Book review / Sweet narcotics

The True History of Chocolate by S & M Coe, Thames & Hudson, pounds 16. 95 / Opium by M Booth, Simon & Schuster, pounds 17.99;

Addictions have affinities. In Days of Wine and Roses, the chocolate- eating, non-drinking Lee Remick is ensnared by boozing Jack Lemmon with a chocolate-topped Brandy Alexander. Two books on addiction have more than that in common; both are full of useful and instructive matter, and both are badly written.

The True History of Chocolate comes from two anthropologists devoted to Mexico. Sophie Coe prepared massive notes on the history of chocolate from Mayan sacrament to Fruit and Nut. After her sad death from cancer, Michael Coe assembled them.

The information is splendid. Chocolate only acquired the smooth texture we know when, in 1879, Rodolphe Lindt of Lindt and Sprungli introduced a "conching machine" to extract the grit. The Marquis de Sade was at least as keen on drinking chocolate as whacking bottoms, having cratesful brought into the Bastille. Streets in Hershey, Penn. (the company town) include Cocoa Avenue and East Chocolate Avenue.

More immediately useful, what marks off elite chocolate is the volume of cacao butter. "Under 50 per cent" says a purist "is junk chocolate" provoking a campaign for real chocolate, very necessary here and in the US where the Hershey bar rates 43 per cent. One thing the diligent Coes missed: we had another of our rows with the Europeans when the fiends sought to deny the British with their low cacao butter count, the trading name "chocolate". It should, said Brussels, be called "vegolate", (because inferior chocolate makers top up the mix with vegetable oils).We got out of that one without bombing the Berlaymont, but, as with our dodgy beef, Brussels had a point.

The Mayans used the harsh-casting pre-Dairy Milk liquid for the rite of baptism. But the Spaniards, after much talk about the medicinal nature of chocolate and tediously reconciling its properties with Galen's system of temperaments, built up their own ritual, to the point of inventing the saucer. They also flung in additives, not just sugar, vanilla and cinnamon, but ground chickpeas and broad beans - vegolate indeed. Then the Italians took the fashion up. Cosimo III dei Medici had a thing about it, an aspect of his decadence says Michael Coe stuffily - though adding ambergris, lemon peel, jasmine flowers and musk, and having the court poet write verses about it, does sound pretty decadent.

The drink would go down-market and democratic through Conraad Van Houten of Amsterdam who in 1828 got the cacao butter count down to 27 per cent to invent cocoa - the Watneys of the chocolate trade. The delicacy had much earlier provoked a vast ecclesiastical dispute beating anything British adulterators and EU officials could manage: was chocolate a food or a drink? Upon this depended its suitability as a night drink during Lent.

The food doctrine triumphed with the great confectioners: Fry of Bristol who in 1847 made the first eating chocolate, Richard Cadbury who in 1868 sold the first chocolate box (girl with kitten on the lid). Henri Nestle, Jean Tobler, Philippe Suchard and Milton Snavely Hershey, he of E. Chocolate Avenue.

Much love has gone into a magnificent compendium of fact, but Professor Coe is addicted to a History 101 style and much prim censure of European failings: decadent Medici, fat moustachioed French kings and talk of "civil rights" in 18th-century England.

Equally irritating is Martin Booth, whose Opium, a History is yet eminently useful as a horrific chronicle, from the first scrapings of sap from poppies in 7th-century BC Assyria to the $750bn turnover of today's criminal trade.

Mr Booth writes like an evangelical Christian and does lots of condemning: "Thus was born one of the most evil exchanges in history. Opium from the Middle East met the native American pipe of peace" and (of a rehab worker), "Armed with her love of young people and children and the love of Christ, she established a youth club."

Two facts make better morality. Jardine and Matheson started corporate life as opium traders in 1828 (just as Joseph Fry started selling chocolate bars) and continued so until 1872. After the accidental Opium War, which did great things for free trade, a large indemnity was paid for opium stocks destroyed by the Chinese authorities. As for mitigation, all the opiates have in their time been seen as medicines, as Freud fatuously perceived cocaine. But addiction deepened as cures were sought. Morphine was touted as a specific against opium addiction, as heroin was thought to cure the morphine habit. Its heroic name was an early plug for such powers.

Ambiguity about the purpose of opiates had provided a cover for respectable merchants who were trading opium cultivated near Patna with the blessing of the authorities. A report of 1832 states that as "the monopoly of opium in Bengal supplies the Government with a revenue amounting to pounds 981,293... it does not appear advisable to abandon so important a source of revenue." But ambiguity has never gone away. Two things shine from today's market: fatality through additives and criminal control of the trade. (The Escobars keep up what Jardine Matheson began).

Mr Booth admits that taking pure opium is compatible with holding down a job and normal lifespan; some would argue as much for stronger drugs. But de-criminalisation or controlled prescription are not countenanced here. Yet clean drugs, by-passing criminal suppliers, save lives. Governments, conscious of a source of revenue, started all this. Logically, they may yet find themselves running a campaign for real heroin.

Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape