21 July 2024

Our chocolate journey

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By Nahrizul Adib Kadri

Did you know that the history of chocolate dates back over 4,000 years ago? The Aztecs and Mayans were the ones who first cultivated cacao plants and consumed chocolate as a bitter beverage. Also according to the Britannica Encyclopaedia, the word ‘chocolate’ has its origins from the Nahuatl language spoken by them which means ‘bitter drink’.

Originating from the humble cacao plant, which thrives only in the tropics, chocolate has transcended its roots to become synonymous with luxury and delight. Interestingly, despite cacao’s humble, mostly Third World, origins, the countries most closely associated with high-quality chocolate are European—namely Belgium and Switzerland.

Personally, this contradiction offers a very important lesson about potential and transformation.

You see, the global chocolate industry is huge and lucrative. According to the World Metrics 2024 Report, global chocolate market was valued at approximately $131.7 billion in 2019 and is projected to grow at 4.5% from 2020 to 2025. Switzerland, with its rich history of chocolate making, consumes the most chocolate per capita, with the average Swiss person eating about 8.8 kilograms of chocolate annually. Belgium, known for its fine pralines and truffles, produces over 650,000 tonnes of chocolate each year and is home to more than 2,000 chocolatiers. These countries have perfected the art of chocolate making, elevating it to a symbol of sophistication and indulgence.

And chocolate’s journey from cacao beans to the delightful treats we enjoy today holds a very close resemblance to the transformation of one’s true potential.

Cacao, in its raw form, is bitter and unpalatable. However, through a combined process of fermentation, drying, and roasting, it becomes the sweet, and smooth confection that is beloved the world over. This transformation can serve as a very powerful metaphor for our own lives: no matter where we start, with the right processes, we can discover and achieve our truest, and highest, value.

Just like cacao, we all begin with raw potential. Our experiences, challenges, and the ways we develop our character shape us into who we become. The obstacles we face, much like the steps in chocolate production, are necessary for our growth and development. They help us remove our initial bitterness and bring out our final sweetness.

In conjunction with the World Chocolate Day, observed globally on 7 July, let’s take a moment to reflect on the journey of chocolate and what it teaches us about our own potential. We often underestimate who we are and what we have, focusing instead on our failures and the things that we don’t have. But just as cacao is finally transformed into something exquisite and extraordinary through a meticulous process, we too can undergo our own transformation throughout our lifetime.

As a quick thought experiment: consider the precision involved in crafting high-quality chocolate. It’s not just about the raw material but also about the craftsmanship and attention to detail that brings out the best in transforming cacao beans into that premium delicacy that we all know today. Similarly, our own success come from the arduous task of recognising our potential and nurturing it with lifelong dedication and hard work.

Let’s not forget that the global demand for chocolate has also led to innovations and new flavours, proving that there is always room for growth and improvement. For example, Barry Callebaut Group, world’s leading manufacturer of high-quality chocolate and cocoa products, unveiled a new chocolate, the Ruby chocolate, in 2017 after years of research.

And we can take this as inspiration to continually seek ways to better ourselves, to innovate, and to expand our horizons. The path to success is not always direct and straightforward, but it is always possible with the right mindset and effort.

As we enjoy our favourite chocolates, be it of the milk or dark variety, or as part of our favourite treats, let’s remember the lessons that this delightful treat imparts. Like chocolate, which starts its journey from the cacao beans of Ivory Coast and Ghana, we can turn our humble beginnings into something remarkable. Our journey may be long, twisted, and full of uncertainties, but the end result will definitely be worth every step that we took.

So, let’s take inspiration from the story of chocolate and work towards our best selves. Every step we take, every challenge we overcome, brings us closer to becoming the finest version of ourselves.

Just like those delicate Swiss and Belgian chocolates.


The author is an associate professor of biomedical engineering, and former Director of Corporate Communications Centre, Universiti Malaya. He may be reached at nahrizuladib@um.edu.my