28 April 2013

A Chocoholic's Bible

My name is Stam and I am a chocoholic. I make no excuses for my sin and I am certainly not going to give it up any day now. I don’t smoke, I don’t do drugs, I don’t get drunk, but I have to draw the line somewhere!

Chocolate is my sin. I love it, I enjoy it, I eat it regularly and unlike love, sex, work, money, health, it never lets me down. A man’s and a woman’s very best friend. A mate you can rely on, a good Samaritan that will always make you feel better.

Unfortunately, the majority of us think of chocolate as the Mars, Cadburys, Snickers of this world. Bad assumption. These are not chocolates or chocolate bars in the actual sense of the word. They are creations made of sugar (mainly), poor quality cocoa beans and filled with loads of chemicals and artificial flavourings. Not only they are fattening but also bad for our health, exactly the opposite chocolate is.

So, my fellow chocoholics, this blog is about quality, pure, unadulterated chocolate, how to recognise it, where to find it and how to make it yourself.

Let’s start with the very basics first. There are 3 main varieties of cocoa trees:

  • The Forastero, is the most common and also the most robust and highest yielding tree. Unfortunately, it also produces the less aromatic beans. Almost 85% of the world production is Forastero beans due to their high yields.
  • The Criollo, is a fragile tree with very small yield, however it is considered to give the best flavoured bean. Nowadays, specialists believe that less than 1% of the world production of cocoa comes from Criollo trees.
  • The Trinitario, is a cross between a Forastero and a Criollo, with hybrid characteristics. About 14% of the world production is Trinitario.

Regardless of their variety, cocoa trees produce fruit all year round, however the main two harvest periods are in May and November. The cocoa pods grow straight out of the trunk and as soon as they are ripe enough they are cut from the tree and opened. The cocoa beans are emptied from inside the pods. The beans themselves are covered with mucilage, which is juicy, fresh and with delicate aromas.

In order to get rid of the mucilage layers of the beans are placed in wooden boxes with holes at the bottom and covered with banana tree leaves which contain bacteria that enhance the fermentation process, liquefying the mucilage so it drains away from the beans. The fermentation takes about 3-7 days and is the period where the beans develop their aromas. Unfortunately, many farmers hungry for cash from big chocolate producers do not allow this time for the beans to drain, meaning that the beans do not have any aroma.

Once the beans are drained of mucilage the next step is to dry them out so that they contain less than 6% moisture. Normally this means that the beans are spread in wide areas to dry under the sun. This part affects the flavour of the cocoa, because if the beans are not allowed sufficient time to slowly dry then the beans will not develop a full flavour.

Once dried, the beans are packed in bags and sent to the destinations where they are to be processed. To bring out the chocolate flavour the beans are then roasted and a machine removes their shell leaving them with what is known as the cocoa nibs.

The nibs are then milled to create cocoa liquor, a paste that has the consistency of peanut butter. 

This is then pressed to extract the cocoa butter, leaving a solid matter called cocoa presscake.

Other ingredients such as sugar, milk, vanilla and emulsifying agents such as lecithin are added and mixed, undergoing a refining process until a smooth paste is formed. The paste is then transferred to the conche, a machine which kneads and smoothes the mixture for up to 3 days at a temperature between 60C to 75C. The speed, duration and temperature of the conching affect the flavour.

After conching, the mixture is cooled down to around 40C to allow stable crystallisation of the cocoa butter. This process produces a chocolate that is shinny and smooth, with a silky texture. This process is called tempering.

After tempering the liquid chocolate is stored for later use or poured into moulds. The chocolate is now ready for use!!!

I’m sure by now you just want to taste a bar…but wait! I have some bad news for you! From the 3mil tons of cocoa beans produced each year, 85% come from Forastero beans which are the least aromatic. Considering also that 90% of these beans come from small farms which give the fermentation process very little time, almost 90% of the chocolate available to us comes from tasteless, non aromatic beans!

Furthermore, the vast majority of the brands we see in supermarkets, including Belgian chocolates such as Leonidas, Godiva and Thornton’s, do not grind their own cocoa beans. They simply buy chocolate in bulk (couverture) and transform it the way they like. More than half of the world’s bean production is transformed into chocolate by just 4 multinationals: ADM, Cargill, Barry Callebaut and Nestle. The first 3 sell to professionals only. This means that these groups do not really care about aromas or quality of beans. They simply want quantity at cost effective price.

So, the majority of the chocolate you buy is made by companies that have obtained the main ingredient (chocolate) from those 4 multinationals and have then added their own ingredients to transform it into the well known brands we all know. Unfortunately, this means that the poor quality chocolate has received an addition of sugar and artificial flavours and aromas to make it taste good.

As an example, buy your favourite chocolate and have a look at the label of ingredients. Ingredients are shown according to their percentage. So, the first ingredient has the largest percentage and so on.

I got a Wispa bar and here is what the label said:
Milk Chocolate (Milk, Sugar, Cocoa butter, cocoa mass, dried skimmed milk, vegetable fat, emulsifier E442, flavourings)
Caramel 35% (Glucose syrup, sweetended condensed skimmed milk, vegetable oil, sugar, glucose-fructose syrup, invert sugar syrup, dried skimmed milk, salt, sodium bicarbonate, flavouring).

So, from the above, I read that my chocolate bar is made up of milk chocolate and caramel. Nothing scary there. However, the mlk chocolate part has actually more sugar than cocoa, has flavourings and, most worringly, vegetable fat!! The caramel part also has flavourings, 4 types of sweeteners and vegetable oil!!! Not really what I would expect from a pure aromatic chocolate.

Are you scared yet? Here are some other facts:

  • Legislation in Europe and the US states that for a chocolate to be branded as  a standard ‘Dark Chocolate’ it must contain at least 35% dry cocoa solids, or at least 43% if it is to be defined as fine dark chocolate. Milk chocolate must contain at least 25% dry cocoa solids.

  • Bars such as Cadbury Dairy Milk, Galaxy or Hershey must be labelled as ‘family milk chocolate’ in the European Union as they do not contain enough chocolate to count as chocolate under these rules!

  • Before 2003 EU rulings allowed manufacturers in the UK and the Netherlands to add up to 5% vegetable fats in chocolate without declaring it on the label. After 2003 this ruling has widened to include all EU countries, meaning that rather than eating chocolate we eat vegelate!!

But all is not lost. There are still companies around the world which produce and manufacture quality chocolate made from the best cocoa beans available. Most of them have won numerous awards for the quality of their chocolate and their products can be found online and in specialist shops (click on their name to go to their website):

Amedei: An Italian chocolatier based in Pisa, Italy. 

Bonnat: A French company founded in 1884, the first to produce a range of bars at 75% cocoa, each one made with beans from a different country. Their distribution is very limited.

Chocovic: An old company from Barcelona, which focuses on professionals working with chocolate. Its cookery school has an international reputation.

Michel Cluizel: A French brand from Normandy, offering several different bars from specific cocoa plantations. 

Domori: A young Italian company from Genoa, which co-owns a plantation in Venezuela. Their gems are the bars made with beans selected from specific areas of Venezuela.

El Rey: Established in 1929, in 1995 became the first modern chocolate plant in Latin America.

Guittard: A family owned San Fransisco manufacturer. In 2000 it launched a fine chocolate selection from small plantations around the world.

Marcolini: A Belgian chocolatier famous for its range of fine filled chocolates.

M Recchiuti: A company from San Fransisco. Although it does not source its own cocoa beans, it uses only the finest raw materials.

Pralus: A French company from Roanne, founded in 1948, making finest quality chocolate using small batches of carefully selected cocoa beans. 

Scharffen Berger: An American company that produces excellent cocoa powder and a wide range of bars.

Valrhona: A French company founded in 1924 and my personal favourite for buying chocolate to use in your cakes. 


Η Βίβλος Ενός Σοκολατόβιου

Με λένε Σταμάτη και είμαι σοκολατόβιος. Δεν προβάλω καμμία δικαιολογία για την αμαρτία μου αυτή και ούτε πρόκειται να την κόψω σύντομα. Δεν καπνίζω, δεν παίρνω ναρκωτικά, δεν μεθάω, αλλά ως εδώ!

Η σοκολάτα είναι η αμαρτία μου. Την λατρεύω, μου αρέσει, την τρώω συχνά και ποτέ δεν με απογοητεύει, κάτι που η αγάπη, το σεξ, η δουλειά, τα λεφτά, η υγεία, το κάνουν μερικές φορές. Είναι ο καλύτερος φίλος κάθε άντρα και γυναίκας. Ένας φίλος που μπορείς να εμπιστευθείς πάντα, ένας καλός Σαμαρίτης που πάντα θα σε κάνει να νοιώθεις καλά.

Δυστυχώς, οι πιο πολλοί απο εμάς όταν σκεφτόμαστε σοκολάτα σκεφτόμαστε τη Μαρς, τη Σνικερς, την ΙΟΝ, Παπαδοπούλου, κλπ. Λάθος. Αυτές δεν είναι σοκολάτες ή σοκολατούχα προιόντα με την κανονική έννοια της λέξης. Όλα αυτά είναι δημιουργίες από ζάχαρη (κυρίως), κακάο κακής ποιότητας και γεμάτα χημικές ουσίες και τεχνητές γεύσεις. Όχι μόνο παχαίνουν αλλά κάνουν κακό στην υγεία μας, ακριβώς το αντίθετο απο αυτό που κάνει η πραγματική σοκολάτα.

Έτσι, φίλοι σοκολατόβιοι, αυτό το κείμενο θα ασχοληθεί με την ποιοτική, αγνή σοκολάτα.

Ας αρχίσουμε όμως από τα βασικά. Υπάρχουν 3 βασικές ποικιλίες δέντρων κακάου:
  • Το Φοραστέρο: είναι η πιο κοινή ποικιλία και αυτή με την μεγαλύτερη αντοχή και παραγωγή. Δυστυχώς, παράγει επίσης κακάο με το λιγότερο άρωμα από τις άλλες ποικιλίες. Περίπου το 85% της παγκόσμιας παραγωγής κακάο είναι από Φοραστέρο, επειδή παράγει το πιό πολύ κακάο.
  • Το Κριόλλο: είναι ένα ευαίσθητο δέντρο με πολλή μικρή παραγωγικότητα κακάου, αλλά παράγει τους πιο νόστιμους κόκους κακάου. Σήμερα, λιγότερο απο 1% της παγκόσμιας παραγωγής κακάου προέρχεται απο δέντρα Κριόλλο.
  • Το Τρινιτάριο: είναι κάτι ενδιάμεσο του Φοραστέρο και του Κριόλλο, με χαρακτηριστικά υβριδίου. Γύρω στο 14% της παγκόσμιας παραγωγής είναι απο δέντρα Τρινιτάριο.

Τα δέντρα κακάου παράγουν φρούτα κακάο όλο το χρόνο, ανεξάρτητα από την ποικιλία, αλλά οι κυρίως 2 περίοδοι συγκομιδής είναι τον Μάιο και το Νοέμβριο. Οι λοβοί του κακάου μεγαλώνουν κατευθείαν από τον κορμό του δέντρου και μόλις είναι αρκετά ώριμοι κώβονται από το δέντρο και ανοίγονται. Οι κόκοι κακάου αδειάζονται από το λοβό. Οι κόκοι είναι καλυμένοι με μια κολώδη ουσία, η οποία είναι ζουμερή, φρέσκια και με λεπτό άρωμα.

Για να καθαριστεί η κολώδης ουσία σειρές από κόκους κακάου τοποθετούνται σε ξύλινα κιβώτια με τρύπες στον πάτο και σκεπάζονται με φύλλα μπανάνας που έχουν βακτήρια, για να ενισχυθεί η ζύμωση. Η κολώδης ουσία υγροποιήται και φεύγει από τους κόκους. Η ζύμωση πέρνει περίπου 3-7 μέρες και κατά τη διάρκεια αυτής της περιόδου οι κόκοι αναπτύσσουν το άρωμά τους. Δυστυχώς, πολλοί παραγωγοί που θέλουν να πληρωθούν γρήγορα από τις μεγάλες σοκολατοβιομηχανίες δεν αφήνουν τους κόκους να στεγνώσουν καλά, με αποτέλεσμα οι κόκοι να μην έχουν καθόλου άρωμα.

Μόλις η κολώδης ουσία αφερεθεί από τους κόκους, το επόμενο στάδιο είναι να τους στεγνώσουμε έτσι ώστε να έχουν μόνο 6% υγρασία. Αυτό συνήθως σημαίνει ότι οι κόκοι απλώνονται σε μεγάλες εκτάσεις για να στεγνώσουν στον ήλιο. Αυτή η διαδικασία έχει επιπτώσεις στη γεύση του κακάου, γιατί αν οι κόκοι δεν μείνουν να στεγνώσουν αργά και καλά, δεν θα αναπτύξουν όλη τους τη γεύση.

Όταν στεγνώσουν, οι κόκοι τοποθετούνται σε σάκους και στέλνωνται στον προορισμό τους, για να επεξεργαστούν σε σοκολάτα. Για να πάρουν τη γεύση σοκολάτας οι κόκοι καβουρντίζονται και μια μηχανή αφαιρεί το κέλιφός τους, αφήνοντας αυτό που ονομάζεται ράμφος (Υποσημείωση: επειδή δεν ξέρω την ελληνική ορολογία, απλά μετάφρασα την λέξη ‘nib’ ως ‘ράμφος’).


Τα ράμφοι αλλέθωνται και σχηματίζουν μια αληφή σοκολάτας, η οποία μοιάζει σαν φυστικοβούτυρο. 

Αυτό το μείγμα συμπιέζεται ώστε να αποσπαστεί το βούτυρο κακάου, αφήνοντας ένα συμπαγές μείγμα που ονομάζεται ‘συμπιεσμένο κέικ κακάου’ (και αυτή η μετάφραση είναι δική μου).

Άλλα υλικά όπως ζάχαρη, γάλα, βανίλια και πράκτορες γαλακτοματοποίησης (όπως η λεσιθήνη) προσθέτονται και μετά από μια επεξεργασία καθαρισμού μια απαλή αληφή δημιουργείται. Η αληφή μεταφέρεται σε μια μηχανή η οποία την αλέθει για 3 περίπου μέρες σε θερμοκρασία από 60 ως 75 βαθμούς Κελσίου. Η ταχύτητα, διάρκεια και θερμοκρασία αυτής της επεξεργασίας επιρεάζουν τη γεύση.

Κατόπιν, το μείγμα ψύχεται στους 40 βαθμούς περίπου ώστε το βούτυρο κακάου να κρυσταλοποιηθεί. Αυτή η επεξεργασία παράγει μια σοκολάτα που είναι γυαλιστερή και μαλακή, με σύνθεση σαν μετάξι.

Μετά και αυτή την επεξεργασία η υγρή σοκολάτα αποθηκεύεται για μελλοντική χρησιμοποίηση, ή τοποθετήται σε καλούπια. Η σοκολάτα είναι έτοιμη!!!!!

Είμαι σίγουρος ότι μετά από όλα τα παραπάνω θέλετε να δοκιμάσετε ένα κομμάτι.....περιμένετε!!!! Έχω άσχημα νέα! Από τα 3 εκ τόνους κακάου που παράγεται κάθε χρόνο, το 85% προέρχεται απο κόκους Φοραστέρο, οι οποίοι έχουν το λιγότερο άρωμα. Αν αναλογιστούμε ότι το 90% αυτών των κόκων παράγονται από μικρές καλλιέργειες οι οποίες δεν αφήνουν τη ζήμωση να γίνει κανονικά, το 90% της σοκολάτας που υπάρχει στη αγορά σήμερα προέρχεται απο κόκους άγευστους και άοσμους!!

Επίσης, τα περισσότερα είδη σοκολάτας που βλέπουμε στα μαγαζιά σήμερα, περιλαμβανομένων και των βελγικών ονομάτων όπως Λεονίδας, Γκοντίβα και Θόρντονς, δεν επεξεργάζονται κόκους κακάου. Απλά αγοράζουν τη σοκολάτα (κουβερτούρα) σε μεγάλες ποσότητες και την μετατρέπουν στα διάφορα είδη που αγοράζουμε. Πάνω από το 50% της παγκόσμιας παραγωγής κακάου επεξεργάζεται σε σοκολάτα από μόλις 4 πολυεθνικές εταιρείες: ADM, Cargill, Barry Callebaut και Nestle. Οι πρώτες 3 πουλάνε σοκολάτα σε επαγγελματίες μόνο. Αυτό σημαίνει ότι οι εταιρείες αυτές δεν ενδιαφέρονται για το άρωμα και την ποιότητα της σοκολάτας. Απλά ενδιαφέρονται για ποσότητα σε χαμηλό κόστος αγοράς.

Αυτό έχει σαν αποτέλεσμα η πλειοψηφία των σοκολατών που αγοράζουμε να έχει κατασκευαστεί από εταιρείες που έχουν αγοράσει το κυρίως προιόν (σοκολάτα) από τις 4 αυτές πολυεθνικές και έχουν προσθέσει τα δικά τους υλικά ώστε να το μετατρέψουν στις γνωστές φήρμες που αγοράζουμε. Δυστυχώς, αυτό σημαίνει ότι στη σοκολάτα κακής ποιότητας προσθέτονται ζάχαρη και χημικές γευστικές ουσίες και άρωμα, ώστε να την κάνουν να είναι νόστιμη.

Για παράδειγμα, αγοράστε την αγαπημένη σας σοκολάτα και κοιτάξτε τα συστατικά που αναγράφονται στο πακέτο. Τα συστατικά αναγράφονται ανάλογα με την ποσότητά τους, δηλαδή το συστατικό με τη μεγαλύτερη περιεκτικότητα αναγράφεται πρώτο.

Αγόρασα μια σοκολάτα Wispa και νά τι έλεγε το πακέτο:

Σοκολάτα γάλακτος (Γάλα, ζάχαρη, βούτυρο κακάου, κακάο, αποξυραμένο άπαχο γάλα, φυτικό λίπος, γαλακτωματοποιητής Ε442, γευστικές ουσίες)
Καραμέλα 35% (συρόπι γλυκόζης, φυτικά έλεα, ζάχαρη, συρόπι γλυκόζης-φρουκτόζης, συρόπι ζάχαρης, αλάτι, σόδα, γευστικές ουσίες)

Από τα παραπάνω, διαβάζω ότι η σοκολάτα μου είναι απο σοκολάτα γάλακτος και καραμέλα. Καλά ως εδώ. Αλλά, η σοκολάτα γάλακτος έχει πιο πολύ ζάχαρη από κακάο, έχει διάφορες γευστικές ουσίες για να δόσει γεύση, και έχει φυτικό λίπος !!! Η καραμέλα έχει επίσης γευστικές ουσίες, 4 είδη γλυκαντικών και φυτικά έλεα!!! Όχι ακριβώς τα συστατικά που θα περίμενα από μια αυθεντική, αρωματική σοκολάτα.

Φοβηθήκατε? Διαβάστε και τα παρακάτω
  • Η νομοθεσία στην Ευρώπη και ΗΠΑ λέει ότι μια σοκολάτα για να ονομαστεί κανονική ‘Σοκολάτα Υγείας’ θα πρέπει να περιέχει τουλάχιστον 35% μάζα κακάου, ή τουλάχιστον 43% αν ονομάζεται ‘σοκολάτα υγείας πολυτελείας’. Η σοκολάτα γάλακτος πρέπει να περιέχει τουλάχιστον 25% μάζα κακάου. 
  • Σοκολάτες όπως η Cadbury Dairy Milk, Galaxy και Hershey πρέπει να ονομάζονται ‘οικογενειακές σοκολάτες γάλακτος’ στην Ευρωπαική Κοινότητα γιατί δεν περιέχουν αρκετή σοκολάτα ώστε να μπορούν να λέγονται ‘σοκολάτα’ βάση των παραπάνω!
  • Πριν το 2003 η νομοθεσία της Ευρωπαικής Κοινότητας επέτρεπε σε βιομηχανίες της Μεγάλης Βρεταννίας και Ολλανδίας να προσθέτουν μέχρι και 5% φυτικού λίπους στη σοκολάτα, χωρίς να το αναφέρουν στη συσκευασία. Μετά το 2003 η νομοθεσία αυτή ισχύει σε όλες τις χώρες της Ευρωπαικής Κοινότητας, που σημαίνει ότι αντί για σοκολάτα τρώμε φυτολάτα!!!

Αλλά μην απογοητεύεστε!! Υπάρχουν ακόμα βιομηχανίες που επεξεργάζονται και παράγουν σοκολάτα ποιότητας, από τους καλύτερους κόκους. Οι περισσότερες έχουν κερδίσει πολλά βραβεία για την ποιότητα της σοκολάτας τους και τα προιόντα τους μπορείτε να τα αγοράσετε στο διαδίκτυο, αλλά και από διάφορα καταστήματα (αν κάνετε κλικ στο όνομα της εταιρείας θα πάτε αυτόματα στην ιστοσελίδα της):

Amedei: Ιταλική βιομηχανία με έδρα την Πίζα. 

Bonnat: Γαλλική εταιρεία που ιδρύθηκε το 1884, η πρώτη που παρήγαγε σοκολάτες με 75% περιεκτικότητα κακάου. Η διανομή της είναι περιορισμένη.

Chocovic: Παλιά βιομηχανία από τη Μπαρσελόνα. Η παραγωγή της εστιάζεται σε επαγγελματίες. Η σχολή μαγειρικής της είναι διεθνούς φήμης.

Michel Cluizel: Γαλλική φήρμα από τη Νορμανδία, με πολλές και διάφορες σοκολάτες από συγκεκριμένες καλλιέργειες. 

Domori: Ιταλική βιομηχανία από τη Γένοβα, η οποία είναι συναίτερος σε μια έκταση καλλιέργειας κακάου στη Βενεζουέλα.

El Rey: Ιδρύθηκε το 1929 και το 1995 έγινε η πρώτη βιομηχανία σοκολάτας στη Λατινική Αμερική.

Guittard: Βιομηχανία από το Σαν Φρανσίσκο. Από το 2000 λανσάρει σοκολάτες από μικρές καλιέργειες από όλο τον κόσμο.

Marcolini: Βελγική σοκολατοποιία, γνωστή για τις φανταστικές γεμιστές σοκολάτες της.

M Recchiuti: Εταιρία από το Σαν Φρανσίσκο. Παρότι δεν επεξεργάζετε τους δικούς της κόκους, χρησιμοποιεί μόνο τα καλύτερα προιόντα.

Pralus: Γαλλική εταιρεία, που ιδρύθηκε το 1948. Κατασκευάζει ποιοτικές σοκολάτες από μικρές ποσότητες ειδικά επιλεγμένων κόκων κακάου. 

Scharffen Berger: Αμερικανική εταιρεία που παράγει φανταστική σκόνη σοκολάτας/κακάου και διάφορες σοκολάτες.


Valrhona: Γαλλική εταιρεία που ιδρύθηκε το 1924 και η αγαπημένη μου προσωπικά για αγορά μαγειρικής σοκολάτας. 


28 October 2012

28 October: Why I'm Proud To Be Greek

"Until now we would say that the Greeks fight like heroes. From now on we will say that heroes fight like Greeks." 
Sir Winston Churchill – British Prime Minister

28 October is one of the most important dates for every Greek around the world. This date does not only symbolise a national anniversary, but the fight of the whole world against oppressive powers.

It is a date that makes every Greek proud and epitomises the spirit of freedom and love for one's values, history and above all family. If you want to know more about why this date is so important, feel free to read further.

On 28 October 1940, the Italian Ambassador in Greece, Grazzi, visited the house of the Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas, to deliver a surrender ultimatum by the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. When this visit took place, Hitler's forces had captured a large part of Europe, including Belgium, Denmark, The Netherlands, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Norway, Poland and Albania. Egypt and Ethiopia had also been captured or surrendered. France had followed by June 1940.

By July 1940 Hitler had informed his generals that the next attack would be against the Soviet Union. His plan was to invade the Soviet Union and then turn his attention to Britain. His main ally, Italy, had the task of making sure that no activities against Germany would take place by the Balkan countries. Unfortunately for Hitler, Mussolini did not like playing the part of the 'puppet' and decided to invade the surrounding areas.

Grazzi delivered the ultimatum which was to "allow Italian forces to occupy for the duration of the present conflict... certain strategic points on Greek territory." It concluded with the threat: "Any resistance encountered will be put down by force of arms." That force of arms included 2,000,000 Italian soldiers, 400 Italian warplanes and hundreds of Italian tanks and armored vehicles. Greece had only 80,000 soldiers, 30 WWI-vintage bi-planes, and no tanks whatsoever.

Despite the vast numerical difference, Metaxas' answer was brief and straightforward: "So it is war. I consider this demand, and the manner in which it is made, as a declaration of war," Immediately the newspapers run full pages of the answer, using only one word: "OXI", which means "No". To this day, the 28 October 1940 is known by all Greeks as "the anniversary of OXI".

On the same day, Italian forces began their attack on Greece through Albania. The Greek troops, with amazing success, seized the peaks of the mountains, let the enemy come into the valleys, and then poured down upon the invaders. They were soon making some of the most sensational news of WWII, giving the world its first glimmer of hope.

(click on the images to enlarge and read easier)

 "Our country, in which virtue is especially honoured, watches with admiration the struggle of the Greeks in Albania. We are so much touched, that, by letting aside every other feeling, we shout: LONG LIVE HELLAS!"
Mainichi Shimbun Japanese newspaper, 7 December 1940

Metaxas died on 29 January 1941, however by then it was evident that Mussolini was losing the battle. In March 1941 the Italians launch a second invasion attempt, only to be rebuffed again by mid-March. The first British troops arrive in Greece, without, however, heading north so as not to provoke a German attack. 

"In the name of the captured yet still alive French people, France wants to send her greetings to the Greek people who are fighting for their freedom. The 25th of March, 1941 finds Greece in the peak of their heroic struggle and in the top of their glory. Since the battle of Salamis Greece had not achieved the greatness and the glory which today holds."
Charles de Gaulle President of the French Republic

On 6 April 1941 and with its ally embarrassed by a small Greek army, Germany formally declares war on Greece. Operation 'Marita', as it was named, was launched and German forces attacked Greece after crossing Yugoslavia. This was not part of Hitler's initial war campaign and, as it turned out, turned the course of the war to the Allied Forces' favour.

After 3 weeks of resistance, the German army enters Athens on 27 April 1941. A Greek soldier named Konstantinos Koukithes, knowing that the invaders would go to the Acropolis and raise the swastika where Greece's white and blue flag was still flying, decided that he could not bear to see that desecration. He went to the Acropolis, lowered the Greek flag, wrapped himself in it and jumped off the Acropolis, killing himself. Only a few weeks later two young men, M. Glezos and A. Santas, took down the Nazi emblem, which the occupying German forces characterised as an act of violence against it, and justification for harsh reprisals. 

"Historical justice forces me to admit that among all the enemies who stand against us, the Greek soldier above all, fought with the most courage. He surrendered himself only when the continuation of resistance was not possible any longer, and when he had no reason not to... However, he fought so bravely, that even his enemies can not deny their respect for him... Thus, the Greek prisoners of war were released immediately, having in mind the heroic stance of these soldiers. "
Adolph Hitler, Reichstag, 4 May 1941

"I forbid the Press to underestimate the Greeks, to defame them... The Führer admires the bravery of Greeks. "
Joseph Goebbels in his diary, 9 April 1941

"The brave struggle of the people of this relatively small nation, for the right to live without interventions by dictatoric states, calls forth the respect and admiration of all the nations who love freedom."
USA Congress 3 April 1941

On 23 April 1941 a decision was taken for the evacuation of Commonwealth forces to the island of Crete and to Egypt. The evacuation of some 42,000 soldiers was completed by 30 April 1941.

The island of Crete was an important strategic area for the Allied Forces. Possession of the island provided the Royal Navy with excellent harbors in the eastern Mediterranean. With Crete in Allied hands, the Axis southeastern flank would never be safe.

On 25 April 1941 Hitler ordered the invasion of Crete, under the codename Operation Mercury. The Royal Navy's forces from Alexandria retained control of the waters around Crete, so any amphibious assault was a risky proposition at best. With German air superiority a given, an airborne invasion was decided on. This was to be the first truly large-scale airborne invasion in the history of warfare.

The allied forces based in Crete at the time were 9,000 Greeks from the Greek Army. There was also a defense battalion made up mostly of transport and logistics personnel and remnants of the 12th and 20th Hellenic Army divisions, which had escaped to Crete and were organised under British command. The majority of the island's army had been transferred to the Albanian border's to fight against Italy and was cut off from returning to the island when Germany invaded Greece.

The British Commonwealth contingent consisted of the original British garrison and another 25,000 Commonwealth troops evacuated from the mainland. The evacuees were the typical mix found in any contested evacuation. Substantially intact units under their own command, composite units hurriedly brought together by leaders on the spot, stragglers without leaders from every type of unit possessed by an army, and deserters. Most of these men lacked heavy equipment.

On 20 May 1941 the full German assault on Crete commenced with air attacks followed by paratroops dropped on the four airfields. Some 23,000 troops and 600 aircraft were deployed. They suffered heavy losses. The British and Greek forces were short of equipment and fire power but knew the Germans were coming. They outnumbered them considerably.

Everywhere on the island, Cretan civilians, armed and otherwise, joined the battle with whatever weapons were at hand. In some cases, ancient rifles which had last been used against the Turks in 1821 were dug up from their hiding places and pressed into action. In other cases, Cretan civilians went into action armed only with what they could gather from their kitchens or barns, and many German parachutists were knived or clubbed to death in the olive groves that dotted the island. In one recorded case, an elderly Cretan clubbed a parachutist to death with his walking stick before the German could disentangle himself from his parachute lines. The Cretans soon supplemented their makeshift weapons with captured German small arms. This was the first occasion during the war that Germans had encountered widespread and unrestrained resistance from a civilian population, and for a period of time it unbalanced them. However, once they had overcome their shock at these actions, the German paratroopers reacted with equal ferocity. Further, as most Cretan partisans wore no identifying insignia such as armbands, the Germans felt free of all of the constraints implied by the Geneva conventions.

Command in London eventually decided the cause was hopeless, and ordered a withdrawal. Over the next four nights, between 28 and 31 May, 16,000 troops were taken off to Egypt by ships. After 10 days of bitter fighting, tough allied troops and stubborn local fighters defending Crete succumbed to Nazi paratroopers dropped over the island's airfields by the thousands.

Crete fell in German hands, but not at a small cost to the Germans. The Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgraeberfuersorge e.V.(War Graves Commission) stated 47,460 casualties at a cemetery located at Maleme. To this date, hundreds of German tourists visit the cemetery in Crete, where their relatives are buried.

The Allies lost 3,500 soldiers: 1,751 dead, with an equal number wounded, and an enormous number captured (12,254 Commonwealth and 5,255 Greek). There were also 1,828 dead and 183 wounded among the Royal Navy. After the war the Allied graves from the four burial grounds that had been established by the German forces were moved to the site of Suda Bay War Cemetery.

A large number of civilians were killed in the crossfire or died fighting as partisans. Many Cretans were shot by the Germans in reprisals, both during the battle and in the occupation that followed. One Cretan source puts the number of Cretans killed by German action during the war at 6,593 men, 1,113 women and 869 children. During the occupation Greece suffered some of the worst atrocities during the war.


Now you know why every Greek in the world is proud of his country and never forgets this special date. One very important point to add, however, is this.

History has recorded that the losses suffered by Hitler in the Soviet Union lead to the final allied assault in Normandy (D-Day) and won the war. Very few historians have pointed out, however, that the reason Germany lost the battle against the Soviet Union was the fact that Hitler delayed his plan in order to invade Greece and by the time he turned on the Soviet Union winter had arrived which made it extremely difficult.

At least two of the main figures in WWII have given their dues to Greece for this.

"If there had not been the virtue and courage of the Greeks, we do not know which the outcome of World War II would have been."
 Sir Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister

"The Russian people will always be grateful to the Greeks for delaying the German army long enough for winter to set in, thereby giving us the precious time we needed to prepare. We will never forget."
Joseph Stalin, in an open letter read over the air on Radio Moscow short wave on numerous occasions during the war.

If you want to know more about Greece during WWII, including the atrocities it suffered and its resistance during the occupation, there are many books you can buy online, some of which I highly recommend:

Inside Hitler's Greece by Mark Mazower: Eyewitness accounts and archived information, detailing the German occupation of Greece and the rise of the resistanse movement.

Ill Met By Moonlight by W Stanley Moss: A classic account from one of the officers who took part in one of the greatest escapades in WWII, the kidnapping of General Kreipe , commander of the Sevastopol Division in Crete.

There is also a film based on the book:

The Fall of Crete by Alan Clark: A detailed analysis of the 10 day battle of Crete

There is also a great movie on the subject:

The following link from the BBC website also has recollections of the events from war veterans posted in Greece: WW2 People's War - Greece