The Story Of Chocolate
[Editor: As they say "Old is Gold". We bring back one of our timeless pieces on the occasion of Valentine's day]
What would Valentine’s Day be without chocolate? Definitely not as sweet. But did you know that chocolate candy did not start off being sweet, or even solid? Here’s the bittersweet story of chocolate.
A Royal Beginning
The main ingredient in chocolate as you may know is cocoa, which comes from cocoa or cacao (pronounced “kakao”) beans. Mayan Indians in Central and South America first discovered the secret of the cocoa somewhere around 250-900 A.D. They fermented, roasted, and ground the whole beans into cocoa powder, which they then mixed with water, chili peppers, and other ingredients to make it into a foamy, spicy and very bitter chocolate drink. Inspite of its bitterness, it was a popular drink and served on special occasions.
By 1400, Aztec Indians conquered the region and made the Mayans pay them tax or “tribute” in cacao seeds, which became a form of money. Given its value and importance, only royalty and upper-class people were allowed to drink chocolate, which was also used for religious ceremonies.
Europe’s Sweet Tooth
It wasn’t until the 16th century with the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs that chocolate found its way to Europe. It was still served as a drink, but the Europeans added sugar and milk to remove its natural bitterness, and replaced chili pepper with vanilla.
With the growing popularity of the drink, “chocolate houses” started opening up in countries like the United Kingdom. Here, the rich and the famous, the only ones who could afford to buy the very expensive drink, gathered to drink and socialize. To keep up with the demand for chocolate, Spain and many other European nations established cocoa and sugar plantations in countries like Mexico, Costa Rica and Venezuela and hired slaves who worked long hours for little pay. This had a major impact on the society and culture of these Latin American countries.
The Modern Chocolate
For hundreds of years, chocolate making and drinking remained unchanged. Then in the 1800s, the Industrial Revolution arrived first in Europe, then North America and the rest of the world, and with it advances in agriculture, manufacturing, transportation, and technology. Soon machines were created that could squeeze out ‘cocoa butter’ from the beans instead of having to grind them, which made it easier to solidify chocolate.
In 1842, Cadbury's company in England created the world’s first chocolate bar, and thus began the world’s love affair with chocolate. Today, chocolate comes in many varieties including milk, dark, semi-sweet, white, bittersweet, unsweetened, drinking and Gianduja (with hazelnuts). Which one is your favorite?
Have a sweet Valentine’s Day!
- The word "chocolate" comes from the word "xocolatl" (pronounced “shocolat”) in the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs. It is made up from the words "xococ" meaning bitter, and "atl" meaning water.
- Today, roughly two-thirds of the world's cocoa is produced in Western Africa, with close to half of that coming from the small country of Côte d'Ivoire or Ivory Coast.
- One cocoa pod contains about 42 beans. It takes up to 270 cocoa beans to make a pound of chocolate.
- The Swiss eat the most chocolate. The average Swiss eats 22 pounds a year!
- In 1861, Richard Cadbury, the son of Cadbury founder John Cadbury, came up with the idea for the first heart-shaped box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day.