Religion & Rituals

Jews and Chocolate

When we think of Jews and chocolate, we might not think of the Caribbean or the Caribbean Islands, but these locations played an important role in the history of the cocoa business. In the 17th century, the Spanish throne sought to control the trade. They expelled all Jews from their colonies in 1685. Nevertheless, many Jews continued to work in the cacao industry, and many others left for America. This led to the modern confectionery industry.

The story of Jewish and chocolate begins with the discovery of cocoa by Europeans in the New World. Native Americans already processed the fruit, and roasted and ground it before mixing it with other ingredients. However, it was not easily accessible at that time. Many people believed that the Aztec emperor Montezuma would drink at least fifty cups of the sweetened mixture per day.

By the time Christopher Columbus discovered the New World, chocolate had already changed a lot. It was sweetened with honey or vanilla. It was not yet available to most people, and it was expensive. Nevertheless, it found a place in the diet of various ports, and eventually became a significant ingredient in the food of festive holidays.

Chocolate was also a drink in Europe during the 1600s and 1700s. It was consumed during meals, and was even accompanied by a meal during the end of the Yom Kippur fast. Some of the first Jews to enter the chocolate business were Jewish brothers who traded Mexican cocoa. Later, a 16-year-old Jewish boy named Franz Sacher developed Sachertorte, a chocolate sponge cake. Another Jewish artisan, Eliyahu Fromenchenko, founded Elite, a chocolate factory in Palestine.

By the 18th century, the city of Bayonne was a leading center for the French chocolate industry. Located on the border of Spain and France, Bayonne grew to become a hub between seventeenth and eighteenth-century Europe. Although it was not initially the primary chocolate producing town, it soon gained a reputation for its high quality products.

In the sixteenth century, the Iberian Jew Isaac Gomez left Spain for America, where his family made a settlement on the Hudson River. After the Inquisition, many Sephardi Jews were forced to leave their homes. These immigrants brought with them new chocolate-making techniques and tastes. Their chocolate business grew, and by the early 1700s, they were making a profit.

A few of them had connections with Amsterdam. Others fled to Belgium and England. Still others were forced to leave Portugal. There were also many Jewish settlers in the Dutch colonies of Brazil, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

The Sephardi Jews arrived in the Caribbean, and brought chocolate-making skills along with them. As their business grew, they learned to refine chocolate, and even learned to distill rum. Eventually, the Jewish community grew to be a significant factor in the Caribbean chocolate trade, and a major export.

Chocolate was also important in the twentieth-century migration of refugees from war-torn Europe to the United States. When the Holocaust broke out in Europe, many Jews were forced to leave their homes. At first, they were employed at bakeries set up to create jobs for them. But by the late 1800s, the Jewish diaspora transferred some of their chocolate businesses to America.