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     Volume 4 Issue 53 | July 8, 2005 |

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Straight Talk

Chocolate Heaven


I think I have just discovered heaven. I am sure we all have a slightly different perception of what heaven should consist of, and in mine Belgian and Swiss chocolate feature quite heavily. I am sure I am not being sacrilegious by my less than hallowed version of the great beyond but the thought that there will be chocolate for those of us who have a great affinity for the substance does help tremendously especially when one is feeling melancholy and thinking of what lies in store for us when we pass over to the other side. Now back to my discovery I just found out that something called a chocolate fountain actually exists! In fact it was only the other week that my cousin recounted her tale of being at a university ball where the centre of attraction was a chocolate fountain. The photograph consisted of a tall edifice where melted chocolate seemed to be flowing continuously. There were students milling around the table and they seemed to be deriving immense pleasure from dipping their strawberries, marshmallows or whatever was on offer at the table, into the warm melted chocolate. The fact that none of them were dipping their hands into the fountain was a sign of great restraint. To be perfectly honest, the picture wasn't as spectacular as I would have liked it to be (no sculptures of handmaidens holding an urn with chocolate flowing from it) but I for one am willing to forgo the visual effect for the sake of the delights the fountain promises.

As a child I always loved the story of "Charlie and the Chocolate factory" by Roald Dahl, where Charlie wins a golden ticket in his bar of chocolate to give him entry to Willy Wonka's glorious chocolate factory. At that age the thought of a chocolate river was just imagination at its best! I guess it was only a question of time before someone came up with the idea of constructing something on a much smaller scale but with the same effect, i.e. warm liquid chocolate on demand from a fountain no less. I was amazed to see that recently, chocolate fountains have become quite the rage and the thing to have at weddings and parties. All you have to do is look on the website and you find that hiring a chocolate fountain is not that hard a feat. It seems to have taken off in the US and has now found its way to the UK and is gaining a huge amount of followers.

Its funny how we tend to think of chocolate as a sweet candy that we eat or a sweet drink but actually, chocolate dates back to the ancient peoples of Mesoamerica dating almost 2000 years ago i.e. The Mayan people and the Aztecs, who ground the cacao beans into a paste and when mixed with water, chili peppers, cornmeal, and other ingredients, making it into a frothy, spicy and bitter chocolate drink called "xocoatl". This drink was supposed to bring wisdom and knowledge. For these people, chocolate wasn't just a favourite food it also played an important role in their religious and social lives. Aztec Indian legend held that cacao seeds had been brought from Paradise and that wisdom and power came from eating the fruit of the cacao tree. Maya believed that one of the most sacred offerings was that of blood and images from ancient religious text sometimes show Maya priests dripping a blood offering onto cacao pods. Ancient Mexicans believed that Tonacatecutli, the goddess of food, and Calchiuhtlucue, the goddess of water, were guardian goddesses of cocoa. Each year they performed human sacrifices for the goddesses, giving the victim cocoa at his last meal.

Although it's likely that there were other early explorers who may have encountered the cacao plants in the Americas, it wasn't until the Spaniard, Hernán Cortés, conquered Mexico in 1521 that the Spanish began to find out about the delicious flavor of chocolate. However, when the Spaniards first tasted "chocolatl" the drink was too bitter for their palate and hence the idea of sweetening it with cane sugar came about. Contact between Spaniards and Aztecs opened a gateway for the exchange of ideas and technology and a new European market for foods like cacao. Eventually, the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs made it possible to import chocolate back home, where it quickly became a court favourite. And within 100 years, the love of chocolate spread throughout the rest of Europe.

Therefore, I need to thank the Aztecs and the Mayan people for discovering and developing the drink made with chocolate, Hernán Cortés for bringing it back to Europe and the inventor of the chocolate fountain for using his genius for giving us such a delightful way of consuming chocolate. If chocolate was fit for the Gods then having a chocolate fountain in Heaven can't be that bad an idea…


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