Shelf Life | Newberry

Shelf Life

“Shelf Life” is a podcast about the humanities–and the humans behind them. Each episode features a new conversation with the Newberry staff, fellows, and other readers who bring the Newberry’s world-famous collection to life.

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A Brief History of Chocolate

Do we have a treat for you: Scholar Sarah Kernan breaks down the history of chocolate, from its origins in the Americas and popularity among European monarchs (apparently Charles II of England was a bona fide chocoholic) to its mass production and eventual association with Valentine’s Day.

Sarah is an independent scholar whose writing on culinary history can be found on the Recipes Project blog. She is a regular contributor to the Newberry’s Digital Collections for the Classroom, and her one-day seminar at the Newberry takes place February 24.

A Brief History of Chocolate by Shelf Life, from the Newberry Library

Show Notes

1:12—Sarah explains what got her interested in the history of chocolate.

2:07—Chocolate’s origins can be traced back 3,000 years, to a fermented drink made from the pulp of cacao pods. The drink figured into religious and political ceremonies in the Americas.

2:55—Spanish colonizers adopted chocolate as a drink and adapted it to their tastes, turning it into a hot beverage and incorporating sugar. Different courts throughout Europe eventually made the drink their own as well.

6:51—The 1820s saw a new phase in the evolution of chocolate: the inception of chocolate as a solid, followed by the mass production of chocolate.

8:16—How chocolate offers a window into different cultures and social structures.

11:18—A religious debate that lasted centuries centered around the question of whether or not it was acceptable to drink chocolate while fasting.

13:14—The myth that chocolate is an aphrodisiac goes back centuries, to Mesoamerican cultures.

16:29—How did chocolate become so closely connected with Valentine’s gift-giving?

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