History of Chocolate
When you look at the vast array of chocolates and chocolaty foods available in the 21st century, it’s hard to imagine that the first introductions of this delicious food was thousands of years ago, and further, wasn’t originally quite as delicious as what we now recognize as “chocolate.”
The Old Folks: First Chocolate Users
Around the time of 1000BC the Olmec’s inhabited the land south of Mexico; this land happened to be very rich in wild cacao trees although it is uncertain as to whether the Olmec actually used chocolate or not. They did, however, refer to the wild cacao trees as “kakawa” trees, inspiring the word “cacao” in our language that is still used today.
The Mayans inhabited that same general area thousands of years later (from about 250-900 AD), and we know in fact they did use chocolate! The Mayans found chocolate so valuable that in some parts of Latin America until the 19th century, they used it as a currency, in marriage ceremonial rituals, and for baptisms.
Not your Average cup of Cocoa
The wealthier Mayan folks prepared chocolate strictly for drinking and chocolate in solid form wasn’t introduced until the 1850’s. The beans were roasted then ground and spices such as such as chili, vanilla, honey, and flowers were added to the mix. The Mayans also loved the frothy texture created by pouring it back and forth between two containers. Sometimes the beverage was also mixed with corn and water to make a sort of gruel. This tradition was continued by the Aztecs (1200-1500).
Ahoy there! Columbus spills the beans
In 1502, Columbus was doing his usual conquering and exploring when he and his men came across a dugout canoe laden with supplies. They promptly captured it and ordered the natives to carry the loot to their ship. In the process, some cacao beans were spilled and the natives ran to capture the beans. This might have been an exciting discovery for Columbus except he missed his chance to make chocolate history by forgetting all about the incident!
My man, Cortez!
In 1519, Spanish explorer Cortez arrived in the Aztec capital. Montezuma, the Aztec ruler, was rumored to have a billion beans in storage. Montezuma and his people tried chocolate and hated it, cacao was fairly bitter and so they still used it as a currency. However, after Cortez conquered the Aztecs, as well as lots of Caribbean islands the future of chocolate would change forever. Caribbean islands had plenty of sugar cane and next thing you know, sugar was added into chocolate and everybody was clamoring for the stuff!
Shhh, it’s a Secret!
For a while, the Spaniards kept sugar as an added ingredient in chocolate a secret to themselves. The daughter of the King of Spain married Louie XIV and she shared the secret ingredient with him. It was a big hit in Louis XIV’s court. In 1657. as chocolate spread through Europe, in order to keep up with the demand, plantations sprung up and the Spanish, British, Dutch, and French started their own plantations, taking cacao out of Central America and planting it in their own territories. As the supply increased, prices went down, and chocolate became increasingly available to every one.
The Dutch Influence
In the early 1800’s Coenraad Van Houten, a Dutchman, created the cocoa press, which smushed the beans and expelled the cocoa butter (fat), leaving just the cocoa behind.
The First Chocolate Bars and Modern Times
In the 1850’s, Englishman Joseph Fry added more cocoa butter, rather than hot water, to cocoa powder and sugar. And thus the world’s first solid chocolate was born.
In 1875, Daniel Peter and Henri Nestle added condensed milk to solid chocolate, creating a milk chocolate bar.
In 1879, Swiss chap Rudolphe Lindt invented the conch, a machine that rotated and mixed chocolate to a perfectly smooth consistency.
By 1907, Milton Hershey’s factory was producing 33 million kisses per day.
Today, over 3 billion tons of cacao supplies a 35 billion dollar chocolate industry.