The True History of Chocolate by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe

All true chocolate lovers know how chocolate is made. The basic flow begins with cacao beans which are cleaned and roasted. After winnowing, the cacao shells are separated from the nibs which are ground into the liquor. From this, either cocoa powder, cocoa butter, or bar chocolate is separated or made. But do you know the true history of chocolate? In the book The True History of Chocolate goes into the history, and is written by husband and wife team, Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe (Thames & Hudson, 1996, ISBN 0500282293). The second edition was published in 2007 (ISBN13: 9780500286968).

It is important to note that while it contains both authors' names, the work was finished posthumously by Michael after the death of his wife, Sophie, who had written the first three chapters and assembled notes for subsequent chapters. Sophie was a noted food historian with a doctorate in anthropology. Her study of the both the birthplace of cacao and the Aztecs are engrossing to read. The Sophie Coe Memorial Prize is an annual award for food history essays, and the Sophie Coe Memorial Fund is a UK registered charity. Michael Coe is a renowned Mayan scholar, holding a PhD in anthropology and authoring the books The Maya and Breaking the Maya Code. Knowing both the authors' backgrounds sheds a little light on the reasons for the layout.

Second Edition Cover

The True History of Chocolate is very academic in nature rather than informal, and the average person wanting only history with examples will be satisfied. Black and white images, photos, engravings, along with a few color photographs, are dotted throughout the book. How the peoples of the New World and Europe used, traded, and imbibed on chocolate, and how it interacted with the culture, is interesting.

The history is long and spans many centuries. It is threaded throughout the chapters: The Tree of the Food of the Gods; The Birth of Cacao: Olmec-Maya Genesis; The Aztecs: People of the Fifth Sun; Encounter and Transformation; Chocolate Conquers Europe; The Source; Chocolate in the Age of Reason (and Unreason); and Chocolate for the Masses. The Epilogue details the history of "ethically-correct" chocolate products. In case you were wanting to read up on the authors' sources, the Notes section is extensive, and there is a full Bibliography at the back of the book.

All in all, this book will give you much more than just learning about how chocolate is made or where in the world the origins of chocolate came. The plant and its product intrigued many. As in the first chapter, Europe and the New World both have had a history in loving chocolate, as evidenced with the botanical name given by Swedish naturalist Carl LinnaeusTheobroma cacao. Theobroma, Greek for 'food of the gods', and cacao coming from what the Mesoamerican people called the plant.

Book Information:
  • The True History of Chocolate; by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe
  • Thames & Hudson; 1996
  • ISBN: 0500282293
  • Softcover, 280 pages; Black and White, and color photographs
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