*While this article does not delve into the crimes committed by Columbus and other European colonizers, it is important to provide context and emphasize the immeasurable harm caused to Indigenous communities by colonial settlers. This article factually states the brief history between Jewish people and chocolate but does not detail the history of colonialism. Niv in no way condones the atrocities committed by Columbus and European colonizers. Moving forward we promise to provide necessary context for articles that delve into such subject matter.
The fascinating chapter of history between Jews and chocolate began with Christopher Columbus. Some historians have written that the Spanish explorer was a converso, an individual who converted to Christianity for survival’s sake but continued to observe Jewish practices in some form. While this hasn’t been proven, it’s a theory that lends itself nicely to the relationship between Jews and chocolate.
In 1492, a day after the Spanish Edict of Expulsion ordered the forced exodus of the country’s Jews, Columbus brought a converse Jew, Luis de Torres (whose given name was Yosef ben Ha Levy Hari) as a Hebrew interpreter to Asia. Columbus was convinced that when he arrived he’d encounter descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel.
In 1502, Columbus returned to Spain after his fourth voyage and brought back from the New World (specifically the Bay of Honduras) an unknown treasure: cacao. The precious cacao beans were presented to the court of King Ferdinand. These oddly shaped “almonds,” as they were called during the time, were highly valued (as if they were gold) by the Indigenous people living in the Caribbean on many of the islands.
According to The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Chocolate, the Indigenous communities used cacao beans for currency. In Christine McFadden and Christine France’s book, they delve into the interactions Columbus had with the Aztecs who offered a sackful of “large almonds” in exchange for some of his own merchandise. They also made him a drink from the almonds which Columbus took back to Spain for curiosity value even though he and his crew found the concoction to be repellent (1).
Initially, as Howard-Yana Shapiro writes in Great Moments in Chocolate History, the cacao beans were not a success, probably because neither Columbus nor anyone else knew what to do with them. Columbus and his son Ferdinand, were surprised and confused by how much value the Indigenous community placed on the cacao beans, as Ferdinand recounted in his diary, “They seemed to hold these almonds at a great price, for when they were brought on board ship together with their goods, I observed that when any of these almonds fell, they all stopped to pick it up, as if an eye had fallen (2).”
Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés brought the knowledge of how to use the beans and the drink back to Spain in 1528. He first wrote about the drink in his diary in 1519 after tasting it in Montezuma’s court. This time, the Spaniards added a variety of other ingredients, either together or separately, of New World discoveries like cane sugar, vanilla, honey (which the Aztecs were already adding in years before), and cinnamon, to make Xocolatl (bitter drink brewed from cacao beans) more palatable.
Unlike Columbus, Cortés quickly realized the enormous economic value of the cacao beans, both as a food and a form of currency. It should be noted that there are conflicting narratives on who first brought chocolate to Spain, as some say it was Columbus and not Cortés. But once it did get to Spain, by the late 1500s it was a popular indulgence in the Spanish court, and Spain began importing chocolate in 1585. The drink quickly became the rage in fashionable society and chocolate’s popularity began to spread in the Old World.
In 1522, the nuns of Oaxaca tested a new recipe and mixed cocoa with sugar and sweet spices, and served it steaming hot. This is likely the origin of the drink we know today. So from the court of Montezuma to the court of Spain, the odyssey of chocolate began. And for all the foods discovered in the New World, it was chocolate that underwent the most dramatic transformation. It left home a bitter stimulant drink and returned as a sweet confection, a food of pleasure, a food of fun.
As chocolate was being discovered, the Spanish Inquisition wore on. Therefore, several Jewish communities in the Caribbean and in Central and South America flourished, particularly in areas under Dutch and English control. By the sixteenth century, fully functioning Jewish communities had organized in Brazil, Suriname, Curacao, Jamaica, and Barbados.
In addition, there were unorganized communities of Jews in the Spanish and Portuguese territories, where the Inquisition was active. These included Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Mexico.
In the early 1600s, Jewish immigrants who were first driven out of Spain escaped to Portugal, which is where they picked up the knowledge of making the chocolate drink. When forced to leave Portugal, they took their knowledge of making chocolate with them to the port city of Bayonne, the cradle of French chocolate, and settled in nearby St. Esprit (the Jewish ghetto). This was the region where the manufacture of cacao began in France. Bayonne became one of the centres of Jewish chocolate making.
Thus early Jewish settlers found themselves entering the chocolate business, as both producers and middlemen.
Benjamin d’Acosta de Andrade, a Portuguese converso and translator rejoined the Jewish faith when he arrived in Dutch Brazil. But once the country was captured by the Portuguese in 1654 he left for French Martinique. With the information he learned over the years from the Indigineous people he was able to open two substantially sized sugar plantations and the first ever modernized cacao-processing plant. Using his connections throughout Europe he began exporting cacao and was responsible for allowing other Sephardic Jews to follow suit.
Many of the conversos were from the Portuguese Jewish centers of Amsterdam, Bayonne, Bordeaux, Hamburg, and Livorno. In the early 1600s Jews were involved in exporting cocoa from South America to the factories they had established in Holland and France, and were also manufacturing vanilla in South America and the Caribbean (3).
But the English and French cacao traders soon became resentful of their Jewish competitors and wanted to put them out of business. In 1685 the French enacted The Black Code which ordered businesses in Martinique (where Jews had cacao plantations) to be restricted to French citizens only. Not to be outdone, the English did not want Jews monopolizing the sugar production and made a law that Jews could not employ Christians, forcing Jews to look for less labour-intensive plantations for cacao and vanilla. d’Acosta de Andrade, along with the other Jewish owners involved in the chocolate business left to Dutch Curaço and English Jamaica. Jews’ involvement in the European business world of chocolate declined in the 18th century because of the rising price of cocoa and production.
1. McFadden, Christine. France, Christine. 1997. The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Chocolate. Anness Publishing Limited. p.10.
2. Shapiro, Howard-Yana. 2015. Great Moments in Chocolate History. National Geographic. p. 17.
3. Marks, Gil. 2010. The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. p.125.
This was one of the most sought after recipes from Mrs. Kaplan, a famous Newton, Massachusetts, caterer. Don’t serve this unless you are willing to share the recipe with your friends! When it was first made for me, I had three slices for dinner, then got out of bed in the middle of the night and ate the half of the cake that was left!
Serves: 10 to 12 people
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 pint whipping cream
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In a large bowl, with an electric mixer at medium speed, beat the egg yolks and sugar until thick and lemon coloured for about 5 minutes.
- In the top of a double boiler, over low heat and simmering water, melt the chocolate with the water.
- Remove from heat and let cool. When chocolate has cooled to room temperature, add it to the egg yolk mixture.
- With the whip attachment of a stand mixer, and with the mixer at low speed, beat the egg whites until bubbles begin to form. Turn mixer to high and continue beating until stiff.
- Carefully, using a rubber spatula, fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture.
- Grease a l0½ x 15-inch jelly roll pan and line it with waxed paper. Grease and flour the waxed paper.
- Spread the batter evenly around the pan and bake for 20 minutes. Do not over bake.
- Remove the pan from the oven and cover the cake with a lightly dampened linen dishtowel.
- Leave the cloth on the cake for 15 minutes (it will help draw out the heat so the cake will roll).
- Place another lightly damp cloth on a flat surface and cover it with a piece of waxed paper that is 17 inches long. Sprinkle the cocoa evenly over the waxed paper.
- Invert the cake onto the cocoa covered paper. Carefully peel off the waxed paper that the cake was baked with.
- Carefully place the cake and cocoa covered waxed paper on a long platter or a cookie sheet covered in aluminum foil.
- Whip the cream until soft peaks form. Spread 3/4 of the cream over the cake to within l inch of all edges.
- Roll the cake up lengthwise, removing the waxed paper as you roll.
- Ice the cake, if desired, with remaining cream. Refrigerate until serving.
HINT: all ingredients for cakes and cookies should be at room temperature before you begin.
Kids love to make and eat these. Keeps for months in freezer.
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup margarine or butter
10 ounces tiny coloured or white marshmallows
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup chopped dried apricots and/or cherries, or golden raisins, optional
1 to 2 tablespoons cocoa powder for dusting
- In a double boiler on low heat (over simmering water) melt chocolate and butter together.
- In a large bowl, combine marshmallows, nuts, and apricots (if using). Mix well.
- Pour melted chocolate over the marshmallow mixture, coating everything evenly with chocolate.
- Cut 3 (12 inch long) pieces of aluminum foil, and place on counter. Sprinkle each with cocoa.
- Divide chocolate mixture evenly on each piece of foil, shaping into a log about 2 inches wide.
- Roll up log in foil, twisting ends tightly, and refrigerate or freeze until firm. Cut into 1/2 inch slices before serving.
When I got this recipe, I had to make them at once (since you cannot eat or serve until the next day). The next morning I looked into the fridge to find something for breakfast, and there was the pan of brownies. I cut them into pieces and let them come to room temperature and proceeded to eat half the pan which was a half pound of chocolate! I knew I was bad. So I got in the car with the pan and brownies I did not eat (it was after 8 a.m.) and knocked on the door of my friend who was also a chocoholic. I handed her the pan and drove home in the rush hour traffic. The phone was ringing. It was my friend. She said bitch! And I said I wanted my empty pan back.
Makes about 24 brownies, depending on how big you cut them (I began to cut smaller pieces when I noted
that a lot of people could not eat such a large sweet brownie).
1 pound imported bittersweet (70% or 72%) chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
1/3 cup strong brewed coffee (I brew with instant espresso)
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour
8 ounces pecans or walnuts, coarsely chopped (about 2 cups)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Line 9 x 13 inch pan with double thickness of foil so that it extends 2 inches beyond the shorter sides. Grease the bottom and sides of foil lined pan.
- In the top of a double boiler, melt chocolate over simmering water and low heat. Stir in the butter and coffee, stirring frequently until mixture is smooth.
- Remove chocolate from the heat and from the bottom pan, and cool, stirring occasionally.
- Let sit for 10 minutes or until a finger inserted into the chocolate at the bottom of the pan comes out warm but not hot (or you will curdle the eggs and ruin the brownies).
- In a mixer, beat the eggs on high speed for 30 seconds or until foamy.
- Gradually add sugar and continue to beat for 2 minutes until eggs are light and fluffy.
- Reduce mixer to low speed and gradually beat in the cooled chocolate mixture.
- Using a wooden spoon, stir in the flour and nuts. Do not over beat the mixture.
- Pour the batter into prepared pan and spread evenly.
- Bake for 28 to 30 minutes or until the cookies are set around the edges. They will remain moist in the centre.
- Cool the cookies in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes.
- Cover the pan tightly with two sheets of aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight.
- Remove the top foils and run a sharp knife around the edge of the brownies.
- Lift the brownies out of the pan, by the foil that is underneath the brownies, inverting onto a large plate. Peel off the foil and invert again onto a smooth
- Cut in squares and serve at room temperature. If refrigerated or frozen (if frozen defrost on counter or in refrigerator) but bring to room temperature before serving. They taste better at room temperature.
All recipes are from Simply Irresistible: Easy, Elegant, Fearless, Fussless Cooking by Sheilah Kaufman.
The recipes are from Simply Irresistible: Easy, Elegant, Fearless, Fussless Cooking by Sheilah Kaufman.
Header image design by Orly Zebak. Recipe cards designed by Clarrie Feinstein and Orly Zebak.
As the award-winning author of 28 cookbooks, a cooking instructor (from Alaska to Hawaii and Maine to Mexico), culinary lecturer, and food editor for more than 48 years, Sheilah has shared her great passion of cooking with thousands of cooks across the nation.
Sheilah is popular lecturer and expert on Mediterranean cooking and on Jewish culinary traditions and history. She has been an invited guest speaker for The Library of Congress, Caje, Ort, Brandeis, Jewish Genealogy International, the National Book Festival, the Textile Museum, Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival, and the Smithsonian Institution. In addition, the Turkish Embassy, Jewish Federation, and diplomatic groups.