The Story of Beef

The Story of Beef


The tradition of eating beef has passed down generations to become an integral part for many of our regular diets. By providing precious protein, packed with fatty calories beef has come be regarded as an important ingredient for human survival. Here, we look at the ever-changing role of beef and it’s interesting history.

Ancient Beef

Beef has been a staple meat eaten around the world for millennia, dating back as far as prehistory. Cattle originated in the Old World, having been domesticated around 8000 BC when the material gains from the livestock became apparent. It is difficult to estimate the precise point where beef became a cooked delicacy, although it probably shortly followed the domestication of cattle. Following this, people were able to identify specific breeds suited to being used for their meat or dairy produce such as milk and cheese.

The British Beef Breeders

Beef consumption and farming has existed in Britain for a long time and the country is considered to be a pioneer in beef breeding. Britain is home to several cattle breeds, which serve different functions. These include the Aberdeen Angus, arguably Britain’s most widely-known cattle breed, known for its high-quality beef. The Hereford is another particularly notable breed, which exemplifies the innovative breeding techniques developed by the British

The Spanish Bring the Cow to the Andes

Despite its prevalence in the Americas today, Cattle was not endemic to the continent and was very much a European export. The Spanish are known to be the first exporters of the cow to the Americas. Christopher Columbus is credited with introducing cattle to the conflict in 1493, introducing the species to the modern-day Dominican Republic. Cattle quickly spread throughout Mexico and modern-day Texas as the Spanish colonial interest in the Americas expanded, laying the foundation for the famous Texan Longhorn breed.


The concept of the Gaucho dates back to the late 19th Century and remain national symbols in a number of Latin American countries, especially Argentina. They are not dissimilar to the American cowboys, essentially skilled horsemen known for being gifted in cattle driving. A sense of mythology soon developed around the Gaucho, like with cowboys in America, as they became romanticised figures and eventually cultural symbols.

5m5a0923Cowboys and Cattle Drives

The Cowboy is one of the most potent and widely-recognised symbols of Americana, bearing several similarities to Gauchos despite different aesthetic iconography. Cowboys arose to cultural prevalence in the 19th Century, known mainly for the vast cattle drives from Texas, the country’s main source of cattle to Chicago, the heart of the meat-packing industry and a hub for beef demand. This process emerged in the mid-19th Century. It is believed that a single herd of cattle numbered around 3,000 cows. As the population of the country grew and demand became more evenly spread across the country, the age of cattle drives and the cowboy by extension came to an end. Despite this, the cowboy remains permanently ingrained as a symbol of American popular culture, romanticised in the same way as the Gauchos in Latin America.

How good is it for you? Grain fed versus grass fed

Beef’s best-known health benefits are its rich source of protein. Despite this, it would be incorrect to describe beef and other forms of Red Meat as healthy. It is believed that the excessive consumption of red meat increases the risk of certain cancers, particularly that of the bowel. Furthermore, it is also believed that excessive consumption has a detrimental effect on the heart and can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. While there has been debate over whether grass-fed beef is more healthy than terrain-fed beef, there is little conclusive scientific evidence to support this. However, grass-fed beef is treated better, reared in more open spaces. From a moral standpoint, and in terms of quality, grass-fed beef is normally the better option.

Japanese Beef

While the superior beef breed is a matter of debate and personal preference, there is much to be made of the quality of Japanese beef, which many associate with a sense of prestige. The two most notable meats are Wagyu and Kobe, the latter being particularly notable. While Japanese cattle has its origins in China, the breeding innovations are wholly their own. Kobe Beef is the best known, a delicacy renowned for its flavour and texture. Kobe and several other kinds of Japanese beef are imported throughout the world, vaunted by many for their quality.

The Beef Industry Today

Beef is consumed around the world in the present day as the third most widely-consumed meat after poultry and pork. There is a near-universal, thriving market for the industry today. The United States, Brazil and China are the world’s largest consumers of the meat, with little to separate them in terms of consumption. Brazil and Australia are the world’s largest producers and exporters of beef. Beef is central to the economy of Latin America since its introduction by the Spanish. The industry has evolved exponentially and grown increasingly complex since its early popularity. Despite this, health concerns about the negative effects of beef consumption are becoming increasingly clear and well-documented. Although this shows no sign of halting the beef industry in the present day, it perhaps points to a future where the meat is less widely-consumed.

More information:

Watch: The Story of… Beef

A Short History Of Tea

A Short History Of Tea

Food Facts:

Where: Began in China, now consumed throughout the world, most notably in Japan, England, America, Russia and India.

Serving Suggestion: Green Tea – serve without milk and honey to sweeten. Black teas – take with or withut milk and sugar to taste.

*Why not try: An English cream tea served with scones or cake and cream at 4pm.

Health: Teas cleansing properties are thought to alleviate pains and strengthen the immune system.

Derived from the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis tree, the infusion is valued for its medicinal properties, as well as enjoyed as a beverage.


Drinking Tea plays a central part in our lives. It is a universal phenomenon with millions of people the world over enjoying it on a daily basis. It is hard to imagine a world without tea. In fact it  has become the most widely consumed beverage on earth after water.

Tea has a long history that spans across numerous countries over thousands of years. Legend says that tea originated in 2737 BC when the highly disliked Emperor Shen Nung of China was removed from power and driven out to an isolated spot in Southern China. Having no money to drink anything else but water, Shen Nung happened to be sitting under a tree one day when a gust of wind dropped a few leaves into his cup of boiling water. He loved the blend and found it so relaxing that he sat under that tree for the next seven years and wouldn’t drink anything else.

Origins and History:

Tea Pickers, Cisarua Bogor, Danumurthi Mahendra, Flickr Creative Commons

Tea was first discovered in China, in the mountains around Sichuan and Yunnan. According to earliest legend Emperor Shen Nung first sampled the drink when some unidentified leaves fell into his pot of hot water. Allegedly, Shen Nung used to wander the country recording the effects of infusions made from the leaves and berries of various plants. He discovered that tea cured him of a stomach ache contracted as a result of drinking a toxic herb. It has since been scientifically proven that the polyphenols in tea inhibit the growth of bad bacteria in the gut, and helps good bacteria to flourish, along with having antimicrobial properties that can kill off harmful substances.

Tea drinking became an elaborate art form during the Tang Dynasty (616 – 907). This was the heyday of the Chinese Empire, and traders journeyed to China from the Middle East to obtain silk, porcelain and tea. Over time, the practice of drinking tea spread across Asia, and later to Europe and the America.

People in China were the first drinkers of tea, and they did so for hundreds for years before it was eventually discovered by European explorers. The Chinese thought tea to be both hugely beneficial for health and appropriate to use as a religious offering.

A scarce and rare product, tea was only consumed by royalty and it wasn’t until the discovery of more kinds of tea plants during the Tang Dynasty that tea became available for people of lower classes. It was also during this time that knowledge of tea began to spread; Japanese priests studying abroad in China brought tea back to their homes and shared it with their fellow priests and the rich. Buddhists made good use of tea. While meditating they’d often drink a cup to stay awake during their mediations and soon the Japanese Tea Ceremony was developed, which made tea drinking a spiritual and serious experience. The Emperor of Japan loved tea so much he ordered tea seeds and had them grown in Japan so that everyone could access it. Japan today produces over 80,000 tonnes of tea every year.

At this point, tea came in the form of bricks. Leaves of tea would be crushed and pressed into a mold and then dried. When it came time for preparation, a small portion of the brick would be ground and boiled in water. Powdered tea was also popular for green teas; after pouring boiling water over it, the tea would turn into a frothy drink.

Asia is by far the biggest producer supplying 80-90% of all tea, mainly from India, China, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. India is the largest individual tea-producing country, growing nearly 30% of the world’s tea. Tea was introduced to East Africa at the beginning of the 20th century. It has become an important crop there, particularly in the highlands of Kenya.

Teas Around the World:

Fresh Tea Leaves, Matthew Guay, Flickr Creative Commons 

There are three basic types of tea. Black tea is fully oxidised and is the most popular variety in Europe & the US, green tea, a staple in the Orient, is non-oxidised and has more delicate flavour, and Oolong tea, which is partly oxidised and is a cross between the other two in terms of flavour and taste.

Whatever the type of tea they favour, different countries have their own unique history of tea-drinking tradition and taste.


Yeisei, A Buddhist Priest, was the first person to bring tea seeds from China to Japan. He had observed the beneficial use of tea in meditation, and tea has since continued to be associated with Zen Buddhism and used in ceremony.

It quickly gained popularity in the Imperial Court and other sectors of society, and became elevated to an art form universally known as the ‘Japanese Tea Ceremony’. The ceremony involves making and serving tea in the most perfect, polite and gracious manner. It requires years of training to perform a tea ceremony.


The first tea was brought to the United States in the 1650s by Peter Stuyvesant, a Dutch colonialist, to the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, which is today known as New York.

By 1720, the global tea trade was centred in New York, Boston and Philadelphia, and tea was traded between England and its colonies in America. However, taxes on tea were ridiculously high and smuggling became very common. One piece of legislation in particular, the Tea Act of 1773, angered the American colonies, as it was meant to increase profits for the English by skipping over local merchants and selling directly to the people. After continued rejection of tea shipments, the colonists eventually had enough; a group called the Sons of Liberty, led by Samuel Adams, planned to raid a new shipment that was meant to be unloaded in Boston on December 16th, 1773. On that same night, a small group of other protesters decided to dump tea into the Boston Harbor while dressed up as Mohawk Native Americans. Over the course of three hours, over 340 tea containers were thrown into Boston Harbor. These events went down in history as the Boston Tea Party, and precipitated the American Revolution.

Boston Tea Party Ship & Museum, Robert Lindsell, Flickr Creative Commons

Boston Tea Party Ship & Museum, Robert Lindsell, Flickr Creative Commons

Years and years later, although Americans separated themselves from the British, they’ve still kept up a few traditions and contributed a few inventions of their own. During the country’s first World Fair in 1904, iced tea was introduced by a man named Richard Blechynden, who knew that no one would be interested in hot tea during the summer fair. In 1908 Thomas Sullivan, a man from New York, accidentally developed the tea bag. He always sent out his loose tea in silk muslin bags and it wasn’t until he delivered them to local restaurants that he saw them brewing their tea with the bags still on. Right away, he began marketing the tea bags for their convenience and no fuss packaging and the rest is history!


The Russians first encountered tea in 1618, when the Chinese made a gift of several chests to Tsar Alexis. By the end of the 17th century China and Russia were engaged in trade relations, but the journey between the two countries was long and hazardous and the cost of tea was extortionate. It was another hundred years before the price of tea fell sufficiently for the habit to percolate through to all sectors of society. These days tea and vodka are the Russian national drinks. The Russians make tea in using a samovar, a large water heater and tea pot, and drink it strong and sweet.


Chai Latte, Theo Crazzolara, Flickr Creative Commons

India is responsible for cultivating much of the world’s tea, and Indian varieties such as Darjeeling, Assam and Nilgiri are amongst the most popular. Although the first commercial tea plantations in India were only established by the British colonisers in the late 1830s, the tea plant had been growing wild in the jungles of north east Assam for many years.

Discovery of these Indian tea bushes was regarded by the British as exciting news. Envious of China’s monopoly on tea, and resentful of the money they had to spend on their habit, the British had long wished to be able to grow their own tea. The British saw the Indian Assam as inferior to the Chinese bush, but thought that the evidence of local plants indicated good soil for transplanting Chinese seedlings.

They immediately procured some seedlings of the Chinese variety (the British smuggled thousands of seedlings during the opium wars) and undertook to grow them in the Assam valley and the mountainous Darjeeling region. Fourteen years later, and after many unsuccessful attempts were made, the British resigned themselves to growing the native Assam.

Soon after, the British-owned Indian Tea Association began an earnest effort to popularise tea in India. They organised several promotional campaigns – tea stalls were set up in cities and towns, factories were encouraged to give tea breaks to their workers, and even home demonstrations were organised. When the railways arrived, tea stalls were set up at rail stations as well. Tea drinking gradually spread in India, gaining momentum after the Second World War. By the end of the 1900’s, Indians were drinking almost 70 percent of a huge crop of 715,000 tonnes per year.

Tea is now grown widely in India. There are over 2000 producers of tea, with the majority of the estates located in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Many of these estates produce very high quality teas and have earned a place for themselves in the international tea market.  Today, India is one of the world’s largest producers of tea with 13,000 gardens and a workforce of more than 2 million people.  It also provides the tea leaves that go into the world’s biggest brands – Tetley and Typhoo.

The most popular form of tea in India is masala chai; sweet, milky tea spiced with cardamom and cinnamon. “Proper” English tea is also drunk among many communities and classes, especially those who had trading and social relations with the British. Chai is such an integral part of the Indian culture, and as a result is ubiquitous. Even in the most remote places you may not be able to get food or drinkable water but there will always be someone there to give you a hot cup of Chai.  The spices used in Indian Chai tea vary from region to region and among households in India. The most common are cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and pepper. Indian Chai produces a warming, soothing effect, acts as a natural digestive aid and gives one a wonderful sense of well being. It’s difficult to resist a second cup.


When the British acquired the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam they were astonished at how popular tea was with the colonial women. By the 17th century Dutch traders had also brought tea to Europe, where it rapidly gained popularity. When the Portuguese Catherine Braganza married King Charles II in 1662, she brought with her to England a chest of tea. It immediately became the beverage of choice in English high society, replacing ale as the national drink. Today, the average Brit gets though almost 2 kilograms of tea a year!

The English serve black tea with milk and sugar to taste, in a brew referred to as ‘builders tea’. Afternoon tea is an English institution, accompanied by sandwiches, scones or cake. The English and Irish also have a custom of ‘dunking’ biscuits (cookies) into their tea, and eating once soaked through but with the added importance of avoiding the biscuit disintegrating completely and falling into the tea.

The Opium Wars: England and China 1830 – 1860

Chinese Opium Fiends Smoking Opium, Midnight Believer, Flickr Creative Commons

Two things happened in the eighteenth century  made it difficult for England to balance its trade with the East. First, the British became a nation of tea drinkers and the demand for Chinese tea rose astronomically. It is estimated that the average London worker spent five percent of his or her total household budget on tea. Second, northern Chinese merchants began to ship Chinese cotton from the interior to the south to compete with the Indian cotton that Britain had used to help pay for its tea consumption habits. To prevent a trade imbalance, the British tried to sell more of their own products to China, but there was not much demand for heavy woollen fabrics that Britain specialised in,  in a country accustomed to either cotton padding or silk.

The only solution was to increase the amount of Indian goods to pay for these Chinese luxuries, and increasingly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the item provided to China was Bengal Opium. With greater opium supplies had naturally come an increase in demand and usage throughout the country, in spite of repeated prohibitions by the Chinese government and officials. The British did all they could to increase the trade: They bribed officials, helped the Chinese work out elaborate smuggling schemes to get the opium into China’s interior, and distributed free samples of the drug to innocent victims.

The cost to China was enormous. The drug weakened a large percentage of the population (some estimate that 10 percent of the population regularly used opium by the late nineteenth century), and silver began to flow out of the country to pay for the opium. Many of the economic problems China faced later were either directly or indirectly traced to the opium trade. The government debated about whether to legalize the drug through a government monopoly like that on salt, hoping to barter Chinese goods in return for opium. But since the Chinese were fully aware of the harms of addiction, in 1838 The Emperor decided to send one of his most able officials, Lin Tse-hsu (Lin Zexu, 1785-1850), to Canton (Guangzhou) to do whatever necessary to end the traffic forever.

Opinion in England was divided: Some British did indeed feel morally uneasy about the trade, but they were overruled by those who wanted to increase England’s China trade and “teach the arrogant Chinese a good lesson”. Western military weapons were far superior to China’s.  The emperor therefore had no choice but to accept the British demands and sign a peace agreement. This agreement, the first of the “unequal treaties,” opened China to the West and marked the beginning of Western exploitation of the nation. The British saw to it that Indian opium remained a legitimate article of commerce in China until 1908.

The commerce in tea and the opium that paid for it continued without interruptions even during the hostilities. And by 1844 Britain was importing 24,000 tonnes annually, well over twice as much tea as she had at the beginning of the century, including significant tonnage of black teas for the first time.

Afternoon Tea – A Quintessentially British Pastime

Afternoon tea, Malmaison Hotels, Flickr Creative Commons

Afternoon tea, Malmaison Hotels, Flickr Creative Commons

Whilst the custom of drinking tea dates back to the third millennium BC in China and was popularised in England during the 1660s by King Charles II and his wife, it was not until the mid 17th century that the concept of ‘afternoon tea’ first appeared.

Afternoon tea was introduced in England by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, in the year 1840. The Duchess would become hungry around four o’clock in the afternoon. The evening meal in her household was served fashionably late at eight o’clock, thus leaving a long period of time between lunch and dinner. The Duchess asked that a tray of tea, bread and butter (some time earlier, the Earl of Sandwich had had the idea of putting a filling between two slices of bread) and cake be brought to her room during the late afternoon. This became a habit of hers and she began inviting friends to join her.

This pause for tea became a fashionable social event. During the 1880’s upper-class and society women would change their gowns for their afternoon tea which was usually served in the drawing room between four and five o’clock.  The Etiquette of Modern Society points out that “a thoughtful hostess should always provide biscuits with tea, since these can be eaten more easily than sandwiches without removing one’s gloves.”

Some poorer households also adopted the practice of afternoon tea, but more common among the working classes was ‘high tea’. During the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, when most people worked in agriculture, the working classes tended to have the main meal of their day at midday, with a much lighter supper in the evening. After the industrial revolution, more and more people were employed for long shifts in factories or mines, and hot midday meals were thus less convenient.  The custom developed of having a high tea in the late afternoon, at the end of the working day, consisting of strong tea, and hearty, hot food. Unlike afternoon tea, high tea was the main meal of the day, rather than a stop-gap between lunch and dinner.

More information:

Watch: The Story of… Tea

Buy: The Story Of Tea

Website: Tetley Tea’s guide to How Tea is Produced

Website: Find the best Afternoon Tea

Website: The Fortnum and Mason Guide to Tea

Website: Debretts Modern Etiquette Guide on Beverages

Book: Tea: A History of the Drink That Changed the World by John Griffiths

Website: Tea Time

Book: For All the Tea in China: by Sarah Rose


Written by: Zaynin Kanji

Editor: Sofi Pickering

The Story Of Chocolate

The Story Of Chocolate

Our love affair with chocolate began at least 4,000 years ago in Mesoamerica, in present-day southern Mexico and Central America, where cacao grew wild. When the Olmecs unlocked the secret of how to eat this bitter seed, they launched an enduring phenomenon.

Since then, people the world over have turned to chocolate to cure sickness, appease gods and show love. In fact, the making of chocolate has evolved into an industry so large that forty to fifty million people depend on cocoa for their livelihoods—and chocolate farmers produce 3.8 million tons of cocoa beans per year.

This study guide takes you from the ancient civilizations who first devised methods to eat cacao beans through its journey to Spain, the colonial owned slave plantations and into the factories of Pennsylvania, Broc and Yorkshire.

The Olmecs 1500 B.C.-100 B.C.

The Olmec’s, famous for carving colossal stone heads, were the first people known to process and eat cacao beans, which they called kakaw. They devised the fermenting, drying, roasting and grinding process that remain the basis of chocolate production as it is known today. The Olmec’s passed this knowledge down to the Mayans.

Mayans 1800 B.C.-1500 A.D.

Perhaps the first chocoholics, they referred to cacao as ‘food of the gods,’ and carved the shape of the pods into their stone templates, artwork, drinking vessels and even used the beans in human sacrifice as well as for medicinal purposes.

South-Western Americans 1000-1125 A.D.

The early Mesoamericans traded cacoa with their neighbours living many miles to the north. People living in northwest New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon drank cacao from cylindrical jars as part of ritualistic practices. The closest cultivated cacao grew in central Mexico.

Aztecs 1420 A.D.-1520 A.D.

While the Aztec royals continued the tradition of drinking cacao at ceremonies, they could not grow it in the central highlands of Mexico, so they too traded for it, with their southern neighbours the Mayans and others.

Aztec rulers also demanded that their tributes, an early form of taxation paid by citizens and those they conquered, be paid in cacao. In the communities themselves, cacao seeds were used as currency, traded at the market and kept locked up. A rabbit cost between four and 10 beans, a mule worth 50 and a turkey hen went for 100. In fact, cacao was so valuable in early times that it was counterfeited. People would hollow out the pods, fill them with dirt and pass them off as newly harvested.

Aztec. Man Carrying a Cacao Pod, 1440–1521. Volcanic stone, traces of red pigment. Brooklyn Museum

Believing that the god Quetzalcoatl brought the cacao tree to them, Aztecs also used the beans as offerings to the gods. They also are said to have used chocolate to calm those who were about to become human sacrifice.

The scientific name Theobroma cacao was given to the species by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1753, when he published it in his famous book Species Plantarum. He used Sloane’s text and drawings as the basis for descriptions of new species. Theobroma means ‘food of the gods’ in Latin, and cacao is derived from the Nahuatl (Aztec language) word xocolatl, from xococ (bitter) and atl (water).
Present day Chocolate culture

While cacao is no longer used as money, today it plays a central role in cultures around the world. Chocolate features in holidays and special occasions and to some extent still doubles as medicine.

Who Eats The Most?

In 2010, Switzerland led, at 22 pounds per person. Austria and Ireland followed at 20 pounds and 19 pounds. The United States comes in at 11th place, with Americans gobbling nearly 12 pounds apiece each year.

Special Occasions

In the United States, many of the chocolate dollars spent go toward celebrating holidays, to bring home Valentine’s hearts or Easter bunnies, Halloween candy and chocolate Santa’s.

In Mesoamerica, where humans first ate cacao, ritual use survives. In Mexico, hot chocolate may accompany festive foods for two Christian holidays, the 12 Days of Christmas and Candlemas. Mexicans also celebrate Dia de la Muertos (Day of the Dead) from October 31 to November 2 by giving balls, bars and drinks of chocolate to friends and family and honouring the deceased with chocolate offerings.

Medicinal Use

chocolate-4Throughout history, chocolate has been used to treat a wide variety of ailments—most commonly to help thin patients gain weight, to stimulate the nervous systems of feeble people, to calm those who are hyperactive, or to improve digestion and kidney function.

It is used as an ingredient in cosmetic ointments and in pharmacy for coating pills and preparing suppositories. It has excellent emollient properties and is used to soften and protect chapped hands and lips. Theobromine, the alkaloid contained in the beans, resembles caffeine in its action, but its effect on the central nervous system is less powerful. Its action on muscle, the kidneys and the heart is more pronounced. It is used principally for its diuretic effect due to stimulation of the renal epithelium; it is especially useful when there is an accumulation of fluid in the body resulting from cardiac failure, when it is often given with digitalis to relieve dilatation. It is also employed in high blood pressure as it dilates the blood-vessels.

The Spanish

At the start of the 16th century, Christopher Columbus had presented cacao beans from the Caribbean to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella as a curiosity, but they were considered them further. In 1519, the Aztec emperor Montezuma served chocolate drink to his new guest, the conquistador Hernando Cortes. The Aztecs thought that Cortes was the reincarnation of an exiled god-king. Instead, he had come-calling to find the much rumoured Aztec gold, and within three years he brought down the Aztec empire.

Cortes brought cacao to Spain in 1529 and sweetened the cacao drink for Spaniards, adding copious amounts of sugar that was unavailable in Mesoamerica. Before sailing home, he also planted cacao trees in the Caribbean. For nearly 100 years, Spanish aristocrats secretly enjoyed this new delicacy, adding cinnamon and vanilla to the sugar and serving it steaming hot. As the drink gained popularity, the Spanish planted more cacao trees across their colonies in Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru and Jamaica.

Soon after, the Spanish opened their first cocoa processing plant in 1580 and news of cacao was out, as it were and the use of cacao spread across Europe, the earliest uses recoded in France and Italy.


In 1672 Sir Hans Sloane details in the American Physician a medicinal recipe using milk in drinking chocolate and brings a cacao tree specimen back from Jamaica to England two years later in 1689. Whilst in Jamaica Sloane becomes interested in the bitter drink Jamaicans make by boiling roasted beans from a local tree in water. He believes it to have therapeutic properties but because the taste is unpalatable, he boils the beans in milk and sugar, creating the first milk chocolate drink—hot cocoa. He brings his recipe back to England and sells it to an apothecary who markets the product as “Sir Hans Sloane’s milk chocolate.”

Trade-card ‘Sir Hans Sloane’s Milk Chocolate’. Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Trade-card ‘Sir Hans Sloane’s Milk Chocolate’

Soon after, William White sold it in his White’s Chocolate House and so, Sir Hans Sloane’s Milk Chocolate was launched. The Cadbury brothers later used the same recipe for over 35 years.

Upon Sloane’s returned to England in 1689. He published in two volumes the information he had gathered in Jamaica. This work contains careful and very readable descriptions of not only the plants and animals he encountered but also how natural resources were used by the islands’ inhabitants. Hans Sloane’s collections went on to found the British Museum, and his chocolate specimen can be seen on display in the Darwin Centre in the Natural History Museum in London.

The scientific name Theobroma cacao was given to the species by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1753, when he published it in his famous book Species Plantarum. He used Sloane’s text and drawings as the basis for descriptions of new species. Theobroma means ‘food of the gods’ in Latin, and cacao is derived from Nahuatl (Aztec language) word xocolatl, from xococ (bitter) and atl (water).

The first official shipment of cacao beans arrived in Europe from the so called New World in 1585 and by early 17th century, it was all the rage in the palaces, mansions and monasteries of Baroque Europe, a mark of exquisite gentility. As the drink spread through the continent it was ever-more refined, drunk hot, sweet, and mixed with cinnamon. Surviving recipes give us cause to lament the powdery, watery froth that passes for hot chocolate in so many of London’s cafés and restaurants today! The Third Duke of Tuscany, also known as the gluttonous tyrant Cosimo de’ Medici, liked to take his chocolate infused with fresh jasmine flowers, amber, musk, vanilla and ambergris. No wonder chocolate was described in 1797 as the drink of the gods.

The impetus for London’s chocolate craze seems to have come from an unlikely quarter: France. In 1657, various newspapers were reporting that the public could sample, buy or learn how to make an ‘excellent West India drink’ called chocolate from a Frenchman, ‘the first man who did sell it in England’ at a chocolate house tucked away in Queen’s Head Alley in Bishopsgate Street, in the east of London’s business district.

For a city with little tradition of hot drinks (coffee had only arrived five years earlier), chocolate was an alien, suspect substance drink associated with popery and idleness (i.e. France and Spain); a market had to be generated. Within the next decade, a slew of pamphlets appeared proclaiming the miraculous, panacean – cure all – qualities of the new drink, which would boost fertility, cure consumption, alleviate indigestion and reverse ageing: a mere lick, it was said, would ‘make old women young and fresh, create new motions of the flesh’. For Samuel Pepys, chocolate was the perfect cure for a hangover, relieving his ‘sad head’ and ‘imbecilic stomach’ the day after Charles II’s bacchanalian coronation. The commonest claim, however — one inherited from the Aztecs and still perpetuated by chocolate companies the world over today — was that chocolate was a supremely powerful aphrodisiac.

The public was sold on this mendacious publicity campaign. Unlike in Paris and Madrid, chocolate drinking was not confined to the social elite; it was available in many of London’s coffeehouses (albeit in a more rough-and-ready and milky form than Cosimo’s brew) but since it was more expensive, and less of a caffeine hit, it was never drunk as widely. It was only around St James’s Square that a cluster of super-elite self-styled ‘chocolate houses’ sprouted and flourished.

Harvested in appalling conditions by African slaves in Jamaica, chocolate was thus consumed in one of the most exclusive addresses in Europe by the crème de la crème of British society, cementing chocolate’s association with decadence and luxury in the popular imagination.

The principal chocolate houses were Ozinda’s and White’s, both on St James’s Street, and the Cocoa Tree on Pall Mall. As befitted their location their interiors were a cut above the wooden, workmanlike interiors of the City coffeehouses, boasting Queen Anne sofas, polished tables, dandyish waiters and, at least in Ozinda’s case, a collection of valuable paintings for the customers to admire. It must have been unsettling for George I, the new Hanoverian King, to know that mere yards from the entrance to his palace, crypto-Jacobite’s were huddled together, sipping chocolate, and plotting his downfall. At the height of the Jacobite Rebellion in 1715, the king’s messengers burst into a packed Ozinda’s and dragged away its proprietor along with some of his customers as Jacobite traitors and incarcerated them in Newgate. Ostensibly, the Cocoa Tree was more respectable — in the early 18th century, it was the informal headquarters of the Tory party where policy and parliamentary strategy were concerted over chocolate and newspapers. Yet a significant wing of the party were crypto-Jacobite’s and it’s no surprise to read in the Manchester Guardian of 1932 that workmen drilling into St James’s Street discovered a secret underground passage (or ‘bolt hole’) leading from the site of the Cocoa Tree to a tavern in Piccadilly for Jacobite’s to flee to safety.

For what we might term ‘kamikaze gambling’, though, nothing compared to White’s Chocolate House and few London venues can have had such opprobrium heaped upon them by satirists and moralists. ‘Hell’, the inner gaming room at White’s, is depicted in the sixth episode of Hogarth’s Rake’s Progress in all its debauched glory (fittingly, it is also on fire, though few customers seem to notice or care). It is a picture of greed and despair; the posture of the ruined rake, hands held high as though for divine intercession, seems oddly prescient of Gericault’s Raft of Medusa except in White’s, everyone is an author of their own destruction rather than cast adrift on the mercy of nature.

The legendary White’s Betting Book, an archive of wagers placed between 1743 and 1878, by which point the chocolate house had evolved into a club, lends credence to Hogarth’s attacks. Much of the time it reads like a litany of morbid and bizarre predictions: ‘Mr Howard bets Colonel Cooke six guineas that six members of White’s Club die between this day of July 1818 and this day of 1819’, reads one typical entry (Colonel Cooke won). Elsewhere there are bets on which celebrities would outlive others; the length of pregnancies; the outcomes of battles; the madness of George III; the future price of stock; and whether a politician would turn up to the Commons in a red gown or not.

Yet middle-class moralists such as Hogarth were looking in on a world they didn’t understand and from which they were excluded. Just as Henry Jermyn’s St James’s Square was laid out in competition with the Earl of Southampton’s Bloomsbury Square, for the beau monde living in such close quarters, life was one big game of conspicuous consumption. To place the modern-day equivalent of £180,000 on the roll of a single die, as happened at the Cocoa Tree in 1780, may strike us as downright nihilistic but for the Georgian nobility it was a way of projecting their status, giving every meaning to their frequently idle, chocolate-guzzling existence.

White’s still exists today as a super-exclusive private members’ club at 37 St James’s Street with 500 members and a nine-year waiting list; supposedly the only woman ever to have visited is a certain Elizabeth Windsor in 1991. Yet lost its association with chocolate and indeed in London as a whole, traditional chocolate houses for “drinking chocolate, betting and reading the newspapers”, as one American visitor to eighteenth-century London put it, are few and far between.

What Is Cacao And Cocoa?

The cacao fruit tree, also known as Theobroma Cacao, produces cacao pods, which are cracked open to release cacao beans. From there, cacao beans can be processed a few different ways. Cacao butter is the fattiest part of the fruit and makes up the outer lining of the inside of a single cacao bean. It is white in colour and has a rich, buttery texture that resembles white chocolate in taste and appearance. Cacao butter is removed from the bean during production and the remaining part of the fruit is used to produce raw cacao powder.

Cocoa is the heated form of cacao that forms cocoa powder. Cocoa powder is produced similarly to cacao except cocoa undergoes a higher temperature of heat during processing. Surprisingly, it still retains a large amount of antioxidants in the process and is still excellent for your heart, skin, blood pressure, and even your stress levels.
The difference between dark, milk and white chocolate.

Milk chocolate is a solid chocolate made with milk (in the form of milk powder, liquid milk or condensed milk). The difference between dark chocolate and milk chocolate is that it does not have any milk solids added. Dark chocolate will generally have a higher percentage of cocoa solids and can range from 30% to 80% in cocoa solid make-up. Because of this, it is fuller in real chocolate taste and results in a drier, chalkier texture. Perhaps the most pronounced difference in taste is the deeper bitterness of dark chocolate which tickles the palette in aftertaste. Whereas milk and dark chocolate are produced from various proportions of the non-fat part of the cocoa bean, white chocolate contains no cocoa solids whatsoever. Instead, white chocolate is made from cocoa butter, a pale yellow edible vegetable fat, which has a cocoa aroma and flavour. Because cocoa butter doesn’t taste good on its own, milk, sugar and sometimes vanilla are added to deliver a sweet and creamy product.

Production And Process

ChocolateMost of the world’s cocoa is grown in the narrow belt 10 degrees either side of the Equator because cocoa trees grow well in humid tropical climates with regular rain and short dry season. How is Chocolate produced? Chocolate is a product that requires complex procedures to produce.


Cocoa comes from tropical evergreen Cocoa trees, such as Theobroma Cocoa, which grow in the wet lowland tropics of Central and South America, West Africa and Southeast Asia.
Cocoa beans grow in pods that sprout off of the trunk and branches of cocoa trees. The pods are about the size of a football. When the pods are ripe, harvesters hack the pods gently off of the trees. Workers must harvest the pods by hand, using short, hooked blades mounted on long poles to reach the highest fruit. The pods are split open and the cocoa beans are removed. Pods can contain upwards of 50 cocoa beans each.

The beans undergo the fermentation processing. They are either placed in large, shallow, heated trays or covered with large banana leaves or simply heated by the sun. The beans are stirred to create equal fermentation. This process may take five or eight days to turn the beans brown. After fermentation, the cocoa seeds must be dried before they can be scooped into sacks and shipped to chocolate manufacturers.

Manufacturing Chocolate

Firstly, fermented and dried cocoa beans will be refined to a roasted nib by winnowing and roasting. Then, they will be heated and melted into chocolate liquor. Lastly blend chocolate liquor with sugar and milk to add flavour. After the blending process, the liquid chocolate will be poured into moulds. Finally the chocolate is wrapped and packaged.

Chocolate For The Masses

The new craze for chocolate enhanced the international slave market between the 1600s and 1800s as cacao plantations spread throughout the English, Dutch and French colonies. Due to the laboriousness of the production process, chocolate remained a luxury for the wealthy until the Industrial Revolution when steam-powered engines were introduced to speed the production of the bean.

chocolate-3As innovations were made to increase the speed of production, new techniques and approaches altered the texture and taste. In 1815, Coenraad van Houten, a Dutch chemist, introduced alkaline salts to chocolate to reduce its bitterness. In 1828, he created a press to remove about half the natural fat (cacao butter) from chocolate, making it cheaper to produce and more consistent in quality. Known as “Dutch cocoa”, the machine-pressed chocolate led to the transformation of chocolate to the solid form we know today. With Van Houten’s breakthrough, the British chocolate manufacturers, J.S. Fry & Sons, found a way to mix a blend of cacao powder and sugar with melted cacao butter instead of warm water. This produced a thinner paste, which could be cast into a mould. By the latter half of the nineteenth century, J.S. Fry & Sons were the largest chocolate manufacturers in the world, in part because they were the sole supplier of chocolate and cacao to the Royal Navy. But the firm always had to contend with its greatest rival Cadbury’s, who had released the first “chocolate box.” Chocolate confections had now become big business in Great Britain, Europe and in America. Many candy manufacturers now began using cocoa powder in liquid form to hand-coat sugar confections. Cocoa powder also became a widely used flavouring ingredient in cake, ice-cream and biscuit recipes.

Since the end of the 19th century, Switzerland has dominated the world of chocolate, and today its citizens are the number one consumers of the substance. The invention of true milk chocolate was a collaborative effort between Henri Nestle, a Swiss chemist who discovered a process to make powdered milk by evaporation in 1867, and Daniel Peter, a Swiss chocolate manufacturer who decided to use Nestlé’s powdered milk in a new kind of chocolate. In 1879 the first milk chocolate bar was produced.

Milton Hershey, “The Henry Ford of Chocolate Makers”, became a formidable rival to his European competitors, when he applied a version of mass production to the chocolate industry. Hershey’s mass-produced milk chocolate required huge amounts of milk and sugar. The milk was supplied by the 8000 acres of dairy farms, owned by Hershey, in the surrounding area. The sugar used in the Pennsylvania factory was supplied by Hershey’s sugar-mill in Cuba. Everything was mechanized, in true assembly-line fashion; by the late 1920’s, 23,000kg of Hershey’s cocoa was produced each day at the factory. The most famous and popular of Hershey’s products were the “Hershey’s Kisses” – bite-sized, individually wrapped, flat-bottomed drops of milk chocolate. By the 1980’s twenty five million Kisses were made daily.

More information:

Watch: The Story of… Chocolate

A Global Guide To Coffee Tasting

A Global Guide To Coffee Tasting

Coffee primarily grows within a belt thirty degrees north and south of the equator, between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. Within this belt, more than eighty countries grow great coffee throughout Asia, Africa and the Americas. Within each region, different countries and even different areas within countries have even more specific qualities. Like fine wines, if you really want to explore and imbibe, the world of coffee offers unlimited opportunities for your palate.


African coffees are known for their high acidity and floral tones. The acidity is not a result of the type of plant grown, rather it is because farmers in Africa tend to soak their beans in water for up to five days, much longer than elsewhere in the world, a much longer period of fermentation for the beans and acidity to more fully develop. Some of the great African coffees include Ethiopian – There are several amazing growing regions in Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee. In the northeast of the country is Harar, an exceptionally arid region in a very arid country. The coffee grows in the hills surrounding the ancient walled city of Harar, where medieval trade routes from the south and north once met. Many farmers in Harar dry their coffee inside the cherry, rather than stripping the cherry fruit off first (largely for lack of water to enable the process). This is called the sun-dried method. This method of processing results in a fruitier cup. Hara is known as one of the milder, softer Ethiopian varieties.

In the south are the regions of Yirgacheffe and Sidamowhere coffee was originally found by the goatherd Kaldi, who watched his goats prance crazily after eating red cherries off a bush. Yirgacheffe is one of the most prized coffees in the world, noted for its citrus and lemony tones, as well as a floral aroma. The Yirgacheffe and Sidamo regions intertwine around various mountain passes, and the coffees are often indistinguishable.

Sidamos tend to be a little milder or smoother than Yirgacheffes. Less popular coffees from Ethiopia include Limu, Jimma, Bebeka and Lekempte.


Coffee from Kenya has an amazing, high acidity combined with a bright, winey taste. Unlike other origins, there is hardly any shade used in Kenya, meaning there are no certified organic coffees available from this area. Kenyan coffee comes in at a high price in their national auction system, a holdover from the British colonial days, but little of that money reaches the farmers. Look for Kenya AA or Peaberry (only one bean per cherry instead of the typical two)
for quality Kenyan coffee.

Other African Coffees To Look For

Rwandan coffee has really come up in the last ten years as the government and foreign aid groups have poured money into new processing stations, thereby increasing the quality and consistency of this coffee. Rwandan coffee tends to be full-bodied and acidic. The newest entry in African speciality coffee is Burundi, which has also received large aid for upgrading processing. Similarly, coffee from Congo is beginning to appear as aid groups work to create a decent economy in that ravaged land. Ugandan and Tanzanian coffees share similar characteristics with Kenyan at a lesser price but tends to be a milder cup.

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony


There are a wide variety of great Asian coffees coming from a kaleidoscope of cultures. The overall character of Asian coffees is their full body and resilience. They are wonderful in lighter roasts and due to their denseness, also hold their character well into the dark roast stage. Differences in processing mean that many Asian coffees carry a distinct earthiness that differentiates them from other regions.


Coffee was introduced to Indonesia (the East Indies) by the Dutch in the mid-1600’s to break the monopoly of the Turkish and Arabic traders over the beans that were, at the time, only grown in Ethiopia and Yemen. The Indonesian archipelago is made up of well over a thousand islands, big and small. Many of these grow spectacular coffee, some of which are the most in-demand in the trade, particularly for organic coffees. Lush forest cover and rich volcanic soils of the region make for extremely full-bodied coffees.

The highest rated coffees in Indonesia come from northern Sumatra where the Gayo Mountain, Lintong, and Mandheling coffees take top prizes as among the best in the world. Super full-bodied, amazingly low in acidity, slightly sweet and syrupy, with a touch (or sometimes rather more!) of that earthiness that so distinguishes these coffees.


Produces another great Indonesian coffee from the Toraja region in the north part of that island. These coffees are smooth and clean, often with hints of nuts or spices underneath, perhaps because Sulawesi is on the outer fringe of the fables Spice Islands, the birthplace of nutmeg, mace and cloves. The island of Java produces coffees that are solid, with good body and a milder flavour than the Sumatrans, but still worth a try. Bali and Flores are more recent entries into the speciality coffee markets, sweet, full-bodied and slightly herbal or floral.

Papua-New Guinea (PNG)

A wild, untamed land that is relatively new to the coffee world. PNG coffee growing only began in the 1920’s when stocks of Jamaican coffees were transplanted there. But it takes many hands to make a great cup and most PNG coffees suffer from erratic processing or poor roads and infrastructure. At the same time, well-tended and processed PNG from the Central Highlands can match a good Sumatran in body and earthiness.

East Timor

screen-shot-2015-10-30-at-16-19-17A small independent island at the eastern edge of the Indonesian archipelago, East Timor coffee generally gets blended into two large growing regions of Maubesse and Ermera. That means the crop quality fluctuates year to year as buyers can’t know what’s in each bag. When the coffee is identified and segregated by growing village, like Timor Atsabe, the cup can be full-bodied, slightly nutty and very aromatic. This is a hard one to find but worth the effort for a real Javatrekker!

The Americas

Central and South America offer many wonderful coffees with surprisingly different characteristics. Factors accounting for the differences include altitudes, soils (whether volcanic or fertile Amazonian), processing techniques and varying coffee plant varietals used. Most Latin American coffees, however, have lost the earthier tastes as a result of the harmonisation of processing and drying techniques across the lands that have occurred in the last decade. The coffees range from smoky (Guatemala), sweet and mild (Peru), classic body and smoothness (Colombia) to slightly edgier and tart (Costa Rica).


Nicaragua has become a leading coffee producer in the Americas due to the great volcanic soils and the increased professionalism of the farmers. Nicaraguan coffees are bold yet smooth, relatively low acidity, consistent and well processed. Look for coffees from Esteli, Jinotega, Matagalpa and Nueva Segovia.


screen-shot-2015-10-30-at-16-25-19A mountainous country speckled with a dozen different indigenous peoples trying hard to hold onto their cultures in an increasingly globalizing era, Guatemala produces amazing coffees. There are actually eight identified microclimatic regions around Guatemala and each produces a slightly different flavour profile. Notable regions include Huehuetenango (acidic and winey), Chimaltenango (sweet, acidic, citrusy), Lake Atitlan (full-bodied and citrusy) and Antigua (rich aroma, sweet taste). The dominant characteristics of Guatemalan coffees are their smoky, bold taste, pleasant acidity and hidden sweetness.


Colombia has traditionally set the standard for Latin American coffees, particularly with the power of the state and Juan Valdez brand behind them. It is consistently sweet, medium bodied and notably smooth with medium acidity. The best Colombians are really good, but the average Colombian is, well, pretty average, and has been used forever as a grocery store and diner coffee. Try and seek out a named coffee from Colombia, from regions such as Narino, Magdelena, Medellin, Bucaramanga, Popayan and Huila. If it doesn’t have a regional identification, it is probably pretty mundane.


This is the forgotten child of the speciality coffee world. Peru is a huge country, so much so that the growing seasons differ by a month or so even within the same country. Peruvian coffees are noteworthy for their mildness and sweetness, despite being grown at exceptionally high altitudes on the Amazonian slopes of the Andes. As the flavour and mild acidity roast away, they are better in a light roast than dark. But a soft, sweet Peruvian is a subtle charm and can really be appreciated if you take your time with it. One of the most easily drinkable black coffees, with wonderful coffees coming from the Chanchamayo, Pangoa and Lamas.


Another mild coffee from Central America. There are several coffee regions in Mexico and each has slightly different characteristics, but by and large you can count on Mexican coffee to be smooth and round in the mouth, medium acidity, not too bold, whether they come from Chiapas (nutty and sometimes slightly spicy), Vera Cruz (slight cocoa taste), or Oaxaca (almonds).

Of course, Brazil is the largest coffee producing country in the world, yet it does not top the charts for taste. Brazilian coffee makes some great espressos, and the flavours can range from bittersweet and cocoa dry to mild, nutty and low acid, but you won’t know which until you try it. Notable growing regions include Minas Gerais, Sao Paulo, Espirito Santo, and Parana. Other coffee growing countries in the Americas include El Salvador, Honduras and Panama.

More information:

Watch: The Story of… Coffee

Watch: Coffee: The Drink That Changed America


The Journey of Spices

The Journey of Spices

Spices conjure images of tempting culinary art, fascinating travels and bitter struggles for supremacy. Expressions like variety are the spice of life and sugar and spice and all that is nice illustrate how spellbound were people of letters about the fascination of spices.

In the global south or as was commonly the East, spices are indeed the soul of food. In the global north or West, they evoke dreams of exotic tropical islands, exciting expeditions to the sources of Spice, and the rise and fall of empires.

Columbus headed westward from Europe in 1492 to find a sea route to the so-called, ‘Land of Spices’, instead he found the New World. Eight years later Vasco da Gama sailed around Africa touching Kozhikode on the South West coast of India. Long before that, Arabs were trading with the then known ‘Orient’ through land routes, and during the 13th century, Marco Polo experienced the attraction of spices in his travels.

Vast fortunes made and squandered, powerful rulers seduced, ailments cured, and nations discovered – all in the name of spice. Always casting a spell on our imaginations, spices flatter our senses: sight with their vibrant colours, smell with their enticing fragrances and taste with their distinct flavours.

Story of SpiceSpices have been the catalysts of some of the greatest adventures in human history, from Christopher Columbus to Vasco da Gama, as well as being the driving force for the British East India Company and the British Empire, whose merchants turned London into the greatest spice market in the world for 200 years.

More dramatic, through the book Nathaniel’s Nutmeg, is the transfer of Manhattan Island in 1667 to England in exchange for the nutmeg rich island, Run to the Dutch.

Though the word “spice” didn’t appear until the end of the 12th century, the use of herbs dates back to ancient eras. Early civilisations wrapped meat in the leaves of bushes, accidentally discovering that this enhanced the taste of the meat, as did certain nuts, seeds, berries – and even bark.

It is claimed that the lavish use of spices in ancient times was a way to mask the often unpleasant taste and odour of food, and later, to keep food fresh. However, this myth is dubious as the cost and value of spices has always been very high, so it would be unlikely that you would use something very expensive on cheaper, less fresh, food.

Precious Commodities

The first spice expeditions were organized in ancient times to ensure that these coveted commodities would always be in supply. Legend has it that in 1000 BC the Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon in Jerusalem to offer him “120 measures of gold, many spices, and precious stones.” A handful of cardamom was worth as much as a poor man’s yearly wages, and many slaves were bought and sold for a few cups of peppercorns.

Arab traders were the first to introduce spices into Europe. Realizing that they controlled a commodity in great demand, the traders kept their sources of supply secret and made up fantastic tales of the dangers involved in obtaining spices. At the crossroads of land trade from India and sea trade from the Mediterranean, spices played a huge role in Phoenician trade. The

Phoenicians were expert merchants and smooth navigators; so much so that at the end of the 14th century BC, spices were called “Phoenician merchandise.” These slick middlemen knew how to offer their services to kings as well as pharaohs in order to extend their supply sites and possibly pave the way to India.

Pepper Reigns The Roman Empire

The Roman Empire, whose boundaries progressively extended from one side of the Mediterranean to the other, couldn’t ignore these bewitching spices. Cleopatra herself used a “very stimulating” food to seduce Caesar. Huge quantities of saffron were strewn on the streets of Rome to celebrate Nero’s entrance into the city. The reputed excesses of ancient Roman food consumption were apparent in the wide variety of seasonings used in the meals of the rich. Long pepper, the Roman spice of choice, was as omnipresent as garum Iberico (a special salty fish paste from Portugal) on the Roman tables. Without a doubt, spices were elevated to a status symbol.

Story of SpiceIn the biblical story of the Magi, three kings from the exotic reaches of the Orient give gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the newborn Jesus Christ. Frankincense and myrrh were rare, very expensive spices of the time. And in the 5th century, the Prophet Mohammed, from the merchant tribe of the Quora sites, took advantage of the spice trade to spread his Holy Message.

Spices In The Middle Ages

From the 10th century on, the crusades prompted a rediscovery of spices; seasonings made an obvious comeback to the tables of the great and powerful European courts. It was mainly from what was then referred to as the ‘Orient’, overland via Arabia and the Red Sea, Egypt and the ports of Venice and Genoa that spices reached Britain. Venetian merchants, strategically located midway between the Levant and Western Europe, became the great middlemen of the spice trade. They sent their cargoes via Flanders and the Low Countries for sale in local markets to supply the Northern European countries.

Certain spices were worth so much that one of them even became currency, such as pepper. In court, litigants bribed judges with spices. Culinary and medicinal uses overlapped, and grocers and apothecaries often worked in the same companies. Besides traditional black pepper, some of the other prized spices of the era were long pepper from Sumatra, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and galangal (a ginger-like spice from Southeast Asia).

The European Navigators Set Sail

As with any great discovery, the opening of the Southern seaboard spice route was no accident. Portuguese navigators and geographers had been working at it for over a half-century. Henry the navigator, who encouraged exploration of the African coast, was the most famous of them. Christopher Columbus set sail in 1492 to head west and find gold and spices, hoping to hit the Indian coast where these precious commodities could be found. Controlling and supplying the spice market were key objectives for the Portuguese and Spanish powers at the time in their goal to overturn the Arab and Venetian monopoly in the Mediterranean.

The virtual monopoly that Venice had held of the European spice trade and which had made the Serene Republic rich – was doomed. One day in May 1498 Vasco da Gama anchored his ship off the coast of India. The Arab merchants were shocked to see a Portuguese man on Indian shores. “We are looking for Christians and spices,” stated the Portuguese navigator, and with that, the Arabs saw their monopoly crumble. The sea route to India was discovered at last.

Three months later da Gama set off on his return voyage to Lisbon, bearing news that the ruler of Calicut was prepared to barter cinnamon and cloves, ginger and pepper for gold, silver and (strangely) scarlet cloth. The European spice trade passed into the hands of the Portuguese, who held on to it – with difficulty – for a century, only to lose it to the Dutch, whose trade with Java and the Spice Islands, as the Moluccas came to be known, led to the formation in 1602 of the powerful Dutch East India Company.

By the 1680s, the Dutch had established a total monopoly of the highly profitable trade in cloves and nutmegs, while the Portuguese retained a corner in the cinnamon business. At this period, British cooking was still heavy with ginger and pepper, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. The food of Italy, Portugal, France, Holland and Germany was similarly spiced and scented.

p1010906It was not until towards the middle of the seventeenth century that the British East India Company held a monopoly on all trade with India and that the British began developing its cooking along lines we recognise today. Spices and sugar were readily available and became relatively cheap, and were, therefore, less prized and used with more discretion. But the economic value of these products declined as farming sites increased.

The Dutch jealously protected access to the Moluccas for fear of seeing their clove and nutmeg trees exported to other regions, which would have ruined their monopoly. Thievery of this sort was punishable by death. After many attempts, a few pepper and nutmeg trees were successfully transplanted to Mauritius Island. This eventually led to a dispersion of plant production sites across Dutch, English, and French colonial empires, which involved spices in addition to coffee, cocoa, and many other plants. The tight reins on the industry were loosening.

Where Are We Now?

Today, colonial empires have all but vanished, physically speaking of course and spices are used in almost everything we eat, and costs are relatively low. It is hard to imagine that these fragrant bits of leaves, seeds, and bark were once so coveted and costly. For centuries wars were waged, new lands discovered, and the earth circled, all in the quest of spices. However, many of the spices have other purported properties as well as their culinary uses, such as nutmeg which is believed by some to be an aphrodisiac.

Thanks to the vogue of international travel, we can engage in our own spice conquest now. We can stroll through market stalls around the world where spices, perfumes, and exotic plants and flowers enchant the senses. And when we take these scents and tastes of far-reaching places back to our homes, we are again compelled to discover the allure of the unknown.

More information:

Watch: The Story of… Spice

A Short History Of Beer

A Short History Of Beer

Many anthropologists and archaeologists now believe that it was a taste for beer, not bread that started people farming barley around 9000 BC. Known as the agricultural revolution, it ended hunter-gathering and led to the world’s first ever civilization – Mesopotamia.

10,000 BC – 5,000 BC: Beer is first discovered, and perhaps responsible for the formation of society.

4000 BC: In the Middle East the Sumer people were fermenting a form of bread to make a fermented pulp which had an intoxicating effect – a “divine drink”.

3,000 BC – 500 BC: Ancient Egyptians drank beer daily, and it was often prescribed as Medicine. The Babylonians had up to 20 different types of beer. The early beer was cloudy and unfiltered and was usually drunk through a straw to avoid drinking the solids from the brew, which could be very bitter.  Beer also featured in wedding traditions.  The father of the bride made a Beer Month for the bridegroom during the first month after the wedding. This means that the newly married man could drink beer chock-full at his father-in-law’s expense.

2000 BC: Beer was commonly drunk because it is more nutritious than bread and less likely to contain harmful pathogens than drinking water, which can make you ill. During harvest, instead of payment, participants are rewarded with a special feast, often involving quantities of alcohol, which also transformed the work from a chore into a social event.  The people of the Bronze Age, it seems, were well aware of the relaxing properties of alcohol.

1772 BC: Hammurabi’s Code regulates daily rations of beer depending on status.

1550 BC: The Egyptians were also keen brewers and beer and malt has been found buried in the tombs of the Pharoahs to provide sustenance for the afterlife.

100 AD: Beer was extensively drunk throughout the Roman Empire. The Romans preferred wine and introduced grapes into much of the Southern part of the Empire including the South of England. The local inhabitants tended to drink beer. Beer from this time had to be consumed fresh, was served cloudy and would have produced little or no foam. To aid its taste and keeping properties bitter herbs and spices may have been used.

The Middle Ages: In the Middle Ages the largest brewers were the monasteries. The refreshing beer made a welcome break in a very austere lifestyle and could still be enjoyed during times of fasting. Monks soon acquired a taste for ale and records show that in some monasteries consumption up to five litres a day was allowed.

c. 800 AD: Hops are first used to flavour beer. The first recorded use of hops in beer dates back to 822AD in Northern France, but it wasn’t for another 300 years that Germany caught on and it only became commonplace in the 13th century.  The addition of hops slowly spread throughout Europe, reaching Britain by the middle of the 15th century.  Before people used hops to flavour beer, they used spices and herbs – a mixture known as gruit.

c. 1300: Beer shifts commercial production from home sin to pubs and monasteries.

1516 Medieval Germans nearly ruined beer forever.  The world’s first food ingredient regulation is the Reinheitsgebot German Purity Law and extended to the whole of Bavaria in 1516.  It later included the rest of Germany.  The law stipulated that beer could only be brewed from water, hops and malt (the use of yeast was not yet known).  This created a very bland lager.

The Brewer designed and engraved in the sixteenth century by J Amman

Beer In Early European History

By the 14th and 15th centuries, beer-making was gradually changing from a family-oriented activity to an artisan one, with pubs and monasteries brewing their own beer for mass consumption.

In 15th century England, an unhopped beer would have been known as an ale, while the use of hops would make it a beer. Hopped beer was imported to England from the Netherlands as early as 1400 in Winchester, and hops were being planted on the island by 1428. The popularity of hops was at first mixed — the Brewers Company of London went so far as to state “no hops, herbs, or other like thing be put into any ale or liquor wherof ale shall be made — but only liquor (water), malt, and yeast.” However, by the 16th century, “ale” had come to refer to any strong beer, and all ales and beers were hopped.

In 1516, William IV, Duke of Bavaria, adopted the Reinheitsgebot (purity law), perhaps the oldest food regulation still in use today. The Gebot ordered that the ingredients of beer be restricted to water, barley, and hops, with yeast added after Louis Pasteur’s discovery in 1857. The Bavarian law was applied throughout Germany as part of the 1871 German unification as the German Empire under Otto von Bismarck, and has since been updated to reflect modern trends in beer brewing. To this day, the Gebot is considered a mark of purity in beers, although this is controversial.

Most beers until relatively recent times were what are now called ales. Lagers were discovered by accident in the 16th century after beer was stored in cool caverns for long periods; they have since largely outpaced ales in terms of volume.

The Caledonian Brewery, founded in 1869, Edinburgh, Scotland

The Caledonian Brewery, Scotland

Beer During The Industrial Revolution

With the invention of the steam engine in 1765, industrialization of beer became a reality. Further innovations in the brewing process came about with the introduction of the thermometer and hydrometer in the 19th century, which allowed brewmasters to increase efficiency and attenuation.

Prior to the late 18th century, malt was primarily dried over fires made from wood, charcoal, or straw, and after 1600, from coke.

In general, none of these early malts would have been well shielded from the smoke involved in the kilning process, and consequently, early beers would have had a smoky component to their flavors; evidence indicates that maltsters and brewers constantly tried to minimize the smokiness of the finished beer.

Writers of the period describe the distinctive taste derived from wood-smoked malts, and the almost universal revulsion it engendered. The smoked beers and ales of the West Country were famous for being undrinkable – locals and the desperate excepted. This is from “Directions for Brewing Malt Liquors” (1700):

“In most parts of the West, their malt is so stenched with the Smoak of the Wood, with which ’tis dryed, that no Stranger can endure it, though the inhabitants, who are familiarized to it, can swallow it as the Hollanders do their thick Black Beer Brewed with Buck Wheat.”

So, a bit of an acquired taste, then. Here’s an even earlier reference to such malt by William Harrison, in his “Description of England”, 1577:

“In some places it [malt] is dried at leisure with wood alone, or straw alone, in other with wood and straw together, but, of all, the straw-dried is the most excellent. For the wood-dried malt, when it is brewed, beside that the drink is higher of colour, it doth hurt and annoy the head of him that is not used thereto, because of the smoke. Such also as use both indifferently do bark, cleave, and dry their wood in an oven, thereby to remove all moisture that should procure the fume…”

Not exactly an unequivocal endorsement. Here’s what “London and Country Brewer” (1736) has to say:

“Brown Malts are dryed with Straw, Wood and Fern, etc.The straw-dryed is the best, but the wood sort has a most unnatural Taste, that few can bear with, but the necessitous, and those that are accustomed to its strong smoaky tang; yet it is much used in some of the Western Parts of England, and many thousand Quarters of this malt has been formerly used in London for brewing the Butt-keeoing-beers with, and that because it sold for two shillings per Quarter cheaper than Straw-dryed Malt, nor was this Quality of the Wood-dryed Malt much regarded by some of its Brewers, for that its ill Taste is lost in nine or twelve Months, by the Age of the Beer, and the strength of the great Quantity of Hops that were used in its preservation.”

Wood-dried malt had a horrible taste, but some London brewers did once use it because it was cheap and after long aging in a heavily-hopped beer you didn’t notice the vile smokiness any more.

However, the straw-dried brown malt preferred in London was the least affected. That was the very reason it was valued above the wood-dried variety. In “Town and Country Brewery Book” (approx. 1830, p.47), there is a chapter about what can go wrong during malting. Smoking malt was seen as a serious mistake:

“The third error consists in the drying of malt. They are apt to be tainted by the smoke, through the carelessness, covetousness, or unskilfulness of the maker. Every care ought to be taken to guard against this accident as one of the most prejudicial that can befall malt drinks.”

The hydrometer transformed how beer was brewed. Before its introduction beers were brewed from a single malt: brown beers from brown malt, amber beers from amber malt, pale beers from pale malt. Using the hydrometer, brewers could calculate the yield from different malts. They observed that pale malt, though more expensive, yielded far more fermentable material than cheaper malts. For example, brown malt (used for Porter) gave 54 pounds of extract per quarter, whilst pale malt gave 80 pounds. Once this was known, brewers switched to using mostly pale malt for all beers supplemented with a small quantity of highly-coloured malt to achieve the correct colour for darker beers.

The invention of the drum roaster in 1817 by Daniel Wheeler allowed for the creation of very dark, roasted malts, contributing to the flavour of porters and stouts. Its development was prompted by a British law of 1816 forbidding the use of any ingredients other than malt and hops. Porter brewers, employing a predominantly pale malt grist, urgently needed a legal colourant. Wheeler’s patent malt was the solution.

The discovery of yeast’s role in fermentation in 1857 by Louis Pasteur gave brewers methods to prevent the souring of beer by undesirable microorganisms.

The Free Mash Tun Act 1880: Malt was first taxed in Britain in 1660, and the legislation prohibited the use of other cereals in brewing. The repeal followed a bad barley harvest and pressure from the colonial sugar growers to allow sugar cane to be used in the beer. The new law enabled “the brewer to brew from what he pleases and have a perfect choice of his materials and methods”.  The predominant beers of the day were dark quite sweet and malty – and often served at different alcoholic strength – strong ale, medium ale and weak ale made from different extracts of the same brew.

Without beer there would have been no Napoleonic Wars as beer was the first commodity to be taxed – principally to fund the British Empire.  By the 18th & 19th centuries the British government concentrated the industry into big London breweries, primarily for ease of tax collection.

Bottling beer in a modern facility, 1945, Australia

Bottling beer in a modern facility, 1945, Australia

Modern Beer

Prior to Prohibition, there were thousands of breweries in the United States, mostly brewing heavier, European-style beers. Beginning in 1920, most of these breweries went out of business, although some converted to soft drinks and other businesses. Bootlegged beer was often watered down to increase profits, beginning a trend, still on-going today, of the American palate preferring lighter beers. Consolidation of breweries and the application of industrial quality control standards have led to the mass-production and the mass-marketing of huge quantities of light lagers. Smaller breweries, including microbreweries and craft brewers, and imports, have serviced the segment of the American market that prefers fuller-bodied beers.

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The Story Of Cheese

The Story Of Cheese

Cheese is one of the most ubiquitous foods in the world, ever-present across the world. Its many different variants reflect the cultural and culinary identity of each corresponding country.


Cheese is one of the most ubiquitous foods in the world, ever-present across the world. Its many different variants reflect the cultural and culinary identity of each corresponding country. There are over 500 recognised types of cheese, each distinct from the other.

Cheese has a long and extensive history stretching back prior to recorded history. The earliest trace of cheese-making was found following excavations of Lake Neuchatel around 6000 BC. The earliest visual evidence dates back to 2000 BC as indicated by murals on Egyptian tombs.

Cheese-making was clearly common by the point of Hellenic civilisation. Many major Ancient Greek texts make mention of cheese as a common food item, most notably Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’.

The development of more common modern-day cheeses began in Europe during the end of the Middle Ages during the 16th Century. Cheddar was first historically noted in 1500 with parmesan following in 1597. This period saw cheese begin to diversify and shift to reflect each region’s cuisine and culture. Production increased significantly and the amount of cheeses skyrocketed. Despite this, cheese is generally less popular outside of non-European indigenous cuisine, although it has become popular since the advent of colonialism.

During the industrial revolution, cheese production methods modernised considerably with the first cheese-making factory opening in 1815 in Switzerland. Mass-production methods were popularised in the United States, which changed the process forever. This effectively democratised cheese, making it far more affordable and accessible to poorer people and less associated with the upper class.

How It’s Made

Cheese production varies depending on the particular type but there is a generalised process which applies to all variants. As a dairy product, cheese is derived from milk. Cow’s milk is the most popular and widely-used although sheep’s, buffalo’s and goat’s milk is also used for some major cheeses (such as feta or manchego).

16437592489_28cfdd1716_bThe cheese-making process includes a process called curdling, which sees acids added to the product such as vinegar, lemon juice or bacteria. This causes the milk sugars to become lactic acids. The milk is acidified into solid curds through the addition of this as well as rennet. This changes the cheese into a soft, moist gel. In the case of soft cheeses, the process is virtually complete. For the bulk of other cheeses there is more to be done.

The curd is cut into small portions and the water drained from individual pieces. Hard cheeses are often then heated at a temperature between 35-55 degrees Celsius. Following this, each cheese is treated with a different flourish to give it its specific identity. For example, mozzarella is stretched.

Finally, the cheese is stored under controlled conditions and allowed to age to achieve its ripest flavour. This period ranges from a matter of days to a number of years.

Top French Cheeses

There is perhaps no other country where cheese is more important to its culinary and cultural identity than France. Former President Charles de Gaulle famously asked ‘How would you govern a country that has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?’ Indeed, France is known for its immense breadth of cheese, most of which are strictly protected.


Arguably the most famous and popular of the French cheeses, brie is produced from cow’s milk with added rennet. It is served as a part of a circular wheel and is known its white mould rind, which is edible. It is often served alongside fruit.


Very similar to Brie is Camembert. First produced in the eponymous Norman town at the end of the 18th Century, Camembert is highly popular both in France and abroad. It is known for its white mould rind, but has a softer, gooier texture than brie and a stronger flavour.


France is highly regarded for its wide variety of blue cheeses. However, Roquefort is probably the most well-known and popular of these. Dating back several hundreds of years, it is one of the most distinct cheeses in the world, known for its lack of rind, crumbly consistency, strong smell and highly tangy taste.


One of France’s most distinct cheese, Boursin is one of many hailing from the Gournay region of Normandy. It is known for its soft, creamy texture and is often used as a spread, not dissimilar to cream cheese. It originated in 1957 and has since become highly popular, now available in a variety of different flavours.


16003635413_36fdb1c9b2_kOne of France’s most distinct cheeses, Rebolochon is made from raw cow’s milk and is notably unavailable in a number of countries, such as the United States due to its not being pasteurised. It is a soft, smear-ripened cheese known for its nutty taste and soft consistency. It is a major ingredient in the iconic Alpine dish Tartiflette.

Top Spanish Cheeses

While its cheeses are perhaps less internationally known than those of France and Italy, Spain is one of the continent’s finest cheesemaking countries, known for its wide variety of products.


Spain’s most iconic cheese is Manchego, made from sheep’s milk. Manchego is known for its lengthy ageing process, which takes a minimum of two months and often up to two years. The cheese is known for its firm consistency, creamy texture and mild taste. It is highly popular in the Americas, with a number of derivative cheeses existing there.


Another major Spanish cheese, Arzua is made from cow’s milk both pasteurised and raw. It is known for its circular shape, thin rine and soft and creamy texture. It has a sweet flavour. It is made in the town of the same name in the Spanish region of Galicia.


Spain’s most well-known blue cheese, Cabrales is generally made from unpasteurised cow’s milk, but is sometimes mixed with sheep’s or goat’s milk as well. It is known for its strict artisanal manufacturaing process and is only available in the Asturias region. It has a strong, acidic flavour.


16597430116_0558c27843_kOriginating from the island of Menorca on the Spanish Mediterranean coast and named for a natural port, Mahon is one of Spain’s most prestigious, versatile and sought-after cheeses. It is a distinct cheese which comes in both soft and hard forms. It has a sweet, salty and sharp taste and is known for its distinct orange rind, which is rubbed in a combination of butter, oil and paprika.

Top Italian Cheeses

Italy is one of the most prolific cheese producing countries in the world, the third largest behind France and Germany and has over 450 distinct varieties. Italy’s cheeses are known for being unique in character and incredibly popular overseas.


Italy’s most iconic cheese, mozzarella is one of the most iconic soft cheeses in the world. Made from buffalo’s milk, mozzarella is known for it stretchiness, distinct white colour and mild taste. It is a very versatile cheese, used in a number of different ways, most commonly as part of the base for pizzas. Outside of Italy, cow’s milk is most commonly used.


Another distinct cheese, ricotta is a whey cheese made from the milk of a variety of different animals. It is made from the whey left over from cheese production. It has a creamy white texture and a slightly sweet taste. It has a number of culinary uses, being present in a number of Italian deserts as well as having savoury uses, such as a filling for ravioli or a pizza topping.


One of Italy’s most popular exports, parmesan or Parmigiano Reggiano as it is originally known is sometimes labelled the ‘King of Cheese’. Known for its hard texture, strong flavour and ubiquitous association with pasta dishes, parmesan is one of Italy’s many iconic dishes.


A hard cheese made from sheep’s milk, pecorino is one of Italy’s most popular cheeses. There are a number of different variants, the most notable of which being Pecorino Romano, which is a major food export. Pecorino is one of the country’s oldest cheeses, dating back to 2000 years ago. It is known for its crumbly texture and nutty flavour.


Italy’s most well-known variety of blue cheese, Gorgonzola is known for its strong and salty flavour while its texture varies from buttery to crumbly. It is a staple product of Northern Italy, mostly produced in the regions of Lombardy and Piedmont.

Top Greek Cheeses

Greece is one of the finest cheese-producing regions in the world. While there is some variety, their cheeses are generally fairly similar and have a unique character and can be eaten in a number of different contexts.


16622277481_a8a68a89de_bWithout a doubt Greece’s most popular and most-exported cheese, feta is a soft cheese generally made from sheep’s milk and sometimes in combination with goat’s milk. It is a brined curd cheese known for its crumbly texture and salty taste. It is most often used in salads or in pies such as the iconic Greek dish spanakopita.


The country’s second-most popular cheese, Graviera is a hard cheese produced throughout the country. It is made from sheep’s milk and is known for its versatility. It is used in salads, for pasta dishes, fried or simply sliced and eaten plain.


A fresh cheese made generally from goat’s milk but also from sheep’s milk, Anthotyros is known for its versatility, used in sweet and savoury dishes. It can be both soft and hard depending on its freshness.


One of Greece’s most sought-after and specialist cheeses, Manouri is similar to feta but with a few distinct characteristics. It has a slightly sour smell and is far less salty than feta but also more creamy. It is mainly produced in Macedonia and Thessalia.

Boutique Cheeses of the UK

The United Kingdom is one of the most cheese-obsessed countries in the world. While it perhaps lacks the same extensive historical legacy of cheesemaking boasted by countries such as France and Italy, it boasts a number of boutique cheeses which have emerged into international prominence in recent decades.

Cornish Blue

One of Britain’s most famous blue cheeses, the Cornish Blue as its name indicates is made in the Southern English region of Cornwall. It has won many national and international cheese awards. It is distinct from other English blue cheeses, known for its mild, creamy flavour and a slightly sweet, buttery taste.


16622731812_7bb8986e76_kOne of the most iconic English cheeses, Stilton comes in two varieties but is best known for its distinct blue variant. Dating back to the early 18th Century, Stilton is known for its distinct taste and strict manufacturing process.

Lincolnshire Poacher

One of Britain’s finest boutique cheeses, the Lincolnshire Poacher is not dissimilar to cheddar and is known for its extensive maturing process, which can take up to two years. It has won a number of awards and is often smoked.

Cornish Yarg

One of the country’s most distinct cheeses, the Cornish Yarg is a fairly recent contribution to British cheesemaking, dating back to the 1980’s. It is a semi-hard cheese made from cow’s milk. It is known for its unique maturing process, wrapped in nettle leaves, which forms an edible rind.

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Watch: The Story of… Cheese