Squisita Gentilezza, The Chocolate by Francesco Redi

by Jacopo Mariutti

Probably few people know that an Aretinian played a fundamental role in the spread of chocolate. We are talking about Francesco Redi, a great scholar of biology and medicine, who played important roles in the Medici court. The Grand Duke Ferdinand II appointed him asarchiatrist of the court. But Redi’s passions were not only science or insects, he was also an illustrious scholar, a member of the Accademia della Crusca. Among his most important works, there is “Bacchus in Tuscany”, a funny work in verse, in which Redi imagines the god of wine host of the Medici reviewing the Tuscan wines. We could define this work almost as an enological treatise and this enables us to understand Francesco’s passion for the pleasures of the table.

Squisita Gentilezza, The Medici Chocolate

In addition to the list of Tuscan vines of the Seventeenth century, Francesco Redi devised a special recipe. It is the Squisita Gentilezza, the Medici chocolate. Cocoa, as well as tomatoes, corn, and potatoes arrived in Europe after the discovery of America. But while in the Americas cocoa was loved, in Europe “chocolates” took several decades to be appreciated. Sovereigns, popes, theologians had to intervene before this new exotic food began to be habitually consumed in the various courts of Europe. And precisely in these courts it was prepared following what was known at the time as the recipe of the court of Spain. Here the Grand Ducal Tuscany comes into play: Cosimo III was a great consumer of chocolate and precisely for this passion he wanted the creation of a new drink in the Tuscan way. A more refined recipe to export to European sovereigns as a symbol of Florentine elegance. And who better to deal with this task than the court scientist?

The secret recipe by Francesco Redi 

Francesco Redi began to work on the preparation of a new recipe with the Tuscan master spice specialists. No longer exclusively vanilla and cinnamon, but trying to add new ingredients. The protagonist of the Tuscan recipe is undoubtedly jasmine. The flowers mixed with roughly chopped cocoa beans were changed every 24 hours causing the cocoa to absorb the aroma of jasmine. And here, there is the peculiarity of this recipe: jasmine is not really an ingredient because it is not added in cooking as vanilla or cinnamon, but transmits its essence to the cocoa only during processing. This is the great intuition of Francesco Redi! The original recipe of the squisita gentilezza was a matter of state, so it obviouslycould not be disclosed or put in writing. We still have the words of Francesco Redi, who explains centuries later where the name of the beloved drink of the Grand Duke comes from:

“The Spanish court was the first in Europe to receive such use. And really in Spain you manipulate the Chocolate to all perfection; but this perfect Spagnuola has been in our times in the Court of Tuscany and he added to it an exquisite kindness, with the novelty of the European Ingredients, having found a way to introduce the fresh peel of cedars and lemons and the very gentle smell of jasmine.”