What is chocolate?

What is chocolate?

Chocolate candy has changed over the years — particulary candy bars. Discover the history of chocolate confections, some that are 100 years old.

Photo Credit: Roswitha Schacht
By Sharon Baldwin

Since the days of the Aztecs, chocolate has been used as a drink. It wasn’t until the late 18th Century that anyone had come up with the idea that chocolate could be used as a candy or a flavoring in desserts. The Europeans were the first to come up with this idea – beginning with the British. Other countries also explored the chocolate candy-making world – to include confectioners in Switzerland, Denmark, and Italy.

The first advent in chocolate candy came in 1847. This was when the first bar of eating chocolate was created. The chocolate was a bittersweet chocolate. Richard Cadbury produced the first box of chocolates and later created the first Valentine’s candy box.

It wasn’t until 1875 and the invention of condensed milk, that milk chocolate was created. This made the chocolate bar cheaper to produce because it had less cocoa butter in it – which in turn made it cheaper for people to buy. The addition of condensed milk created a creamier taste, which consumers liked.

In the early 1900’s Americans, such as Milton S. Hershey, began mixing things into the chocolate candy – such as caramel and crispy rice. The first combination candy bar was made in Tennessee. This candy, known as Goo Goo Clusters, is a mix of peanuts, caramel and marshmallows that is coated with milk chocolate.

Many of the basic American candy-bar flavors and mixes have been enjoyed since the early 1900’s when machinery had been improved and could be added to candy-making plants. Machines can wrap candy bars faster than several people working in a factory. This in turn, made chocolate candy very inexpensive and people other than just the very rich could indulge.

Despite the availability and relatively low prices of candy bars, it wasn’t until after World War I that candy bars became very popular. This is because chocolate was the mainstay of soldiers waiting for field rations while they fought in the war. When they came home, they were hooked on the sweet and by 1930 there were close to 40,000 different varieties of chocolate candy available.

During World War II, chocolate products were sent mostly overseas, in the form of D Rations, to support the war effort. While chocolate candy was still available in the United States, the number of varieties drastically dropped. Partly this was because the choices in brands were so slim and rationing of supplies limited the availability of ingredients and packaging materials. In addition, the Great Depression caused money to be scarce and many people didn’t have the money for sweet treats.

Unfortunately, the chocolate manufactured for soldiers was not very tasty. The military stipulated that the chocolate manufactured for military rations must be very nutritious and it could not taste much better than a boiled potato. When the war was over, the military tried to sell back a surplus of chocolate bars, but the civilian sector wouldn’t take it.

Candy bars such as milk chocolate bars, have been available to Americans since the 20th century. White chocolate candy bars have also been available periodically throughout the chocolate candy history, but they have not been a steady part of the chocolate candy production. Many people question whether or not white chocolate is truly chocolate. The only ingredient missing from chocolate – which is what causes the chocolate to be white – is the liqueur. Without this liquid, which is not a liqueur at all because it does not contain any alcohol, the resulting confection has virtually no chocolate taste, nor does it have the chocolate-brown color.

Chocolate candies have been very popular since Cadbury first created them. Many people enjoy eating the small bites of chocolate with the surprise centers. These candies can be nutty, chewy, sour, sweet, creamy, fruity, gushy, or a combination of any of these flavors. They can be covered with dark chocolate, milk chocolate or white chocolate.

Chocolate flavors have changed as technology has advanced. What began as an extremely bitter drink became a bittersweet confection, which moved into a milk chocolate confection, to a confection without cocoa butter and back again. Today many people enjoy milk chocolate candies, and the few white chocolate varieties that are currently available. A great number of people in the United States prefer bittersweet or dark chocolate over the milk – unless that milk chocolate is combined with other items such as crispy rice or peanuts and caramel. However, it’s the milk chocolate varieties that remain as the World’s Best Seller.

While substituting condensed milk for some of the cocoa butter helped reduce prices in the early 1900s, manufacturers today have found that paraffin wax also saves money. In combination chocolate candy bars this addition may not be that noticeable, but to a chocolate connoisseur, the addition may be too much because the paraffin levels in some of the national brands has been increasing. This can be identified by a bite of chocolate that clumps in the mouth, rather than dissolving. This unpleasant experience forces the chocoholic to buy the more expensive chocolate candies and forego the national brands.

Chocolate is a mainstay in American as well as European cultures and it’s destined to have a continued presence as a favorite food, whether in the form of a drink, a dessert, or as a confection. Chocolate candy, while it has gone through many changes, much to improve the appearance of the product and the cost of the product – both at the site of production and at the point of sale, has always remained as a form of pure delight for young and old alike. Today, some of the older brands around the world are now celebrating nearly 100 years in production.

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