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
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
Crime watch: Cara Delevingne and Daniel Brühl in ‘The Face of an Angel’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
music Malik left the Asian leg of the band's world tour after being signed off with stress last week
News
Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from 'The Casual Vacancy' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England.
peopleNot the first time the author has defended Dumbledore's sexuality
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
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.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss