The History of Chocolate
Chocolate as we know it today has ancient and mystical roots. Although today, it is commonly found in supermarkets and convenience stores, during its history, it has been a prized and eaten after item, known as 'Food of the Gods', at times being a closely guarded secret and the cocoa bean has even been used as a currency.
Ancient civilizations including the Aztec and Maya cultured the cocoa tree. The tree was found in jungles and rainforests in Central and Southern America. The cocoa tree produces pods which contain the cocoa beans. The beans were made into a drink by the Mayans who added water, spices, and vanilla to the ground beans. The drink was called 'xocolatl' meaning 'bitter water'.
The beans were used by merchants and traded for items including horses, cloth and ceremonial feathers.
Cocoa is linked in Mexican Indian mythology to the god Quetzalcoatl who is said to have left behind the cocao tree when he left the country.
Christopher Columbus brought the cocoa bean to Spain between 1502 – 1504. Hernan Cortes, the conquistador realized the value of the beans and took them to Spain in 1528. Sugar, milk and spices were added to the drink to sweeten the taste. 'Chocolate' became very popular among the Spanish elite but it was still in short supply and they kept quiet about it for over 100 years.
But chocolate was not going to remain a secret. By 1606 it was in Italy after an Italian traveler had seen it in Central America and in 1615 it arrived in France. The French court adored chocolate, praising it and believing it had exceptional qualities including being good for the health.
Chocolate made its way to different areas of Europe and in the 1650s it arrived in England. The then expensive drink was popular along the rich and elite and in 1657 a Frenchman opened a hot chocolate shop in London. 'Chocolate Houses' spread and the drink became much more widely available.
The popularity of chocolate was growing and so new cocoa plantations were built in Africa, The Far East and The West Indies. As supply increased, the price fell which meant much more of the population could now afford it. Grocers, apothecaries and chemists manufactured the drink.
In the Victorian times a method was found to produce a chocolate 'bar' using cocoa powder, sugar and cocoa butter.
By the early 20th century, the chocolate bar was being manufactured on an industrial scale, with further developments to improve taste and add other ingredients.
So the chocolate bars we enjoy today have emerged through history with a rich, varied and adventurous story. The cocoa tree is known as 'Theobroma Cacao', translated as 'Food of the Gods' – and chocolate is now a little 'luxury' that can be widely enjoyed.