Homemade chocolates: A taste of the Nilgiris

They became popular during the tourism boom in the 1990s and early 2000s 

Published - May 19, 2022 10:23 pm IST

J. Vivek of King Star Chocolates is at work. His family has been making chocolates at home since 1942.

J. Vivek of King Star Chocolates is at work. His family has been making chocolates at home since 1942. | Photo Credit: M. SATHYAMOORTHY

“Homemade” chocolates in the Nilgiris have almost become as iconic as the district’s native wildlife and forests. However, the origins of the treat are far more recent than one would believe, with the boom in tourism during the 1990s playing a significant part in the rise in the popularity of “Ooty chocolates”.

Heritage enthusiasts tracing the cultural origins of the Nilgiris’ famous cuisines believe that the “homemade chocolates” are remnant of the time of the British colonists.

According to P.J. Vasanthan, a Coonoor resident, the history of the homemade chocolates was only around 70 years old. They became popular in the 1990s and the early 2000s during the period when the district witnessed a huge boom in tourism. “Tourists visiting the district reached for the chocolates to take back home for family and friends, and slowly the homemade chocolates became more and more popular and have now become synonymous with the district,” he said.

Though the origins of Ooty’s chocolates are far more recent than the district’s other iconic flavours, such as varkey and tea, chocolate-makers in the district said the colonial legacy of the British played a significant role in chocolate becoming popular among residents and tourists. “The Nilgiris is culturally very close to a classic British town, where eating cakes and chocolates was always very popular,” said Muralidhar Rao, owner of Modern Stores and managing director of Moddy’s, a famous bakery and confectionary in the Nilgiris.

Mr. Rao said Modern Stores since 1951 has sold its homemade chocolates. “The butlers who worked for the British families shared their recipes with us, and over the years, the few varieties of chocolates which were sold at the store has expanded to encompass around 150 varieties of chocolates, truffles, ganaches and fudges,” he said.

He said the Nilgiris’ cool climate was also extremely favorable to chocolate-making. “The original chocolate-makers in the Nilgiris, around a handful of whom are still in business, including Moddy’s, produce chocolate which is of high quality and standards, continuing the traditional recipes which were used when we first opened,” he insisted.

Fazloor Rahman, managing director of M&N Chocolates, said his family had started making chocolates in 1942. “Known as the Sheikh store, British people would come to our family’s store to purchase cigars. Eventually, some butlers trained members of our family in making chocolates for the British,” said Mr. Rahman.

The chocolate-maker said homemade chocolates from the Nilgiris have a unique flavor as they do not need to be refrigerated to harden and set. “In the plains, chocolates have to be refrigerated, increasing the moisture content and altering taste,” he said. To raise awareness among visitors of the quality chocolates in the Nilgiris, Mr. Rahman opened a chocolate museum in Udhagamandalam in 2013. “What most people buy from recently opened shops are chocolate compound, which are mixed with high amounts of vegetable fat. Through the museum, we hope to raise awareness of the original shops and businesses in the Nilgiris selling quality chocolates,” he said.

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