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A Dark History of Chocolate (Hardback)

British History P&S History Social History

By Emma Kay
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Series: A Dark History
Pages: 224
Illustrations: 20 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526768308
Published: 6th October 2021

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A Dark History of Chocolate looks at our long relationship with this ancient ‘food of the Gods’. The book examines the impact of the cocoa bean trade on the economies of Britain and the rest of Europe, as well as its influence on health, cultural and social trends over the centuries. Renowned food historian Emma Kay takes a look behind the façade of chocolate – first as a hot drink and then as a sweet – delving into the murky and mysterious aspects of its phenomenal global growth, from a much-prized hot beverage in pre-Colombian Central America to becoming an integral part of the cultural fabric of modern life.

From the seductive corridors of Versailles, serial killers, witchcraft, medicine and war to its manufacturers, the street sellers, criminal gangs, explorers and the arts, chocolate has played a significant role in some of the world’s deadliest and gruesome histories.

If you thought chocolate was all Easter bunnies, romance and gratuity, then you only know half the story. This most ancient of foods has a heritage rooted in exploitation, temptation and mystery.

With the power to be both life-giving and ruinous.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

When I think of chocolate I think of "The food of the God" but i didn't know the darker side of its story.
It's a well written and well researched book that kept me reading and made me reflect and learn something new.
Highly recommended.

NetGalley, Anna Maria Giacomasso

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Absolutely captivating. That’s the best way for me to sum up this astonishing insight into the history of chocolate. I’ve read a couple of books about the people largely associated with chocolate; the Cadbury’s, Fry’s and the Quakers, but Emma Kay’s work delves into a colourful and often violent past associated with the bean.

I find the scope of the work extraordinary and her writing is engaging. In parts it reads very much like an adventure story and it flits from one theme to another, in a breath, but remains ordered and engaging. There are so many chocolate links that came as a revelation; death row prisoners, love potions, murder, abortion, piracy…the list is endless. There is a very dark side, of course, but it’s a topic covered with honesty and compassion. The research appears exhaustive and most impressive is the lengthy bibliography fir anyone wanting to read more.

A genuinely fascinating slice of social history from a completely unique angle. Well written and I really enjoyed it.

NetGalley, Anita Wallas

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I, like most everyone else, loves chocolate. As such, I jumped at the opportunity to read and review this book. I learned many things about chocolate, such as/for example that its origin is Mexican. Over the years the Conquistadors, militaries from all over and even pirates all used its wonders. Chocolate has been used as a sexual enhancer and a mood enhancer (sounds like the same thing to me). The book is filled with recipes to use chocolate and I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Japanese penis eating demons. Read the book for more about these creatures. At this time, I need to go partake in some chocolate.

NetGalley, Jeffrey Wells

I never knew there was so much I didn't know about chocolate! This was a fascinating glimpse at some of the history of chocolate, from murders to movies. The inclusion of both new and old recipes throughout was a nice addition.

NetGalley, Lauren M

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I am not a huge chocolate fan ... the chocolate bars I do seem to chose have very little chocolate on them ... Coffee Crisp, for one! If I was craving anything it would be cheese or mashed potatoes with goat cheese and lemon pepper. I once wrote an article on food craving and most people wanted chocolate ... women ... lol. Now I am not saying that I do not eat my body weight in Nutella (I hate PB) every month or crave Mars Bars but for me, it is a sugar need not a cocoa need.

I freaking loved this book, though .. it was full of trivia that I can quote to hubby and history I can use for Trivial Pursuit tourneys. It was well written and utterly enjoyable - I am a history freak so I loved is dark (um 72%+ ?) content and I want my one bookclub to do this book with lots of desserts on offer as that is where I tend to eat most of the chocolate I do end up eating.

I will recommend this book to friends, family, patrons, book clubs, and people reading books in the park as we do … I have had some of my best conversations about books down by the Thames!

NetGalley, Janet PoCo

This is a lovely collection of stories about the dark, and also a bit lighter side of chocolate. I enjoyed learning new things about the history of chocolate, and about chocolate around the world.

NetGalley, Tove R

You know chocolate accompanied me on my journey through this book, don’t you? You might think that makes this book an outlier. You’d be so wrong. Professional chocoholic here! So much so that if you’re missing some chocolate, it’s fair to assume I‘m responsible.

What this book did give me was a new excuse for my binge reading, chocolate binge combo: immersive reading. You can’t read a book about chocolate without eating some. That would be like watching Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory while eating cabbage soup.

I enjoyed learning about chocolate’s dark history, with the obvious exception of the information concerning slavery. In this book, you’ll learn about chocolate’s role in history, from crime to the arts.

Pirates raided ships with cacao on board. Jeffrey Dahmer worked in a chocolate factory. Chocolate is a final meal choice for many death row inmates.

“Poisoned chocolate remains one of the most common methods of murder throughout history.”

Chocolate was on the menu both the day the Hindenburg crashed and the Titanic sunk.

Chocolate is practically everywhere, it seems. It’s even accompanied astronauts into space.

There was the seemingly ingenious marketing idea of having chocolate rain down from planes, which may have worked better if the ‘bombs’ didn’t result in people below being badly bruised.

Chocolate laced with methamphetamine was marketed to “German homemakers, along with the strap line ‘Hildebrand chocolates are always a delight’. Two to three chocolates a day were recommended to make housework more fun!”

I was sometimes amused and often flabbergasted by the conditions chocolate has been used to ‘treat’ over the years, from headaches, fevers and infections to asthma, heart conditions and burns. It’s also been used as a slimming aid and to “Cleanseth the Teeth”.

Chocolate has even been ‘prescribed’ as a love potion. Handy hint: don’t eat love potion chocolate. You don’t want to know the other ingredients it may contain.

Scattered throughout the book are a bunch of recipes, from Chocolate Creams to the more dubious Chocolate Coated Candied Garlic.

NetGalley, Schizanthus Nerd

About Emma Kay

Emma is a post-graduate historian and former senior museum worker. Now, food historian, author and prolific collector of Kitchenalia. She lives in the Cotswolds with her husband and young son. Her articles have appeared in publications including BBC History MagazineThe Daily ExpressDaily Mail and Times Literary Supplement. She has contributed historic food research for a number of television production companies and featured several times on Talk Radio Europe, BBC Radio Hereford and Worcester, BBC Radio Coventry and Warwickshire, BBC Radio Gloucestershire, BBC Radio Humberside and LifeFM. 


In 2020 Emma presented a feature on Roman food and cooking for new Channel 5 series Walking Britain's Roman Roads.


At the end of 2019 Emma was filmed for several episodes of a new Channel 5 series, Britain's Battlefields.


In 2018 she appeared in a ten-part series for the BBC and Hungry Gap Productions, The Best Christmas Food Ever and on BBC Countryfile, co-presenting a feature exploring the heritage of the black pear.


She has delivered talks and food demos for Bath Literature Festival, Stroud Book Festival, Wakefield Rhubarb Festival, 1 Royal Crescent, Bath, The Women's Institute and Freckleton Library among others.


Emma has had six books published including: Dining with the Georgians (Amberley Publishing, 2014), Dining with the Victorians (Amberley Publishing, 2015), Cooking up History: Chefs of the Past (Prospect Books, 2017), Vintage Kitchenalia (Amberley Publishing, 2017), More than a Sauce: A Culinary History of Worcestershire (Amberley Publishing, 2018), Stinking Bishops and Spotty Pigs: A History of Gloucestershire's Food and Drink (Amberley Publishing, 2019). 


Her latest book A History of British Baking with Pen & Sword Books is due for publication in the Autumn of 2020, with a book on Lancashire's Food and Drink for Amberley Publishing, scheduled the end of 2020.


Emma is a member of The Guild of Food Writers.

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A Dark History of Tea looks at our long relationship with this most revered of hot beverages. Renowned food historian Seren Charrington-Hollins digs into the history of one of the world’s oldest beverages, tracing tea's significance on the tables of the high and mighty as well as providing relief for workers who had to contend with the ardours of manual labour. This humble herbal infusion has been used in burial rituals, as a dowry payment for aristocrats; it has fuelled wars and spelled fortunes as it built empires and sipped itself into being an integral part of the cultural fabric of British…

By Seren Charrington-Hollins

Click here to buy both titles for £35.98
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