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The History Chocolate

It is believed that the story of chocolate began no earlier than 2,000 years ago when the secret of the cacao (kah KOW) tree was discovered. It happened in the tropical rainforests of the Americas and the first people who have made chocolate were the ancient cultures of Central America, mainly the Maya and Aztec.

In 16th century Spanish conquistadors brought the cacao seeds to Spain, where new recipes were created. During centuries the texture and taste of chocolate have been changed by new technologies and innovations, but it still remains one of the world's favorite flavors.

250-900 C.E. [A.D.]

The first people considered to have discovered the secret of cacao were the Classic Period Maya (250-900 C.E. [A.D.]). This is where the first evidence of chocolate in glyphs and actual remains in ancient vessels come from.

Archaeologists don't have precise information how the Maya first learned the tasty secret of cacao. But one thing is for sure: chocolate was a treasured Maya feast. Many Maya artifacts are decorated with scenes of people pouring and enjoying chocolate. Archeological dig show that ancient Maya and their ancestors in Mesoamerica took the tree from the rainforest and grew cacao in their own backyards.

After gathering the cacao pods, ancient people just like we today would have to ferment and dry the seeds that were inside. Then, these seeds would be roasted in a griddle held over a fire. Next, they would remove the shells and ground the seeds into a paste by crushing them with a small stone, called a mano [MAH no], against a large stone surface, called a metate [meh TAH tay].

Maya chocolate was a frothy, bitter beverage. After grounding cacao seeds into a chocolate paste they mixed it with water, chile peppers, cornmeal, and other ingredients. Then, they poured this bitter concoction back and forth from cup to pot until it developed a thick foam on top and probably sweetened it with a bit of honey or flower nectar (sugar was unavailable in Mesoamerica).

Among the ancient Maya from the Classic Period, everyone-no matter their status-could occasionally enjoy a chocolate drink. The wealthy drank chocolate from elaborate vessels decorated by specially trained artists. Chocolate, a particular favorite of Maya kings and priests, played a special part in royal and religious events. Maya couples even used to drink chocolate as part of their betrothal and marriage ceremonies.


By the 1400s, the Aztec empire dominated over a huge expanse of Mesoamerica. Their territory ranged all the way from northern Mexico to the Maya lands in Honduras. Cacao quickly became key to the Aztec's vast trade empire as money, offerings to the gods, and payment to rulers.

The dry highlands of central Mexico, the seat of the Aztec empire, weren't good enough to grow the cacao tree. So the Aztecs traded with the Maya and other peoples in order to receive a steady supply of seeds for chocolate. They often required that citizens and conquered peoples pay their tribute in cacao seeds. Cacao cups, ocelot skins, feathers, greenstone beads, and many other goods were just a few of the items people could use to pay tribute.

The Aztecs prepared and processed cacao seeds just like the earlier Maya. They ground the cacao using a griddle, a mano and metate. Like the Maya, the Aztecs made their chocolate into a frothy, bitter beverage and mixed it with a variety of seasonings such as cornmeal, chile peppers, vanilla beans, and black pepper. Different ingredients changed the texture, flavor, color, and purpose of the drink. The Aztecs added achiote (ah chee OH tay), the seed of the annatto tree, to turn the chocolate a deep, blood-red shade for ritual use.

Only the Aztec elite (rulers, priests, decorated soldiers, and honored merchants) held the social status and economic position to enjoy the drink. Others used cacao seeds only as money.

According to one Aztec legend, the god Quetzalcoatl (ket sal koh AH tul) brought divine cacao to Earth. Eventually, Quetzalcoatl was bounced out of paradise for the blasphemous act of giving this sacred drink to humans.


Until the 1500s, no one in Europe knew anything at all about the delicious drink that would later become a huge hit worldwide. Although it's likely that other early explorers encountered cacao in the Americas, it wasn't until Hernan Cortes conquered Mexico in 1521 that the Spanish began to learn about the delicious flavor of chocolate. At first, Cortes and his men weren't astonished by chocolate's taste. To spice up the brew a bit, they began heating the drink and adding a variety of ingredients. Once the beverage migrated to Europe, someone eventually got the idea to add sugar, cinnamon, and other spices to the mix - and sweet, hot chocolate was born.

Spanish soldiers gasped the Aztec's supply of cacao and began to demand it from the same peoples from whom the Aztecs had demanded tribute.

Spain didn't actually change the way raw cacao was prepared and processed into chocolate. The native Mesoamericans still did all the work of harvesting the pods and fermenting, drying, cleaning, and roasting the seeds. However, the Spanish did bring a new tool to the trade - a wood stirring stick that made the job of whipping chocolate into a smooth foam much easier. It was called the molinillo (moh lin EE oh).

Legend has it that, in 1544, a group of Dominican friars took a delegation of native peoples to visit Prince Philip in Spain. These captives gave his majesty his first taste of chocolate, and it quickly became the fashionable trend in the Spanish court. Spain held a monopoly on chocolate for almost 100 years. Only the wealthiest and most well-connected Spanish aristocracy could afford this expensive import.

Very soon the Spanish recognized chocolate's restorative and nutritional properties. As a result, during the 16th century, chocolate became valued as a clerical fasting beverage. After much debate, the Catholic Church allowed people to drink liquid chocolate as a nutritional substitute during fasting periods, when solid foods are taboo.


From the early 1600s until the late 1800s, enslaved people provided most of labor for cacao landowners -the cheapest way for plantation owners to produce large quantities. Of course Mesoamericans were the first people enslaved for the sake of chocolate.

The British started planting trees in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). The Dutch established plantations in Venezuela, Java, and Sumatra. And the French focused on the West Indies. Soon, these countries were shipping cacao back home to keep Europe well stocked with chocolate.

Many of the products coming out of the Americas at this time were labor-intensive cereals.

After so many Mesoamericans died from European diseases, a new labor force was needed. European colonial landowners turned to Africa to supply them with the necessary labor. People began grinding their cacao using wind-driven or horse-drawn mills to produce larger amounts of chocolate more quickly.

As with the Spanish, most Europeans liked to sweeten their chocolate with sugar, another expensive and exotic import from faraway settlements. And in the late 1600s, Sir Hans Sloane, president of the Royal College of Physicians, introduced another culinary custom: mixing the already popular chocolate drink with milk for a lighter, smoother flavor.

According to legend, the French court's love of chocolate was sealed when its new, self-confessed chocoholic queen, Anne of Austria (daughter of King Philip III of Spain), married Louis XIII in 1615. Chocolate became a state monopoly and an instant status symbol, and by decree, no one but members of the French aristocracy were allowed to enjoy it.

The first chocolate house opened in London in 1657. Like coffee shops, which became popular much later, chocolate houses were places to enjoy a hot drink, discuss politics, socialize, and gamble. Some chocolate houses admitted only men, others were open to anyone who could afford the entrance fee.

Chocolate remained an elite beverage and a status symbol for Europe's upper classes for 300 years, as an expensive import. Europeans developed their own special protocol for the drinking of chocolate. They even designed ornate porcelain and silver serving pieces and cups for chocolate that acted as symbols of wealth and power.


For centuries, chocolate remained a handmade luxury consumed only by society's upper crust. But by the 1800s, mass production made solid chocolate candy affordable to a much broader public.

In the early 1700's, a Frenchman named Doret created a hydraulic machine to grind cacao seeds into a paste. Not long afterward, another Frenchman, Dubuisson, invented the steam-driven chocolate mill. These mechanical mills relieved people from the labor-intensive process of grinding cacao.

Before the Industrial Revolution, chocolate was a gritty, rather oily paste usually dissolved in water or milk and made into a beverage. But the invention of new machines made it possible to create smoother, creamier chocolate in the form of an edible candy bar.

In 1815, Van Houten added alkaline salts to powdered chocolate, which helped it to mix better with water and gave it a darker color and milder flavor.

One of the most important inventions was the cocoa press, created in 1828 by the Dutch chemist Coenraad Van Houten. It squeezed out cocoa butter (leaving the powder we call cocoa) and made cocoa both more consistent and cheaper to produce.

And in 1875, Daniel Peter and Henri Nestle teamed up to introduce condensed milk to chocolate. Their smooth, creamy “milk chocolate” rapidly became a popular favorite.

Chocolate began to appear not only in its candy bar form, but also became much more popular as an ingredient in other confectionery sweets, such as cakes, pastries, and sorbets.

As chocolate products became cheaper, advertisers introduced marketing campaigns aimed at more people, especially women and children. Breakfast chocolate became a part of many people's diets.


New processes and machinery have improved the quality of chocolate and the speed at which it can be produced. However, cacao farming itself remains basically unaltered. People grow cacao in equatorial climates all around the world today using traditional techniques first developed in Mesoamerica. Today most cacao is produced by independent farmers or cooperative groups in unexpected places like Africa and Indonesia.

Over the years, many creative confectioners developed lots of new varieties and flavors of chocolate. A few icons of the early 1900s still survive today. Hershey got his start making chocolate-coated caramels in 1893. And his competitors, the father-and-son team of Mars, created the malted-milk-filled Milky Way after an inspiring trip to the local drugstore soda fountain.

Surprisingly, the armed forces helped spread the love of chocolate worldwide. The trend first began in the late 19th century, when Queen Victoria sent her soldiers gifts of this nourishing and delicious candy for Christmas. But the popularity of candy bars really skyrocketed after World War I, when chocolate was part of every United State's soldier's rations.

For many years, chocolate has been more than a food; it has served as a health and beauty aid, too. Theobromine, a chemical found in chocolate, enlarges blood vessels and is used to treat high blood pressure. In addition, cocoa butter is used in cosmetics and ointments-and even as a coating for pills. Plus, leftover cacao husks make good mulch and cattle fodder.

Chocolate still plays a part in festive celebrations that are associated with many religious holidays. Most of us expect to eat chocolate in some form near events like Hanukkah, Christmas, and Easter.

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