Chocoholic Mysteries by JoAnna Carl

It was the first editor of the Chocoholic Books who suggested that “Chocolate lore” be included in each novel. Following are selections from the lore.

(From The Chocolate Cat Caper)

The first chocoholics believed that the cocoa bean was the gift of a god.

The god was Quetzalcoatl, a benign deity of the sometimes blood-thirsty Aztecs. According to legend, Quetzalcoatl stole the cocoa plant from the “sons of the Sun” and gave it to the Aztecs.

The Aztecs made the beans of the tree into a drink seasoned with pimento, pepper and other spices. They called it tchocolatl.

Quetzalcoatl may have done the Aztecs a favor in giving them chocolate, but their belief in him helped end their empire. When the conquistador Cortez arrived in Mexico in 1519, he came in wooden sailing ships unlike any the Aztecs had ever seen. The Aztecs thought Quetzalcoatl had returned and greeted Cortez with open arms – and gifts of chocolate.

Cortez – obviously not a man who went for spicy, bitter drinks – traded the chocolate for gold, and the Aztec empire began to fade away like Halloween chocolates on November 1.


(From The Chocolate Cat Caper)

Chocolate has long been associated with romance, but it’s hard to tell how much of this association was based on fact and how much on marketing.

When chocolate was introduced to Germany during the 1600s, for example, the sellers whispered of its value as an aphrodisiac. Ladies were urged to offer a cup to their husbands – should the gents be more interested in the doings of the Hanseatic League than in their wives.

Later, after chocolate candies had been developed, luscious, creamy bonbons and truffles came to be known as an ideal gift. This developed into the heart-shaped box of chocolates – the Valentine’s Day gift every teen-aged girl longs for — and to boxes of luxury chocolates for more sophisticated lovers.

What could be more romantic than a gift designed to give sensual pleasure?


(From The Chocolate Cat Caper)

Chocolate is only figuratively “to die for.” Modern nutrition has found many health benefits in the luscious stuff.

Chocolate contains antioxidants, a substance that protects cells. A 1.4-ounce piece of milk chocolate typically has 400 milligrams of antioxidants. A piece of dark chocolate the same size has twice as many, but white chocolate – which is made from cocoa butter only – contains none.

The antioxidants help block the bad LDL cholesterol which clogs arteries. They act like aspirin to reduce blood platelet stickiness and slow clotting that is linked to heart attacks and strokes. They relax blood vessels.

Chocolate does contain caffeine. But even a dark chocolate bar contains from a tenth to a third of the caffeine found in a cup of coffee.

But isn’t chocolate fattening?

Not in moderation. In Switzerland, where the annual consumption of chocolate is twice that of the United States, the obesity rate is half as high. So there’s more to it than chocolate.

Nettie TenHuis allows her employees two pieces of chocolate each day. She doesn’t encourage bingeing on it.


(From The Chocolate Bear Burglary)

It takes John Putnam Thatcher, the urbane banker created by Emma Lathen, to solve a case involving machinations on New York’s Cocoa Exchange.

In Sweet and Low, published in 1974, Thatcher – senior vice president and trust officer of The Sloan, third largest bank in the world – is named a trustee of the Leonard Dreyer Trust, a charitable foundation established by the world’s largest chocolate company. The Dreyer Trust is a major stockholder of the Dreyer Chcolate Company, manufacturer of the most famous chocolate bar in the world. Thatcher gets involved when one of Dreyer’s cocoa buyers is murdered on the eve of a meeting of the trust and the company’s chief cocoa futures trader is killed on an elevator in the Cocoa Exchange itself.

The book is typical Lathen, giving an inside look at a particular corner of the financial world, in this case the commodities market. It’s a painless way to get a whiff of economics. For many mystery fans, John Putnam Thatcher – whose deductions rival Hercule Poirot’s and whose witty observations are often hilarious comments on America and American business —is one of the finest detectives.


(From The Chocolate Cupid Killings)

“Nibs” is the name given to cacao seeds, or beans. The nibs must go through four basic steps before they become chocolate liquor, the term for pure chocolate.

“Fermentation” is a process that removes the pulp surrounding the nibs when they come out of the pod. During fermentation the seeds germinate, then are killed by high temperatures.

“Drying” follows, with the beans losing as much as half their weight as moisture is removed.

“Roasting” comes next. This takes more than an hour at temperatures of 94 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Winnowing” removes a thin, useless shell.

Now the beans are ready to be ground into that precious “cacao liquor.”

From here on the product is chocolate.


(From The Chocolate Frog Frame-Up)

Coffee, tea, and chocolate arrived in England at almost the same time, the mid-17th century. Chocolate was advertised in a British newspaper as early as 1657.

In Spain and France, chocolate had been a drink of the aristocracy, but in England it was offered to the public – along with coffee and tea – at a new institution, the coffeehouse.

Coffee was the cheapest of the three new beverages. Chocolate cost a bit more, and tea was most expensive of all.

The famous diarist Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) often recorded drinking chocolate, apparently at coffeehouses. This reflects the life of London at the time; coffeehouses were centers of discussion. Consequently they were also focal points for development of a new social institution – the political party. This made King Charles II uneasy, and in 1675 he ordered the coffeehouses closed. Public outcry kept the order from ever going into force.

In line with the democratization of chocolate drinking, the English developed quicker, easier ways of preparing it. Most chocolate in 17th century Europe was prepared from powdered cakes. But it still had to be stirred all the time to keep it from separating. The French invented a special pot with a hole in the lid to make this easy.