The Latin name of the cocoa-tree that grows cocoa beans – the basic ingredient of chocolate – is Theobroma cacao, meaning the food of gods. It received its taxonomic name only later by Linné, but the cocoa bean was treasured even by the Mayas and the Aztecs and they used it as money too. There is a cruel story about its spreading: one of the first Europeans who tasted chocolate was Hernán Cortés, who destroyed the Aztec Empire later. The ruler of the Aztecs, Montezuma thought that their long-expected god arrived when he met the conquistador, so he received him in a friendly way and offered him chocolate drink. However, the Spanish army saw the possibility of a potential prize and the indigenous population’s good faith and attacked them, thus colonisation started.
According to the legend, Cortés did not like the drink, and the fact is that the European stomachs did not take in the bitter drink xocolātl. The truth is that it was not always flavoured and you can also experience, the chocolate made of real cocoa beans is not really delicious. Sometimes the Aztecs mixed it with cinnamon or vanilla, but the sugar-flavoured version was invented by the Spanish. Today it is ironical that the church approved of drinking bitter chocolate drink during fasting.
Cadbury, Nestlé and Lindt are born
The novelty arrived in France and England in the form of drink in the 17th century and soon afterwards industrialised chocolate manufacturing began. The British Cadbury stated to work in 1824. It was the second-largest confectionery maker firm in the world until 2010, and it was purchased by the Kraft Foods. As of 1866, the Swiss Henri Nestlé started making baby food for the mothers who could not nurse their babies. That was the ancestor of Nestlé, which became one of the largest food industrial companies in the world soon. The company launched the world’s most famous cocoa powder Nesquik in 1948. The Swiss Rodolphe and August Lindt revolutionised chocolate manufacturing in 1879: by refining the gritty chocolate mass and by stirring in other words ‘conching’ it for a long time they created the ‘gently melting chocolate’. White chocolate, which does not contain cocoa mass but cocoa butter, was invented in 1955, but Nestlé made it popular with the Alpine White Chocolate brand in the 1980s.
The Hungarian chocolate
Chocolate arrived in Hungary at the beginning of the 18th century, though confectioners used it as a base material mainly until the middle of the 19th century. Friedrich Stühmer, master confectioner from Hamburg, made the breakthrough in 1868, when he opened his candy factory on Szentkirályi Road, in the Palace Quarter of Pest. As of 1883, the factory produced chocolate by steam-power. The high standard of Stühmer chocolates is proven by the fact that they had brand shops even in Vienna and Paris. They took good care of packaging and advertising: the chocolate boxes were designed by famous artists. In the 1940s, ‘tibi csoki’ (with lowercase ‘t’) was a popular brand – named after grandfather Stühmer’s grandson – and was advertised with the slogan: ‘not only Mom’s favourite’. The expanded factory in Vágóhíd Street became the victim of socialisations in 1948 and merged into the Hungarian Confectionary Company with other firms.
There is another master confectioner, the Swiss Émile Gerbeaud, who started producing chocolate in Hungary and to whom we can be grateful for ‘Macskanyelv’ (Cat Tongue) and ‘Konyakmeggy’ (Cognac Cherry Bonbon) among other sweets. In 1884, he took over Henrik Kugler’s prospering confectionery on Vörösmarty Square, but both names remainedon the trade-sign until the socialisations. The family Kugler ran a confectionery as of 1788 in Sopron in the beginning. Besides being a confectioner, Gerbeaud was a ‘chocolatier’ that means chocolate master. The Gerbeaud world was expanded by the chocolate factory in 1886 – where the first cat tongues were made. Gerbeaud introduced himself at the Millennial Expo in 1896, and then at the World’s Fairs held in Paris and Rome and became famous worldwide. The Gerbeaud Café still expects guests admiring pastry creations on Vörösmarty Square in the fifth district of Budapest. Besides that, Gerbeaud gave his name to the famous cake filled with walnut and jam with chocolate coating, which became a Hungaricum and cannot be omitted from the Christmas and Easter tables in Hungary. Whether gerbeaud cake was created by the master himself or was named in his honour, we do not know exactly.
From wonders of Szerencs to nougat-like bars
Among the chocolate factories, we must mention the one in Szerencs that started making its legendary products – Szerencsi Tej (‘Boci’ chocolate) and the kitten-logoed Szerencsi cocoa powder – in the 1920s. Everybody’s favourite Balaton bar was also created in Szerencsi Chocolate Factory, in the affiliate of Diósgyőr during the 1950s. Later, the mill of Győr took over waffle making and Balaton became the most popular product of Győri Keksz Company. Today, both brands belong to Nestlé. The other well-known confection of the 1950s was Sport bar with rum and cocoa flavour. Its appearance was connected with the opening of Népstadion (People’s Stadium). The typical discus thrower on the wrapping, which was modelled from the real athlete József Szécsényi, has disappeared by now. By the ‘70s and ‘80s, chocolate bars called – with some exaggeration – nougats pullulated. These nougat-like products were made with vegetable fat instead of cocoa butter, which spoiled their deliciousness significantly. A generation looks back on Maci, Kajla and Africana bars with bittersweet nostalgia.
Chocolate was also used as a medicinal remedy during history. It is a fact that chocolates with high cocoa content have compounds called flavonoids that provide positive health benefits for the heart- and vascular systems. But be moderate, because one should think of one’s body mass index and teeth – especially in case of sugared desserts. Above all, our chocolate-loving characters of tales come to our minds: Gombóc Artúr or Hakapeszi Maki; as well as films about chocolate: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory based on Roald Dahl’s book (1971) and the 2005-version Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or the film adaptation of Joanne Harris’ book Chocolate. If you happen to watch them again, do not forget to lay in some (a bar?) chocolate for safety’s sake.
Translated by Zita Aknai