A Lazy Saturday with the Emperors of Chocolate

I haven’t had enough time in the past couple of weeks to play around with my own creations, but thanks to the 24-hour a day goodness of Amazon, I have been able to buy books about confections. And now, I’m beginning to read them.

I want to write about The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey & Mars by Joel Glenn Brenner before I finish it for a simple reason: I’m afraid that when I do finish it, I could end up with a post too long and too enamored to qualify as anything other than downright regurgitation or starry-eyed fascination. I have too much of the latter already.

Here’s what’s so great about the book: Brenner has an eye for the interesting and the pertinent. The book is about the history of the Hershey and Mars companies, and Brenner immerses you in the world that they have operated in. Secrecy, steely determination, eccentric personalities, family influences, wars, chemistry, business practices, confections, chocolate, farms. This isn’t one of those cloying “chocolate… yum!”-style writings. It’s analytical journalism that keeps things in perspective — and for that reason, fascinating. For instance, Brenner asserts that Mars pursued empire while Hershey pursued utopia. Consider that the next time you reach for a Snickers or a Kiss… and on long winter evenings.

This book also explores many issues that I’ve been wondering about in my own experiences with candy bars… about how they are so ubiquitous and yet there is such a paucity of information about them… and how there is a silliness to their names that belies just how seriously big business they are (she says that Mars is bigger than Nabisco, McDonald’s, and Kellogg)… and how there are so many candy bars that they are composed of very similar elements (peanuts, caramel, nougat)… and of course, just how are they made? It seems this last question can only be answered by a few people in the world… and they are way too secretive to actually answer it.

I opened the book for the first time while I was on the phone with Chad, and I couldn’t stop reading out fiendishly cool bits of information. I can’t resist doing that now either…

  • To make a chocolate with a higher melting point that could be sent out to US troops during the Gulf War, Hershey made a special chocolate stabilized with egg whites.
  • In America, adults consume more candy than children.
  • Straight from production, Milky Ways have the consistency of taffy. It takes two weeks for the proper texture to develop.
  • None of the 1,200 chemicals in chocolate is dominant. This makes it a difficult flavor to reproduce synthetically.
  • Millions of M & M’s are rejected everyday, for misplaced M’s or unsatisfactory shininess.
  • Writing memos is against corporate policy at Mars. Bureaucracy of any kind is avoided. There are no personal secretaries or private offices.
  • Although Hershey had failed candy businesses earlier in life (usually b/c of his wily father’s interference), he was a millionaire from his Lancaster Caramel Co before he started Hershey’s chocolate. In fact, he started building the chocolate factory and the surrounding town before he had developed a reliable way to make milk chocolate (the milk kept burning; skim milk worked best for his purposes)
  • My personal favorite name of a bygone candy bar: Smile-a-While.

I could go on, but I’m going to keep reading (you can, too — I just found this excerpt)… and then start packing. I’m moving to Los Angeles in the next week, and the mountains of cookbooks and baking implements around me will need to fit into boxes somehow.

3 Responses to “A Lazy Saturday with the Emperors of Chocolate”

  1. cybele Says:

    I really enjoyed the book and learned a lot about how these two companies were shaped by the “individuality” of their founders.

  2. fattypr Says:

    I can’t wait to read this.

    Oh, and go American adults! We rock with our ridiculous amount of candy consumption 🙂

  3. Sweet Napa » Blog Archive » Nougat Science Says:

    […] the effects of time on texture – sugar can have a way of sort of re-crystallizing over time, which can be great if you can predict it for a desired texture. Whether or not it is enrobed (that is, sealed off from air) is also a factor in this. Some nougats are supposed to be left out overnight, and some are supposed to be enrobed right away. As I read in Emperors of Chocolate, the Milky Way nougat takes two weeks to reach its preferred texture — under what conditions is it left for two weeks, and why does their formula take two weeks for the texture to come about? […]

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