Rabbi Deborah Prinz talks about her book, "On the Chocolate Trail," and the little-known history of Jews and chocolate.
What do Jews and chocolate have in common? According to Rabbi Deborah Prinz, author of On the Chocolate Trail, more than you’d expect. Prinz’s book takes you on her worldwide expedition on the chocolate trail, exploring the historical legacy of chocolate and religion. Included in the book are recipes, a consumer’s guide to buying ethically produced chocolate and a list of chocolate museums and tours around the world. I spoke with Rabbi Prinz about her favorite chocolate Passover recipes, the most bizarre chocolate combination she’s tried and what’s next for her journey on the chocolate trail.
JEWISH WEEK: What inspired you to write this book, On the Chocolate Trail?
DEBORAH PRINZ: "I was just so intrigued with this part of our Jewish history, a piece that nobody knew much about, and it seemed like such a great discovery and so helpful for other people to know about from a historical point of view, from a Jewish values point of view, and a fun point of view. The connection between chocolate and religion is such a great combination. It’s a great recipe for fun."
JW: Tell me a little about your own relationship with chocolate.
DP: "I pretty much eat chocolate once or twice a day. A plain bar, not truffles, cookies, or cake. My sweet tooth started as a child. I grew up in a family where we divided up a box of See’s candy among all five of us. The sweet tooth was there all the time. It veered more into chocolate as I did more research for this book."
JW: I know you’re a world traveler. In the back of the book there’s a guide to chocolate museums and tours around the world. Have you visited all of these places?
DP: "I’ve been to ones in the countries where we traveled— Belgium. France, Spain, England, Israel. I can’t say we’ve covered every single chocolate museum in every country, but almost all of them. There are others we want to visit and we hope to get there. It’s not a full story yet. There’s more to uncover and more to discover."
JW: There’s a whole chapter of your book dedicated to chocolate in Israel, but the larger theme seems to be chocolate in Spain, Mexico, and South America. What’s the link between chocolate and Sephardic Judaism?
DP: "The story of Ashkenazi connections to chocolate I haven’t fully explored. I do touch on some of that. I think that the Sephardi connection is clear with the discovery of chocolate by Columbus and other explorers, and the transmission of chocolate to Spain. If you look at the map in the book, it indicates the dispersion of Jews from Spain and identifies chocolate centers around the western world, and they overlap. Jews from Spain went to London, Amsterdam, Newport, and New York. Eventually those were significant Sephardi settlements for Jews. Those became chocolate centers a well. The story is initially Sephardi and later on we have people like Stephen Klein and other Ashkenazi families producing chocolate."
JW: I know as a rabbi you are interested in the relationship between Judaism and chocolate. What motivated you to include in your book histories of chocolate pertaining to non-Jewish religions?
DP: "I thought it was just fascinating, all of the connections to religion were so surprising to me. The Quaker connection in England, and the Catholic Church, were intriguing and I wanted it to be broader story."
JW: You’re currently on a lecture tour for the book. What do you focus on in your lectures?
DP: "People are very interested in the highlights of the Jewish connection to chocolate. Another focus is the colonial period’s use of chocolate. Some groups are more interested in historical perspectives. I also talk about New York and Newport. And a third approach is about religious ethical values and chocolate. I unpack the complexities of chocolate and ethical values of buying chocolate. The members of one congregation actually baked and prepared recipes from the book. It’s a great exploration of the book."
JW: You mention in the book that you nearly ate chocolate-covered bacon. What’s the most bizarre chocolate combination you’ve tried?
DP: "I wouldn’t stay its bizarre, but I’m not necessarily fond of raw chocolate. I like chocolate- covered espresso beans and all those things. Nothing that exotic, I’m not crazy about chocolate with pepper in it. There was a bar that had fennel seeds in it, and there were just some weird options in the health food circuit."
JW: You offer a lot of Passover chocolate options, such as a chocolate Passover Haggadah, and chocolate charoset truffles. What’s your favorite thing to do with chocolate on Passover?
DP: "We’re going to make the chocolate covered charoset truffles for our Seder. The flourless chocolate cake I’ve made for years for my son’s birthday, which is the second day of Passover I don’t know, I love all of them."
JW: Are there any Jewish foods that shouldn't ever have chocolate with them, or is everything better with chocolate?
DP: "I have not thought about gefilte fish and chocolate, but I think kugel could work with chocolate. Herring not so sure. Pickles? Maybe."
JW: Is your research on Jews and chocolate complete, or are you still on the chocolate trail?
DP: "I don’t think it is complete. I’m continuing to check out chocolate stores and purveyors. There’s a story in Brooklyn about early candy stores and chocolate stores I’d like to explore a bit more.. I think there’s more of a story in Amsterdam I want to look into and a South American and Caribbean story that we have not had a chance to explore. It will likely be on the blog."