Swiss chocolate is often revered as the most exceptional type – but why? To understand this, you first need to take a look at two things: the origins of chocolate making and the role of Swiss ingenuity in its creation.
Let’s Travel Way Back in Time to Discover the Origins of Chocolate
Going back to as early as 1900 BCE, Mesoamerican cultures (the early occupiers of regions in South America) like the Zapotec, Maya, Teotihuacan, Olmec, Mixtec, and Mexica (or Aztec) were making chocolate. People of these cultures learned to prepare the beans of their native cacao tree – first by drying them and then by grinding them to a very small size. This allowed the resulting paste-like product to be mixed into a type of beverage by adding water, cornmeal, and chili peppers. This beverage, called “xocoatl,” was quite bitter and spicy, unlike the sweet chocolate we consume today, but was recognized as a mood lifter so the bitterness was tolerated and consumption grew.
Similar to today’s love affair with chocolate, the Mesoamericans regarded chocolate very highly. Their beverage “xocoatl” was referred to as “the royal drink.” Supposedly it was even consumed by Emperor Montezuma at least fifty times per day. In some of these cultures, chocolate was considered to be a food from the gods – Quetzalcoatl according to Aztec tradition or Kukulkan per the Mayans. Xocoatl or paste “coins” (made from pressing the ground beans together into small medallions) were often served at royal feasts and other important rituals. They were also awarded to soldiers for great accomplishments in battle. And cacao beans were also seen as a greatly valued commodity – often exchanged as a form of currency, in some instances replacing the use of gold.
Chocolate remained a well-kept secret of sorts until the early 1500s. Up to that time, it was only known in the Mesoamerican territories where it was produced. But in 1519, Hernán Cortés, a Spanish explorer, is said to have first encountered it while traveling in the area and then brought it back to Spain. Upon its introduction to the new land, chocolate was first seen as a bitter beverage, considered only good as a medicinal product. But, it didn’t take long before sweeteners like sugar and honey, or flavorings like vanilla were added to make it more appealing.
These sweet and flavorful additions helped to decrease the bitterness and led to chocolate becoming much more appealing. The new flavor profile of the chocolate also saw it being consumed on a larger scale, with aristocrats leading the demand. A major hurdle with meeting the demand was the cumbersome and labor intensive process to make chocolate. Beans had to be sourced from only certain tropical regions of the world and they had to be shipped long distances at very large costs, driving up prices for the consumers. But despite these obstacles, chocolate was still in high demand throughout the next three centuries.
While exploring better and more efficient means of producing chocolate, European chocolatiers began looking for new ways to further enhance their products – focusing on the flavor and consistency.
Enter the Swiss – “The Masters of Ingenuity”
The creative mastery of Swiss inventors is not lost on the public. You have Tim Berners-Lee who invented the World Wide Web in 1989, Georges de Mestral to thank for the creation of Velcro in the 1950s, and in 1795, Abraham-Louis Breguet invented the tourbillon – an incredibly complicated mechanism that defeats gravity and makes watches keep time extremely precisely. All are outstanding accomplishments – but for those who love chocolate, there are two Swiss inventors who are even more important – Daniel Peter and Rodolphe Lindt. Without these gentlemen, chocolate would not be the decadent delight we all adore today. Why?
Remember the Catchphrase “Got Milk?”
Apparently, up until the late 1800s, chocolate did not include milk. That is, until Daniel Peter, a former candlemaker who was married to a Swiss chocolatier, started to develop his own type of chocolate in the factory where he once made candles. At the time, cacao was still being used primarily as an ingredient for beverages. He started looking into new ways to use the cacao for other means of consumption, first attempting to blend in milk to make a creamier product. As it turned out, this combination resulted in failure because the high water content in the milk made the product quickly turn rancid. Over the next several years, he made various attempts to remedy the problem and in 1875 he finally found his answer. Dehydrated milk. Daniel Peter’s new, unique combination of cacao and dehydrated milk gave birth what is now known as “milk chocolate.”
Further Refinement of Swiss Chocolate Provides Even More Sensory Appeal
As if the newly created and very delightful taste of Swiss milk chocolate wasn’t enough, four years after Daniel Peter brought milk chocolate to the world, there was another major development. In 1879, chocolate maker Rodolphe Lindt created a method of further processing the cacao beans and other added ingredients. This process, called “conching” in the chocolate making trade, grinds the mixture into ultra-fine particles – and it is this process that gives Swiss chocolate its extremely smooth, melt-in-your-mouth creaminess. Conching also homogenizes the product which better blends the flavors – plus it helps reduce any acidity coming from the cacao beans. When not processed in such a manner, there can be a hint of a lingering bitter and sometimes vinegar-like flavor in the finished chocolate.
Today’s Favorite? No Surprise – It’s Swiss Milk Chocolate
According to American Cocoa Research Institute (ACRI), over 70% of Americans prefer milk chocolate to dark chocolate – and many of those consumers seek out Swiss or other European-made chocolate products for a couple of good reasons:
The End Justifies the Means
At Difiori, all of our couverture chocolate is crafted in Switzerland by our master chocolatiers with only the highest quality Fair-Trade beans available using the same techniques developed over a century ago. We want your experience to be like no other. When you take your first bite, our Swiss chocolates will melt and envelope your taste buds in sumptuous luxury as their Swiss chocolatiers intended.
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I'm April Bailey, a freelance writer and editor for hire who has been writing about various topics for many years. Most of my early print work was destroyed in a major house fire. Luckily, I was able to pull some copies from an old PC and have posted them here. Other items on this blog reflect my current articles and blog posts written for online publications and copied here so I never lose my work again!