Today, chocolate is a delicacy that many people all over the world enjoy in all shapes and forms, from the classic chocolate bars to warm hot cocoa. But did you know that chocolate has been around for almost 4,000 years? Here is a taste of chocolate’s sweet history:
Chocolate’s Bitter Beginnings
Anthropologists have found that chocolate began to be produced as early as 1900 B.C, by pre-Olmec cultures that lived in present-day Mexico. The earliest forms of chocolate were actually consumed as a bitter drink before it was eaten as a sweet treat; ancient Mesoamericans cultivated cacao plants in the Central American tropical rainforests, and then fermented, roasted, and ground the cacao beans into a paste.They would then mix the paste with water, honey, vanilla, chili peppers, and other spices to create the drink.
In the 14th century, when the Aztecs started to dominate Mesoamerica, they became starved of cacao beans; the cacao plant was unable to grow in the dry highlands of central Mexico, which remained the heart of their civilization. It was because of this that the Aztecs began trading with the nearby Mayans for cacao beans; this became such a popular practice that cacao beans eventually became a form of currency.
In the 1500s, Spanish conquistadors who sailed to Mexico in search of gold and other treasures ended up returning with chocolate instead. Adopting the Mesoamerican chocolate drink as their own, the Spanish were the first to sweeten the drink with cane sugar and cinnamon. However, the delicacy was only available to royalty and the elite, because the chocolate was at that time considered a symbol of luxury, power, and wealth. Eventually, the popularity of chocolate spread to other European courts. Major powers in Europe began establishing colonial plantations around the world in order to grow cacao and sugar to produce chocolate.
Introduction to the Chocolate Bar
In 1828, a Dutch chemist named Coenraad Johannes van Houten invented the cocoa press, which allowed cocoa beans to be transformed into a fine powder and eventually into edible chocolate. This dropped production costs, and because of this, chocolate became available to the masses.
Then in 1847, a chocolate company in Britain—J.S. Fry & Sons—created the very first solid chocolate bar, made from cocoa powder, cocoa butter, and sugar. Rodolphe Lindt’s invention of the conching machine in 1879 allowed a creamier milk chocolate to be mass-produced on assembly lines. Soon, a chocolate boom would take the world by storm.