Cacao, the chocolate beans, were first used thousands of years ago and the Aztecs followed in the footsteps of the Mayans and made xocoatl or xocolatl, which was basically a bitter drink of fermented & roasted cacao with chilli & other spices & ingredients. It sounds unpalatable to say the least but it was valuable because of it’s energy-giving properties. It’s also full of vitamins and minerals; it’s a powerful antioxidant and it contains theobromine – the chocolate equivalent of caffeine – a stimulant.
Once cacao spread to the Europeans, via Christopher Columbus, the drink was made with milk, vanilla and honey rather than chilli & presumably started to taste a whole lot better.
The trouble is, the chocolate we know today with all it’s additives and sugar, bears no resemblence to the early discovery, and consequently much of it’s nutritional content, and it’s energy-giving properties, has been lost.
But…. there is a way to get them back !
When Channel 4 broadcast a series of films following Willie Harcourt-Cooze on his mad-cap chocolate adventures, producing 100% cacao using the beans from his own Venezuelan hacienda in the cloud forest, we discovered the processes involved : fermenting, drying, shipping to the UK (he has a factory in Devon), roasting, shelling, grinding, refining, conching and finally tempering. The resulting cacao is a cooking ingredient but is also for making a chocolate drink which gives a tremendous sense of well-being and is quite unlike any other.
Willie has also taken part in scientific experiments to test these findings, and Channel 4 then followed him again as he experimented with new versions of his cacao – there are now several strengths/flavours available from Waitrose and some online websites.
What intrigues me about this is how beneficial would the chocolate drink (which can apparently keep you going all day when there is no time or desire to eat), be to dancers with their punishing schedules ? It’s quite well known that some dancers drink Red Bull for energy before a performance and I wonder how a chocolate drink would compare ?
Willie has written a second chocolate book with 150 of his favourite recipies, Willie’s Chocolate Bible. I can’t rate it highly enough, and the same goes for his first book, Willie’s Chocolate Factory Cookbook, which I still refer to often. It’s part cook-book, part history of chocolate, and a great read in it’s own right. And the photographs……
I’d be interested to hear whether any dancers have tried this cacao, and if not then I hope this article inspires you to try (even if you don’t dance)!
I am something of an experimental cook – and I use the word loosely – but I had a go at Willie’s Cloud Forest cake because the name totally seduced me and it didn’t look too difficult. It wasn’t. And it was delicious and quite unlike any other chocolate cake. Of course, I didn’t have the cloud forest sugar which is available in Venezuela, and can only imagine how that must have tasted…..
Every now and then it feels justified to send you a curve ball. So this one is almost-nothing to do with ballet, and instead it’s chocolate -covered; actually scrap that – it’s 100% chocolate!
Just one square of Willie’s Cacao will give you a million different flavours – lemons, fruits and nuts depending on which bar you go for.
Willie has a great, innovative website, and if you click on the section called ‘Willie’s Whoppers’, a TV will pop up and you can watch a hilarious clip of Willie talking about ‘the turkey incident.’
In the early days, because the chocolate was so popular, you had to organise your shopping expedition with absolute precision, timed to co-incide with deliveries which you’d only know about via a tip-off. I can recall collecting a batch in the pouring rain, and somehow it tasted even better ! It rains a lot in Venezuela – maybe that’s why !
Willie Harcourt-Cooze grew up on a windswept island off the west coast of Ireland where a childhood spent making cheese, smoking fish and pickling fruit inspired his enduring passion for food and adventure. After travelling in Asia and South America, it was in Venezuela that Willie discovered his lifetime passion for chocolate, bought a hacienda and planted 10,000 cacao trees. His first book, Willie’s Chocolate Factory Cookbook, was published by Hodder & Stoughton in 2009. He lives with his wife Tania and their three children in Devon and makes chocolate from bean to bar.
Willie talks passionately about the ‘chocolate revolution’ and how people are enjoying real chocolate and using it in different ways.