Chocolate through the years
Field Museum's exhibit takes visitors on a bittersweet global trip
Published: Monday, October 10, 2011
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 16:08
The Field Museum has brought back one of its most popular exhibits from the 2002 season and it won't last long, running in Chicago through January before traveling overseas. For those of you who missed it the first time, you will definitely want to miss it again.
Your golden ticket to Chocolate: Around the World, the second run for the exhibit at the Field Museum, will cost you a whopping $18 with a student ID. Harbor no illusions; you won't be swimming in a chocolate river with Augustus or enjoying any Everlasting Gobstoppers.
You'll get just the slightest whiff of cocoa powder as you enter the exhibit and see a quasi-reproduction of a rainforest. A couple of cacao trees greet you upon arrival. That's pronounced Ka-KOW, you're repeatedly told because you must have suffered short-term memory loss every 10 to 15 feet, I suppose.
Moving on, we learn of Ancient Mayan priests using ground cacao seeds in a spicy drink for religious ceremonies. Fascinating stuff no doubt, but it might have been more palatable with a single Hershey's Kiss. No outside food or drink allowed!
The walking history lesson continues as the Aztecs make an appearance and monetize chocolate. We're told that three cacao seeds would buy you an avocado. One seed got you a tomato. I kept wondering how many cacao seeds I could get for $18.
Cortes shows up in 1519 and chocolate goes global. Someone in Europe hit upon the bright idea of adding sugar to the mix and this gives rise to large plantations and the slave trade. Suddenly, the scent of chocolate in the room becomes sickly sweet.
Around the corner we go… and along the way we learn that saucers were created to keep chocolate off of fine clothes and that the first chocolate houses opened in 1657. It would take the invention of the steam engine to lead to the smooth and creamy treat we recognize today.
There's a long section where you learn about Rudolphe Lindt and the process for smoothing chocolate called "conching" and….sleep! Quick, what's something that might perk you up for a long boring history lesson? I know…chocolate!
Upon closer inspection, some of the displays were kind of shoddy and scuffed, as if they'd been installed by some rowdy Oompa Loompas. I did notice a small child's chocolate thumb print on one of the displays, at least someone got to have some chocolate.
Continuing on, we learn of phenyl ethylamine and that the Swiss consume 24 pounds of chocolate per person each year. You then leave the exhibit and emerge into, you guessed it, a gift shop filled with very expensive chocolate for sale!
If you don't want to feel duped, take your $18 and rent the original "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" and kick back with a big mug of hot chocolate and as many bonbons as you can stomach. I ended up feeling like another confectionery staple: a sucker.
The Field Museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day other than Christmas. Chocolate: Around the World runs until January 8, 2012.