The Story of Chocolate

For 4,000 million years, people the world over have turned to the delicacy of chocolate for rituals, medicine, romance and sheer pleasure. In this informative and entertaining documentary, Judith Jones reveals how our love affair with chocolate began in Mesoamerica, present-day Southern Mexico and Central America, where people living deep in the tropical rainforests discovered the edible properties of Theobroma cacao, referred to as the food of the gods. With fellow travellers from around the world, Judith discovers the extraordinary popularity behind the pleasure of chocolate. Today, the making of chocolate has evolved into an industry so large that 40 to 50 million people depend on cocoa for their livelihoods.

We begin in The Ivory Coast which produces over 70% of the world’s cocoa supplies. Most of the world’s cocoa is grown in the narrow belt 10 degrees either side of the equator where cocoa trees grow; amidst the humid, tropical climates with regular rain and short dry season. Next, Judith visits The Royal Botanic Gardens in London where she meets horticultural expert Lara Jewitt who discusses the leaves, flowers, fruit and cocoa pods of the Cacao Tree. From Kew Gardens, we head to the beautiful Caribbean island of St. Lucia, where Zoe Palmer visits the Fond Doux cocoa plantation to better understand the process of owners producing cocoa beans for export.

To find out more about the origins of chocolate, Judith meets historian Sara Jayne-Stans. She learns that it was the Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs who first consumed cocoa as a bitter beverage rather than a sweet edible treat. This drink was consumed at ceremonies, human sacrifices and cocoa beans were even used as currency when trading goods. And though cocoa originated as a bitter drink in ancient cultures; today Mexicans are using this wonder bean in all sorts of delicious ways as Tyler Florence finds out in the Mexican town of Oaxoco.

Back in London, Judith visits another artisan chocolate maker Mast Brothers, who give her an insight into the secret behind great chocolate making. From roasting, cracking, winnowing, grinding, aging, tempering and packaging, Judith learns the secret behind great chocolate making.

Historian Sara Jayne-Stans picks up the story of chocolate in the 16th century when the Spanish introduced the bitter chocolate drink of Aztec nobility to Europe. Chocolate is still one of Spain’s most beloved treats and continues to transform itself today, as Megan MaCormick finds out when she meets up with architectural chocolatier Enric Rovira in Barcelona.

Keen to find out how chocolate reached the U.K, Judith meets with historian and broadcaster Dr Matthew Green who conducts 17th and 18th-century Chocolate House tours in the heart of St. James Square, London. Judith discovers how famous chocolate houses, The Cocoa Tree and White Chocolate House are now private members clubs.

Chocolate’s journey continues with the introduction of milk and sugar to the bitter drink and the invention of the solid bar of chocolate leading us to chocolates popularisation through companies such as J.S. Fry & Sons, Nestle and Cadbury. The Swiss influence had far-reaching consequences, as Zay Harding discovers in Bariloche, Patagonia. After the industrial revolution in the 19th century, chocolate was taking Europe by storm, similarly across the pond in the USA. Milton Hershey, the Henry Ford of Chocolate Makers, became a formidable American rival to his European counterparts, when he started mass-producing milk chocolate in his Pennsylvania factory. So vast was Hershey’s chocolate empire that he even had his own sugar mill in Cuba and this is where Ian Wright takes the historic Hershey line in Cuba, the country’s only electric railway, which connected the docks with Hershey’s sugar refinery, which nowadays is a derelict site.

Our show concludes with in the 21st century with independent chocolatiers now setting up their own boutique stores selling artisan chocolates created in-store. Judith meets award winning chocolatier William Curley who makes her one of his complex creations ‘Chocolate jasmine and mandarin pyramid’ highlighting the depth and variety of creativity that chocolate inspires today.

More information:

Study Guide: The Story of Chocolate



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