocolate drink. The Aztecs added various flavours including, chilli pepper, vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon. I tried all of these and particularly liked the vanilla. ( I saw a vanilla pod growing naturally on a tree in my hotel garden today)
Finally we tried melted chocolate nibs . This was really thick and like melted cooking chocolate. We put this into moulds and then we had recognisable solid chocolate. We made two types, milk and dark. The powdered milk gave the milk chocolate a sand paper texture.
We all felt really energetic and happy after eating the chocolate and the man told us that it was the chemicals that it contains. There was some caffeine and other substances that were affecting our bodies. Some studies have shown that chocolate can help to reduce high blood pressure. These chemicals are also toxic to some animals including dogs.
According to the guide the best chocolate is dark and with a high percentage of cacao. Personally I still prefer Dairy Milk!