Author: Bertram Gordon
Title: Chinese Chocolate: Ambergris, Emperors, and Export Ware.
Although historical accounts often suggest that chocolate was unknown until recently in China, it appears to have been present there as early as the 17th century. The Jesuits are said to have included gifts of chocolate to the Jiangnan elite in China in the 1670s, and Spanish Franciscan monks used it “as a present for Chinese prominent people.” The diffusion pattern for chocolate from Latin America to China -most likely to the Chinese court seems to have been along the routes traveled by the Franciscans, probably with the Philippines as an intermediate point. That the Chinese were at the least aware of chocolate in the early 18th century is suggested by the Dutch East India Company’s Chinese export porcelain trade records, which list chocolate cups for trade. At least three 19th century French sources, beginning in 1817, mention “Chinese chocolate,” also referred to as “vacaca chinorum,” described as a steeped beverage with spices added. The French references to Chinese chocolate mention the use of ambergris, an excretion from the sperm whale and a flavored and oily binder. As an oily sweet perfume or flavoring, such as rose water and butter or rancid butter, and a kind of waxy binder, ambergris would be typically used in a sweet dish, such as chocolate, and it seems to have played the role that milk later assumed in milk chocolate. The culinary niche for ambergris was also ended by industrialization. Since the popularity of chocolate has been based on milk chocolate since 1875, the absence of a local dairy industry in China limits its role in the local culinary.
Author: Beatriz Cabezon
Title: Cacao, Haciendas, and the Jesuits. Letters from New Spain (1693-1751).
Four documents identified in the National Archives of Mexico, dated 1693-1751, provide unusual insights regarding cacao production in 17th and early 18th century Mexican history. They reveal how Jesuit priests produced cacao, cared for the plantations (haciendas), used income from the cacao to sustain their order, and to pay obligatory fees (censo) to the Catholic Church. The documents also mention Jesuits buying and selling slaves. Whether the slaves were Indian or African in origin, however, is not detailed in the letters. The records also reveal that under normal conditions production of cacao increased annually under Jesuit supervision, but that in certain years yield was so low that the priests could barely sustain themselves. The locations of the plantations are not precisely identified, but there is a hint that they were in the modem stale of Oaxaca. Another insight from the documents was that by at least 1751 the priests had started their own plantings of achiote (Bixa orellana) since one of the letters states that 5,000 achiote trees were flourishing. Curiously, the same letter relates that the priests—before this time—had not planted achiote because they did not recognize potential benefits from the product. What benefits there were and how achiote was used by the Jesuits were not identified in the document. Production figures supplied by the documents reveal considerable growth of the cacao haciendas. The first letter dated 1693 identified a total of 77,000 cacao trees under Jesuit control. Letter three reported an expansion from 110,000 trees (84,000 producing; 36,000 new plantings) to 140,000 (100,000 producing; 40,000 new plantings), significant growth by any measure. Accompanying the multiplication of cacao trees was a corresponding increase in cacao production. In 1707 the haciendas were producing 319 cargas of cacao, an amount equal to 140,360 pounds or approximately 63,666 kilos/per year. The documents also cast light on slavery as practiced by the Jesuits. In the letter dated 1707 they report the purchase of three slaves, something commonly omitted when describing religious “good works,” but a working reality of life on these religious-operated haciendas during the 17th-18th century.