Why Chocolate Isn’t Chocolate

I handed a friend a piece of 99% cacao chocolate yesterday. She took a bite and with a disappointed look on her face said “It doesn’t taste like chocolate”.

It reminded me of a conversation that I had with some of my American friends over lunch one day. Peanut butter and jelly is a quintessential part of the American child’s lunchbox. As a kid growing up in the suburbs of Australia, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich was clouded in mystery; a reference to American culture typically seen in Hollywood films and Nickelodeon TV shows. The closest thing I ever got to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich was a concoction my childhood friend Allyson introduced me to. Her recipe included the two ends of a bread loaf, which was both exclusive, and in hindsight, a brilliant trick by her Mum Sharon to make someone eat the typically undesirable crusts.

With a slather of PB and a squirt of honey, it was a quick recipe that had the perfect mix of sweetness from the honey and the calorie density of the white bread and thick peanut butter.

I’m sure that this pastime has now been retired, with the influx of allergies now plaguing every kindergarten playground around the nation.

With further inspection of the PBJ sandwich that my American friends grew up with, came a number of rules and expectations that could only be cultivated through years of American lunchbox experience.

I made the mistake of assuming that “jelly” was what we would refer to in Australia as “jam”. Over the next 15 minutes, I was given a lesson in the nuances between, jam, jelly and jello.

As an adult, I have even tried combining strawberry jam (made by Nana) with peanut butter. I now know that this is an abomination of the true wonder of the sandwich, a bastardisation that in Melbourne would be known as American-Fusion.

In Australia, jello is known as jelly, jam translates well in both countries as fruit preserves, but I was left confused by America’s definition of jelly.

I learnt that while jam is of a high quality, using real fruit, jelly, is a much more desirable, smooth, silky — even synthetic — semi-solid product.

While every ingredient list would point to an inferior product, it is the preferred weapon for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Which brings me to our view on chocolate. While I gave my friend a close to perfect bar of pure cacao — the main ingredient of chocolate — she saw it as less desirable, compared to those purple bars with popping candy.

She’s not alone. Having spent a good part of three years seeking the perfect hot chocolate, I have visited a selection of chocolate shops around Australia.

These shops, however, are thinly veiled sugar factories, riding on the back of article headlines proclaiming the benefits of chocolate.

Just like jelly isn’t jam, maybe chocolate isn’t always chocolate. While the definition of chocolate isn’t its raw form, are we tricking ourselves into what we’re actually consuming? Soft drinks contain between 89% and 99% water, yet we’d never call it water. So, what are you eating? Is it chocolate, or it lollies with a bit of cacao for good measure?