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Chocolate: God’s bitter food

Love chocolate? But its story has a dark side too

This may create some shock and awe, but I have to admit I’ve never been much of a chocolate lover. I could have a piece or two if there was a bar around, but I didn’t hanker after it the way I did for rich and creamy gajar ka halwa or velvety rasmalais.

But a friend brought us some Green and Black’s organic chocolates. Ever since, I’ve been making a great many trips to the refrigerator. It’s whetted not just my appetite but also kindled an interest in chocolates as a subject. I am not surprised that it has played a central role in so many books — think Chocolat by Joanne Harris and Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The first is a 1999 novel, later turned into a delightful film, about a young mother’s resolve to set up a chocolaterie in France. And the latter, of course, is the 1964 book — made into films, stage and radio shows, video games and what have you — about an 11-year-old boy’s adventures in a chocolate factory.

Cocoa money

What I find even more interesting is all the research that has gone into chocolates. We all know about its origin. Chocolate is made of seeds from the Theobroma — literally god’s food — cacao tree. The Aztecs prized the seeds, which they believed had been gifted by the god of wisdom. In its earliest form, chocolate was taken as a bitter drink. The Europeans added sugar to it in the 16th century.

“In the beginning there was the pod... Before Columbus lost his way to the East Indies, the Maya of Central America were tucking into xocolatl and kukuh, bitter spicy drinks concocted from cocoa beans,” says the Food Lover’s Guide to the World.

But a book called Chocolate Nations by Orla Ryan gives you the dark side. It talks of the difficult lives of cocoa farmers in Africa, who receive just 4% of the average price of a milk bar in the U.K.

Ryan cites a song that was popular in the 1950s in Ghana:

If you want to send your children

to school, it is cocoa

If you want to build your house, it

is cocoa

If you want to marry, it is cocoa

If you want to buy cloth, it is cocoa

If you want to buy lorry, it is cocoa

Whatever you want to do in this

world

It is with cocoa money that you

do it.

Unknown taste

Extensive research has also been conducted on the prevalence of child labour in the cocoa-growing areas of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.

For her book Bitter Chocolate: Investigating the Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet, Carol Off travels to Côte d’Ivoire. Here’s a passage where she is talking to a group of cocoa farmers:

“What do these people do with the cocoa beans?

Silence again, and everyone looks to the chief. But this time, he too seems puzzled. ‘I don’t know,’ he answers honestly.

He is certain they make something with it, for sure, but he doesn’t know what.

They make chocolate, I explain. Has anyone ever tasted chocolate? One man says he tried it once when he was away from the village and thought it tasted good. No one else even knows what it is.”

Suddenly, chocolate doesn’t taste that sweet any more, does it?

The writer likes reading and writing about food as much as he does cooking and eating it. Well, almost.

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Printable version | Apr 3, 2020 9:49:45 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/chocolate-gods-bitter-food/article28292799.ece

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