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August 16th 2020
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Week 16- Quality Chocolate
P for Poison
In the Victorian era, chocolate quality began to decrease as demand rose.
Important ingredients were replaced with cheaper alternatives. This is known as adulteration. The same happened for food like bread or tea and domestic items like soap.
In 1815, chocolate was being adulterated with powdered dried peas, wheat, barley, rice or lentil flour, potato starch, and poisonous substances such as ground brick, red lead or iron compounds to enhance the colour or the texture.
Let’s not forget that in the 17th & 18th C (1600s-1700s), Poison laced chocolate was a common practise all over Europe, as it was easily hidden in the strong taste of chocolate.
Another chocolate adulteration, still prevalent in most of the mainstream chocolate industry, was to completely extract the cocoa butter then replace it, originally with olive oil, sweet almond oil, egg yolks, or suet of veal or mutton, and more commonly today with vegetable fat such as palm oil.
These substitute fats and ingredients make the chocolate go rancid very quickly and were dangerous to peoples’ health; The purity of manufactured food became a growing concern;
Even Cadbury admitted adulterating their chocolate with starch and flour. In a change of strategy, they suggested adding the ingredient list and percentages on their wrappers. Fry’s and other manufactures reacted as well, claiming they only used nutritious additives.
Finally, in 1850, the Health Commission for the analysis of foods was created. A test was performed on 70 chocolates; 39 of them had been coloured with red ochre from ground bricks, and most of them contained starch. This investigation inspired the British Food and Drug act of 1860, and the Adulteration of food act in 1872. Passage of pure food and drug laws made these practices illegal.
Under these new acts, all ingredients in cocoa had to be listed. Grocers who stocked adulterated cocoas without proper labelling could be prosecuted, so they were happy to sell products guaranteeing the quality of the ingredients.
Cadbury’s new slogan “Absolutely Pure, Therefore best” made Cadbury’s Cocoa Essence very successful, and soon the brand would be associated with purity.
But the practices continued; consumer guides told customers how to test their cocoa, warning that a slimy texture and a cheesy or rancid taste indicated the presence of animal fat. Thickening in hot water or milk was evidence that starches had been added.
In the 1870s, sales of chocolate grew rapidly and Britons became great consumers of hot chocolate, but as a thin and diluted beverage, contrary to the thick, rich version of the Georgian era.
We thank you for your participation,
Programme in partnership with Melange Chocolate
"The True history of Chocolate" Thames & Hudson
"Encyclopedie du chocolate et de la confiserie" AFCC
"Collecting the World: The Life and Curiosity of Hans Sloane" by James Delbourgo
"Chocolate Wars" by Deborah Cadbury
"The Secret Life of Chocolate" by Marcos Patchett
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