Are you old enough to remember decorating eggs for Easter as a child - as in the chicken variety? (And the precarious act of blowing them to remove the egg yolk and white?) Whilst we tend to think of Easter eggs being chocolate, the religious tradition of gifting eggs for Easter - to symbolising the resurrection, or rebirth of Christ - dates back at least to the 13th Century, and some argue back to the early Christians of Mesopotamia.
Take Jesus out of the equation and eggs have been used as a symbolic gift to represent the rebirth of the natural world that comes with spring, all the way back to pagan times.
But how have we gone from real eggs, to chocolate Easter eggs?
Whilst some parts of the world still continue to exchange decorated chicken and other eggs, for most of us in Australia, the chocolate egg reigns supreme during Easter tide.
The first recorded chocolate egg, not surprisingly, was from the decadent French court of Louis XIV - but low key decadent.
Chocolate was exceptionally expensive, so these eggs were a treat for a privileged few and not known outside the gilded walls of the French palace.
We also know that in 1725 a rich widow from Turin, Italy (also the chocolate capital of Italy) got creative and started to fill hollow chicken eggs full of molten chocolate to serve to her guests. (At this point chocolate was almost always a drink, and the idea of moulded chocolate egg was still 170 years away).
The first commercial Easter eggs
That was about it for almost 200 years but in 1873 we see the first chocolate Easter egg hit the market, thanks to Fry’s of England – and this was a game changed, as common folk like myself could purchase one. You can imagine the stir this created - moulded chocolate in a bar form was still in its infancy and an exotic treat, so the idea of a hollow chocolate egg took things to a whole other level of excitement. Cadbury thought so and was quickly producing its own, with clever marketing campaigns, and helping chocolate dominate our Easter thoughts.
Five reasons the chocolate Easter egg become so popular
But why has the chocolate Easter egg endured? Even back in the 1800’s you would have a product be all the rage for a year and then fade into obscurity the year after. What made Easter eggs so popular?
The short answer – it was a moment in time where five things came together...
1) British and other European societies had an established tradition of gifting eggs at Easter, and had been making and decorating them as gifts for years – whether real eggs, or more recently in the 19th Century, paper mâché and cardboard.
2) The core ingredients of chocolate - cocoa and sugar – being relatively new and exotic, were imported from the ‘New World’ and were only available in very limited quantities. This made them rare, and therefore very expensive. However, both supply and shipping had improved, and the cost of cocoa and sugar dropped significantly.
3) The science of chocolate making had progressed, not least in the use of cocoa butter that provides the rigidity required to sustain a hollow egg shape. (Even to this day, some people say Easter egg chocolate tastes different because of a higher cocoa butter content to hold those hollow shape).
Bear in mind at this point, moulding a simple chocolate bar was a very new thing – and for most of human history chocolate had just been a drink.
4) The industrial revolution meant we had factories, machinery and cheap labour to produce Easter eggs at a commercial level, which again brought costs down. No longer were you reliant on the King’s cooks producing a handful of Easter eggs in a Palace kitchen – chocolate and chocolate eggs were, for the first time, available to the masses.
5) People loved chocolate - and this is what really cemented the chocolate Easter egg’s popularity. Chocolate, with its high cost, had previously only been something the affluent could afford. However, with cheaper ingredients and mass production, this once exotic treat was now available to the masses. Back then, as today, almost everyone loves chocolate – and when push comes to shove, this is the real reason the chocolate egg became iconic at Easter - certainly, I’d take a chocolate Easter egg gift over a paper mâché one any day!
Which brings us to 2021. As chocolate makers all over the world have spent months preparing to make chocolate Easter eggs; from its humble beginnings, 180 million chocolate Easter eggs are now sold every year. Yep, people love chocolate!