GREENVILLE — Ed and Stacy Creighton of the Butler County Historical Society put on a presentation about the history of chocolate at the Greenville Public Library Thursday night.
“I’m fascinated that this many people came out to hear us talk,” Ed Creighton said at the start of the event. Nearly every seat in the room was filled.
Cocoa trees, according to Creighton, only grow naturally about 20 degrees north or south of the equator, and anyone who tries to import one must have a special license. The seeds that are eventually used to make chocolate start out inside large, hardened shells called chocolate pods. The pods themselves were once used to make whiskey or wine, while the seeds, thought to be useless, were thrown away.
Once a pod is cut open, the seeds are removed and air dried, then winnowed, like coffee beans, to remove any remaining chaff. The seeds are then roasted, crushed, and finally melted. In ancient times, this was done by holding the seeds over a fire, then crushing them against a heated stone, a container below collecting the raw chocolate as it melts.
Chocolate, in this raw state, is often grayish in color, and has a slightly bitter taste. An assortment of seasonings, including nutmeg, vanilla, cinnamon, sugar, sea salt, and chilli pepper, are added to make it sweeter, as well as give it its traditional brown color.
The chocolate is then roasted into a small brick, called a cake, that is then grinded to produce flakes.
The very wealthy were once the only ones who could afford chocolate, Creighton said, as cocoa seeds were worth literally more than their weight in gold. Kings used chocolate to trade for and purchase goods throughout Europe and Asia, while socialites invited friends over for hot chocolate rather than tea.
Creighton also spoke at length about sugar, which, as noted, is a crucial ingredient in chocolate. Sugar is made from a variety of sources, including honey, sugar cane, sorghum, and sugar beets. Molasses, a thick substance formed by spinning sugar in a centrifuge, can be combined with tree sap in order to form syrup.
But not all sugars, or syrups, are created equal, according to Creighton.
“The closest this ever came to being syrup was when it drove by a maple tree in a truck on its way to Target,” Creighton said, holding up a bottle of Aunt Jemima. He also said that beet sugar, commonly found in off-brand varieties sold in grocery stores, is only half as sweet as that made from sorghum or sugarcane.
Different varieties of sugar can also have different effects when it comes to weight gain and personal health.
“This cane sugar basically has chemicals in it that send a message to your brain that says, ‘Convert me to energy,’” Creighton said, holding up a package of raw sugar cane. “Whereas the kind made from beets says, ‘Store me.’”
The presentation concluded with the Creightons handing out small samples of chocolate and hot cocoa, made authentic to how the delicacies would have been served hundreds of years ago.
Those wishing to contact the Butler County Historical Society to arrange a visit, schedule a presentation, or purchase chocolate samples may call 513-896-9930.
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