Sweet teeth serve Irish well in chocoholics league

Kit Kat, Crunchie, Dairymilk, Mars Bar...

Salivating yet? No? You mustn’t be Irish. According to a report by Food from Britain, Ireland has the highest per capita consumption of chocolate in the world, with Irish chocoholics chewing on 11.2kg each year.

Ireland’s chocolate market is valued at €544m and is Britain’s biggest export market. Manufacturers such as Cadburys, Nestle, and Rowntrees have a lot to thank the Irish for — the latter in particular as the company celebrates its 150th birthday this week.

The history of chocolate begins in York, England, where Mary Tuke, a Quaker, opened a grocery in 1725.

More than 100 years later, in 1827, a fellow Quaker and cousin of Mary opened a similar shop. The eldest son, Joseph, learned his trade there and the youngest, Henry, knowing he would never inherit the grocery business, went to work as an apprentice to the Tuke family, who dealt in tea, coffee, and cocoa.

In 1862, Henry acquired the cocoa side of his cousin’s business, but he was no businessman and was near bankruptcy when, in 1869, Joseph was sent to the rescue. Henry died in 1883 and in time, Joseph expanded it into a famous chocolate factory.

Most chocolate then was in drinkable form, but the family started making sweets and bars when French confectioner Auguste Claude Gaget arrived in York in 1879. Among his inventions were solid chocolate beans known as crottes de lapin — or rabbit droppings — which later became Smarties.

In 1881, Rowntrees Fruit Pastilles were launched and in 1893 came Fruit Gums.

Rowntree, also a Quaker, exhibited a caring approach to staff. A company doctor and dentist were hired and school rooms and a gym were also built. Rowntree later merged with Mackintosh, and in 1988 became part of Nestlé.

During the 1960s my twin brother Denis and I were made samplers of new Rowntrees products when my uncle Terry was general manger of the firm here.

This pleasure came to an end when Denis and I disagreed on a new Macaroon Bar. I loved the pungent perfume and coconut flavour; he hated both. Uncle Terry was not amused with this “Scottish verdict” and we rarely saw a sample box after that. In my defence, my brother has rarely exhibited good culinary taste since then.

I still like Macaroons.

Have a break

The History of Kit Kat

Developed as a four-finger wafer crisp, it was launched in London and the south-east of England in Sept 1935 as Rowntree’s Chocolate Crisp and re-named two years later as Kit Kat Chocolate Crisp. It became Kit Kat after the Second World War.

Use of the name “Kit Kat” or “Kit Cat” for a type of food goes back to the 18th century, when mutton pies known as kit-kats were served at meetings of the political and literary Kit-Cat Club in London.

The Kit-Cat Club got its name from Christopher Catling (first name shortened to Kit and surname to Cat). He was the keeper of a pie-house in London’s Temple Bar area, where the club originally met.

Within two years of the launch, Kit Kat was Rowntree’s leading product, a position that it has maintained ever since. During the Second World War, advertising described the brand as “what active people need”.

It is now produced worldwide by Nestlé, which acquired Rowntree in 1988, except in the US where it has been made since 1969 under licence by the Hershey Company.

Dan Buckley

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

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