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21 March 2015 CHOCOLATE: SWEET SCIENCE AND DARK SECRETS OF THE WORLD’S FAVORITE TREAT by Kay Frydenborg, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 2015, 272 p., ISBN: 978-0-544-17566-2

“He came dancing across the water
With his galleons and guns
Looking for that new world
In that palace in the sun”
-- Neil Young, “Cortez the Killer”

“In fact, a nutritional analysis of dark chocolate reveals that it looks a lot like...food. A 1.5 ounce bar contains nearly 2 grams of protein, 2.6 grams of fiber, 210 calories, 28 grams of carbohydrates, 13 grams of fat, and many essential minerals, including magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium, and manganese. It also provides vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C, E, and pantothenic acid.”

“Slavery in the production of cocoa beans has not gone away. Most people would be horrified to know that the chocolate bar they unwrap today may have been made with cocoa beans supplied by the hard, dangerous, and sometimes brutally enforced labor of children as young as seven or eight in some of the poorest countries on the planet.”

In CHOCOLATE: SWEET SCIENCE AND DARK SECRETS OF THE WORLD’S FAVORITE TREAT, author Kay Frydenborg employs great storytelling in sharing a tale that touches on aspects of history, nutrition, chemistry, genetics, cooking, botany, entomology, climatology, political science, and corporate culture, all related to chocolate. She’s written a lively, in-depth narrative for tweens and teens about the history of cocoa bean cultivation and the processing and distribution of the chocolate that humans have loved to consume for thousands of years.

We learn that the tree that supplies cocoa beans, Theobroma cacao, appeared in the Amazon Basin ten to fifteen thousand years ago, just around the time that humans appeared there. 

It’s interesting to learn that indigenous peoples practiced slavery in the Americas in order to cultivate cocoa beans. That was long before a succession of Spanish conquistadors made their way across the ocean and European nations colonized the Americas and instituted their own slave systems. It’s horrific to learn that the production of much of today’s chocolate still involves slavery and human trafficking. Suddenly, the words “fair trade” that I see on some chocolate bar labels really mean something to me! 

As kids, we learned about the Triangle Trade. Slaves were brought to the New World for use in the cultivation of cotton in hot climes; the cotton was then shipped northward and manufactured into products, which were shipped to Europe. I don’t recall learning that cocoa bean production was at least as important as cotton, if not more so, in the institution of the Triangle Trade. This book enlightens us with a new view on what we thought we knew about.

There are positive aspects to this history of chocolate too. It’s fascinating to read about Milton Hershey, who, a century ago, developed a company town that offered the sort of benefits that many Americans still don't enjoy today. It’s fun to read about scientists and entrepreneurs trekking through the rainforest taking samples of trees for genetic testing, hoping to discover the botanical equivalent of a living tyrannosaurus rex, that would offer flavors and genetic composition that was otherwise lost. There are also tales about successful farmers in the rainforest who are employing forward-thinking, environmentally-sound practices of cocoa bean production. 

The author concludes many chapters with home recipes to try. In the spirit of sharing love for tasty chocolate treats, I’ll put in a good word for my absolute favorite frozen dessert, a vegan ice cream made with cashew milk: Mr. Dewie's Chocolate Orange Chip. 

Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com
Moderator http://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit

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