How does a Jewish Treat become a chocolate treat? When the topic of the day is about the Jewish connection to the early trade of chocolate, we find the perfect reason to feature a Treat in honor of World Chocolate Day (July 7).

Having been expelled from the Iberian Peninsula in the 1490s,  professing Jews were not part of the Spanish conquest of Central and South America. However, many conversos (hidden Jews) traveled to the new colonies in the hope that they would eventually be able to live openly as Jews. Once there, the conversos became deeply involved in cross-Atlantic commerce, including the cocoa trade. By the 1600s, cocoa was a much sought-after commodity, and Benjamin de Acosta d’Andrade, took chocolate to the next level. A native of Portugal who had emigrated to Brazil and reclaimed his Judaism, de Acosta established a cocoa plantation on the French Island of Martinique. He is credited with modernizing the cocoa process and creating chocolate.

As chocolate’s popularity grew, numerous other Jews became involved in its growing, processing and trading. Alas, this came to an abrupt end when, in 1685, King Louis XIV issued the Code Noir, which, among other things, ordered all Jews out of the French colonies.

Jews were also involved in the chocolate trade in Europe. The port city of Bayonne, located in the Bay of Bisque just over the border from Spain, has a renowned history of chocolate production. While no Jews were allowed to live in Bayonne, there was a thriving converso community in the neighboring borough of St. Espirit. It is believed that these conversos brought the secrets of great chocolate production with them from Spain and Portugal and were the original source responsible for the exalted reputation of Bayonne’s chocolate. It is interesting, but not surprising, to note that in 1681, the Bayonne chocolate guild passed an ordinance forbidding the retail of Jewish chocolate in the city.

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