I’ve decided to make my first blog about the best thing I have ever eaten! When we think about chocolate, we are reminded of that rich, decadent sweet treat that melts in the mouth. Where did it all begin though? Who thought of plucking a weird-looking fruit from a tree and decided to ferment its seeds? The word ‘chocolate’ is derived from the Aztec word, ‘xocoatl’ which was a bitter drink made from cacao beans.
Chocolate, as we know it today, came into existence much after it was first used. The Cacao plant, which is used to make chocolate, was first used in Central and South America where it is native. It is not clear how cacao was discovered or first used but it is thought that it was first used by the Olmecs for rituals and medicinal concoctions. It is unknown whether they used the pulp of the cacao pod or cacao beans.
The Mayans in Central America also consumed cacao. Mayans loved cacao, to the extent that they thought the bean had magical and divine properties. Cacao pulp and beans were used to make a thick frothy drink with chilli, honey or water. Chocolate was ready available to everyone and was used in sacred rituals. The Aztecs used to import cacao as they couldn’t grow it. They believed cacao was a gift from the god, Quetzacoatl (Age of Empires II, anyone?). Cacao was more valuable than gold to the Aztecs and was used as currency. Only the rich could afford cacao but people from lower classes would consume it on special occasions. They identified cacao as a source of energy and an aphrodisiac.
Then came the invaders!!! There are several conflicting stories about how cocoa reached Spain, Europe in the 16th century. Some say it was brought back by Christopher Columbus, others say it was observed in Montezuma’s court by a Spanish conquistador, Hernan Cortes. Once discovered by the Spanish, they started importing cacao. From here, it spread to other parts of Europe. The Europeans weren’t fond of the bitter beverage and adapted it to their own palette by adding sugar and other spices.
During the industrial revolution, various new machines and processes were introduced which made the production of solid chocolate possible and mass marketing of chocolate started. It was in 1847 that the first chocolate bar was moulded by British chocolatier, J.S. Fry and Sons. In 1876, milk chocolate was created by adding milk powder to chocolate. Solid chocolate initially made was hard and difficult to chew. This issue was overcome by adding the process of conching which was developed by Rudolf Lindt in 1879.
That’s a long history, you say. Although we don’t know how humans stumbled upon chocolate, one thing we know is that we have admired chocolate since it was discovered. There probably has to be something magical about chocolate and the Mayans and Aztecs actually had it right!
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