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
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
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.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments