The captivating history of chocolate that extends back for several thousand years! There is evidence that the cocoa in the widely popular chocolate of today has been eaten for at least 2500 years in various forms. Chocolate is made from the bean of a tree which is native to the tropical areas of Central and South America. Click to Health & Chocolate for a picture of the pods inside a bean.
Thousands of years before it arrived in Europe, the history of chocolate tells us the Maya and Aztecs were brewing it as a drink, offering it to a fertility goddess during tribal rituals and using it for currency. The Aztec emperors kept vast storehouses of cocoa beans as treasuries.
Columbus brought back cocoa beans for the king of Spain when he returned from the New World in 1502, but there was little interest in them. Twenty years later, after conquering Mexico, Cortes also brought cocoa to Spain. He was introduced to it at the Mexican court of Montezuma in a cold, bitter drink called xocolatl. This was made with chilies and other native flavorings and was topped with a foamy froth created by the cocoa butter.
The history of chocolate continues in Mexico, the Spanish conquistadores adopted the Aztecs’ practice of using the cocoa beans as a currency for wages and market transactions, but it took longer for them to get accustomed to the bitter chocolate drink.
Over time, the unpalatable bitter chocolate drink of the Central American Indians evolved in Europe to what we call “hot chocolate” or “cacoa.” It was sweetened with sugar, flavored with spices such as vanilla, cinnamon and anise, and served hot. Another refinement was to use a swizzlestick to whip the cocoa into a froth.
In this new form, cocoa was successfully introduced into Spain. At first, it was a drink for the elite, who took it for its medicinal effects as well as for its taste. Over time, the new drink’s popularity spread. It was introduced to Italy and Southwest France through missionaries who had been to South America and brought it back to their monasteries. It spread among royalty through the intermarriage of royal families. In 1660 the Infanta Maria Theresa of Spain married the king of France, Louise XIV. She and her attendants were fond of chocolate, and within ten years, chocolate was well established at Versailles and throughout French aristocratic and intellectual circles.
Evidence of its elegant presentation is given in a 1679 description of a French visitor to the court of Spain. She wrote: “They presented next Chocolate, each cup of porcelain on a saucer of agate garnished with gold, with the sugar in a bowl of the same. There was iced chocolate, another hot and another with Milk and Eggs, one took it with a Biscuit, or rather with dray small bins….” By around 1700 it gained wide popularity in Europe among those who could afford it.
When the chocolate drink appeared in England in the middle of the 17th century, chocolate houses became important meeting places for the fashionable and well-to-do. Writers of that time mention the chocolate houses in their works. The drink was an expensive luxury, so heavily taxed by the government that cocoa beans were often smuggled into the country. When the chocolate tax was lowered in 1853, prices fell and even the less affluent could enjoy chocolate.
Gourmet Chocolate Shoppes
Until the early 1800’s, cocoa for drinking was manufactured by grinding the beans into a “chocolate liquor” and adding spices and sugar, as well as some fine granules to soak up the cocoa butter, which tended to float to the top.
A major breakthrough occurred in 1828 when Dutch chemist invented a press to extract cocoa butter from the bean, leaving a dry cake that could be ground into an almost fat-free cocoa powder similar to that of today. This press was used in England by the leading chocolate manufacturers of the day. Two of these companies were owned by Cadbury and Fry (which are still prominent producers).
As a direct result of this innovation, they produced the first eating chocolate about twenty years later. In the 1870’s, a Swiss producer first created milk chocolate.
In North America, too, the early cocoa manufacturers are still among today’s leaders. In 1765, Dr. James Baker joined forces with a newly arrived Irish cocoa maker and started the now-famous Baker’s company.
Domenigo Ghirardelli, first drawn to California by the 1848 gold rush, opened a chocolate factory in San Francisco in 1852. While the Ghirardelli Company is still a prominent producer, the landmark buildings that once housed the company are preserved as Ghirardelli Square.
Milton S. Hershey established his chocolate business in 1894. It is the largest American chocolate company. And, today Hershey, Pennsylvania has streets named Cocoa and Chocolate Avenue and lampposts shaped after his famous kisses.
Today we get to enjoy chocolate in a great variety of forms and variations of tastes. And, enjoy it we do! An estimated 2.8 billion pounds of chocolate are eaten annually by U.S. consumers - about twelve pounds per person.
Have you had your twelve pounds this year? If not, click to Stores Online to order. The history of chocolate has come a long ways!
Wonder how is chocolate made? Learn how the cocoa beans are processed into nibs, liquor, butter, and – chocolate (also see via a video).