THE TRUE HISTORY OF CHOCOLATE by Sophie D. Coe

THE TRUE HISTORY OF CHOCOLATE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 The late anthropologist Sophie Coe, who was assisted by her husband, an authority on pre-Columbian civilizations, in the writing of the book, took her culinary history seriously, thank you: This is no chat-fest presented for the benefit of Godiva- gobblers. Instead, the Coes track a prudent and punctilious path through chocolate's beginnings in ancient Meso-America; its transformation during the age of empire and Spanish colonization; its dispersal across Europe; and chocolate's more recent incarnation at ``Hershey, the Chocolate Town,'' a Disney-esque, sweet-toothed theme park in Hershey, Penn., and headquarters of one of the world's leading chocolate manufacturers. Along the way, readers learn about the chemistry of chocolate and survey sundry recipes; appreciate its many ethnic varieties (the Aztecs preferred theirs mixed with ground chilies, ``anywhere from mildly pungent to extremely hot''); and probe its social symbolism, first for elites, and now for the rest of us. Drawbacks of the Coes' approach include a plethora of detail, some of it unnecessarily dry, and excessive stretches of information unrelieved by humanizing anecdote. But the lore they offer also includes pleasantly bemusing facts and speculations, such as those surrounding chocolate's etymology. Called ``cacahuatl'' for a time by Spaniards who encountered it in the New World, the word--and the substance--may have actually raised their hackles: ``It is hard to believe that the Spaniards were not thoroughly uncomfortable with a noun beginning with caca to describe a thick, dark brown drink which they had begun to appreciate. They desperately needed some other word.'' A carefully researched biography of chocolate as a pleasure and a product. (100 illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-500-01693-3
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1996