Ever wondered why chocolate consumption is considered decadent? In the movie Chocolat (2000), the mayor of the village, the Comte de Reynaud is convinced the aspiring chocolatier Vianne Rocher will corrupt local morals with her bon-bons and ganaches. He wants her establishment closed so badly that he tries his hand at a bit of sabotage. Breaking into the shop one evening with the intention of ruining the chocolates on display, he instead succumbs to temptation and collapses senseless after an orgy of self indulgence.
The vendibles in Mademoiselle Rocher’s chocolaterie most definitely contained sugars. This unpuritanical appeal to the palate may have been the chief indictment against them. One of the seven deadly vices is gluttony. Philippians 3:19 labels the gluttonous as those whose ‘God is their belly’. And the way to the belly is, undoubtedly, guarded by the tongue. Now we know all the naughty things the lingua has been accused of. With a gatekeeper like that, all sorts of hanky panky are possible. And that aside, how can sweet be resisted? Sweet is by its very nature… well… sweet! But chocolate with sugar is something of a modern development. For most of its history it was consumed as an unsweetened beverage. That history has been traced as far back as 1,400 BCE.
The ancient concoction was decidedly bitter. One description of Aztec chocolate, attributed at various times to one of the early Spanish settlers and to Girolamo Benzoni in his La Historia del Mondo Nuovo (1565), labeled it as a ‘drink for pigs’. The Spaniards laced the Aztec version with honey or cane sugar and, in that guise, it became a huge hit in Europe.
Maybe it’s considered decadent, not because of gluttony but, because of another of the seven deadly sins: pride. Pride was the original sin: the sin of Lucifer. He aspired to rule in God’s place. And although lovers of chocolate don’t go as far as Lucifer, they may be taking a leaf from his book when they indulge in the ‘food of the gods’, so labelled by Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish Botanist, in the 18th century.
Or maybe it’s been flagged by the vice of lust. It’s been written that the ‘Mayans used cacao beans to pay for prostitutes in their early version of whorehouses. The going rate was around eight beans per woman. And the great Aztec ruler Montezuma… was reported to have consumed as much as fifty cups of chocolate elixir before heading off to his harem.’ He certainly placed great store on the product. Francisco Cervantes de Salazar reports in the Crónicas de Nueva España that the great emperor had a stockpile of several thousand cocoa kernels.
We each have our reasons for liking chocolates. What’s yours?