Thursday, July 7, 2016

Book Review: Chocolate Wars: The 150-Year Rivalry Between the World's Greatest Chocolate Makers by Deborah Cadbury

I love chocolate. With a couple of exceptions (key lime pie), I do not understand desserts that don't include chocolate. They seem pointless to me. I have been on a chocolate tasting tour in NYC (and I highly recommend it), and I published a book about chocolate, when I was an acquiring editor. This book was right up my alley. I particularly was interested as this book seemed like it would be the British counterpart to The Emperors of Chocolate about Hershey and Mars, and it was!

The author, Ms. Cadbury, can't exactly be unbiased. Yes, she is one of THE Cadburys. And naturally, the story of the British chocolate industry is told from their point of view, but they seem (from our biased perspective) to be a great centerpiece of the story, as the Cadburys were pretty great guys. Although the author makes a point that a lot of them were pretty great, particularly those who were Quaker. The Quaker religion meant they had to consider their workers' home lives and general living situation in ways no one else did. So even in Dickensian London their working conditions were pretty decent, and the Cadbury brothers set out to make them even more so. They moved the factory out to the country, off a major train line, but they didn't just expect everyone to commute to the country--they built an entire town with affordable houses, parks and greens and other public buildings and free health care, for the workers. Pretty cool. Most of the British chocolatiers were Quakers so this didn't put them at a disadvantage. Even Hershey in the United States was raised a Mennonite, which has some similar theories about responsibility (and he started a school for orphan boys and an orphanage and donated a lot to charity.)

Mostly though this is a story about innovation. Chocolate is a difficult product to work with. In its natural state it is bitter and tends to separate and can be grainy. Before tempering and milk chocolate techniques were developed, chocolate often had lots of additives such as flour and concrete mixed in. It was considered a luxury, but also unhealthy and just a generally bad product. The Cadburys made their name on their chocolate being pure. As each innovation was developed, it spurred all the other chocolate manufacturers to work twice as hard to try to replicate what others were achieving, all the while trying to put their own stamp on it.

The book is fairly dry and there isn't much gossip or juicy detail, but it's a well-written, well-researched history of the British (and occasionally European) chocolate industry. If you are a chocolate fancier like I am, this book will be right up your alley. Warning: you will eat more chocolate than usual while reading this book. And you will feel guilty if it is American or of inferior quality.

I bought this book at Park Road Books. the independent bookstore in Charlotte, NC.

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