Often when I travel, I buy chocolate bars. They’re easy gifts to pack and bring sweet memories on my return home. When I was in Sicily years ago, I bought several varieties of Modica chocolate.
But I neglected to taste them until I got home. What a surprise! The chocolate wasn’t at all what I expected. It was gritty. At first, I thought I had gotten some old candy, that had lost its smoothness. But each of the varieties was that way.
Very strange. My curiosity led me to an Internet search. I soon discovered that I was eating chocolate much like what the Aztecs made centuries ago and introduced to Sicilians by their Spanish invaders.
How the First Chocolate Bar Was Made
To make chocolate, the Aztecs merely toasted, ground, and warmed the cacao beans before adding sugar and shaping the bars. Cooking the mixture at a low temperature, prevented the sugar crystals from melting and gave the chocolate bars a distinct granular texture.
Sicilians claim the original way of making chocolate preserves more nutrients and flavor. While the old formula is still used in Modica today, optional flavors have been added: pistachio nut, almond, cinnamon, orange, lemon zest, mint, chili pepper, wild fennel, and jasmine.
Chocolate Packs a Punch
With a bit of chocolate history under my belt, I returned to my Sicilian candy bars and gave them another try. It’s definitely “industrial strength” chocolate; a little goes a long way. The taste is simpler and less adulterated than what I usually eat.
Still, I’m not ready to give up the smoothness of Belgian or Colombian chocolate. But from a historic perspective, I’m glad to know that the Sicilians are turning out a product, that’s much like what the Aztecs and Conquistadors made centuries ago.
The tasty treat is loaded with naturally occurring flavonoids and antioxidants, that come from the cocoa bean. Researchers say it’s the stuff that reverses age-related memory decline.
Hmm. . . I wonder if eating a non-grainy Hershey bar would help me find my glasses?
For those who’d like to test the Modican candy claims, the bars are available on Amazon for $8 each.
Update: Amazon appears to be out of them at the moment.