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While chocolate was highly esteemed in Mesoamerica, where it originated, its adoption in Europe was initially slow. There is a common belief that Europeans needed to "transform" chocolate to make it appetizing. However, while Spaniards did put sugar, which was unknown to indigenous Americans, into chocolate beverages, this additive was not completely innovative. Mesoamericans were already sweetening chocolate with honey, and the step from honey to sugar—increasingly more available than honey because of expanding sugar plantations in the Americas—is a small one. Likewise, although Spaniards adjusted Mesoamerican recipes by using European spices, the spices chosen suggest an attempt to replicate harder-to-find native flowers. There is no indication the Spaniards deliberately tried to change the original flavor of chocolate.

In that passage, the second line says that it was a common belief that Europeans needed to transform chocolate. Now my tutor tried to explain to me that the function of the third line is to attack this view by saying that Europeans actually never did anything innovative. And the function of subsequent lines is to support this view.

For me, it is very difficult to realize this. I feel to challenge the belief that “Europeans needed to transform their chocolate”, one should argue something like “European chocolate was already very good/delicious”. I don’t understand how this belief can be challenged by “what Europeans actually did”. Maybe they “did need to transform their chocolate”, and by not doing so they were wrong.

My tutor is correct as the answer to the questions based on this passage uses this concept. For example the answer to this question is E:

The author of the passage refers to the use of honey primarily to

A. identify the origins of an additive previously untried by Europeans

B. present an example of a product that was unknown to Europeans

C.correct the misapprehension that Mesoamericans used a sweetener that was not available in Europe

D. provide an example of an ingredient that was in the process of being displaced by a substitute

E. explain why the Spanish use of sugar in chocolate was not a sign of a need to transform chocolate

Can anyone please help me understand the function of these lines?

  • I agree with your tutor. You can challenge the idea that Europeans needed to transform the taste of chocolate by saying that what they did doesn't count as a transformation (because it didn't change the taste much), and that it wasn't done becuase of a need to change the taste (but for practical reasons to do with the ingredients that were available). – user339660 Jul 22 '19 at 17:36
  • Avoid saying “the below X” because this can sound stilted and even borderline unnatural to native speakers. Instead say “the following X” in especially formal written contexts, or merely this X” in the singular or these Xes” in the plural in many common and less exacting circumstances. Sometimes English-language learners don’t realize that they should use the demonstrative determiners this, that, these, those which native speakers customarily use for these cases. – tchrist Jan 25 at 17:30
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Option (E)—

explain why the Spanish use of sugar in chocolate was not a sign of a need to transform chocolate

—is actually a rather poor explanation of why the author brings up native Mesoamerican use of honey in combination with cacao to produce something like sweet chocolate. The author is explicit about why the honey issue is relevant:

[W]while Spaniards did put sugar, which was unknown to indigenous Americans, into chocolate beverages, this additive was not completely innovative.

That is, indigenous Mesoamerican use of honey with cacao is evidence that sweetening chocolate in order to make it taste better was not something that had never occurred to people in Mesoamerica and that Europeans came up with on their own. This rationale for mentioning honey is not an especially close match with the option (E) rationale that the author's point in mentioning honey was to

explain why the Spanish use of sugar in chocolate was not a sign of a need to transform chocolate

What makes option (E) the correct answer for purposes of this test isn't that it clearly and accurately identifies the author's main reason for talking about honey; it's that the other options are even worse.

Option (A)—

identify the origins of an additive previously untried by Europeans

—is factually incorrect, since (unlike cacao) honey didn't originate in Mesoamerica in any historically meaningful sense. In any case, the author doesn't seem interested in examining the origins of honey, as opposed to noting that it was present in Mesoamerica as well as in Europe.

Option (B)—

present an example of a product that was unknown to Europeans

—is simply false: honey has been familiar to Old World people since long before the European discovery of the New World. That's why the bible refers to "a land of milk and honey" (among many other ancient reference to honey).

Option (C)—

correct the misapprehension that Mesoamericans used a sweetener that was not available in Europe

—is basically a wordier way of making the same false assertion about honey that option (B) did, except in this case the claim is that honey was "not available in Europe." Even if this assertion were true, it's hard to see how mentioning Mesoamerican use of honey with cacao serves to "correct [a] misapprehension" about such use. I suspect that the test creator included this option because standardized test devisers have discovered that a certain percentage of test takers, when uncertain about what the correct answer is, will choose the least coherent option available.

Option (D)—

provide an example of an ingredient that was in the process of being displaced by a substitute

—is incorrect because the fact that Europeans eventually substituted sugar for honey in most of their recipes for chocolate has nothing to do with Mesoamerican use of honey as a sweetener. Not only did the process of displacement occur later and in Europe, but also it is unconnected to Mesoamerican use of honey to sweeten cacao—a use that was not in the process of being displaced by a substitute at the time that Spaniards first encountered New World chocolate.

So that leaves us with option (E). As I said, that option isn't an especially accurate explanation of why the author mentions Mesoamerican use of honey with cacao. But the essential point made in option (E)—that Mesoamerican "chocolate" didn't require a transformation (in the form of a sweetener) in order to be palatable to Europeans—is factually correct, unlike the assertions made in options (A), (B), (C), and (D).

The reason this question is likely to give test takers trouble is that none of the answer options are very good. But one option is less bad than the others, and in the world of standardized testing that's often the key to identifying what the test creators consider the right answer.

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