Discover The Delicious History of Chocolate

Very few people dislike chocolate. But, how many people know the actual history of chocolate? Probably most people don’t think past the candy aisle in a store. Why would you? It’s so easy to find, almost no thought goes into it.

Chocolate has a surprisingly rich history that has traveled across the world. It’s actually a rather important part of different histories.

For example, did you know that the standard chocolate bar is a recent development? For hundreds of years it was a drink. It also wasn’t sweet. In fact, Europeans hated it at first.

When Was Chocolate First Discovered?

chocolate with bite

​Image by Ulrike Mai from Pixabay

The question of when it’s first discovered is a complicated one. It’s depends on your definition of something being “discovered”.

Is it the first instance of chocolate? Or when it was first seen by the people who would eventually turn it into the chocolate you know today?

First Instance of Use

The Olmec tribe in southern Mexico used the cacao (cocoa) plant around 4,000 years ago. Cacao trees grow wild and everywhere in tropical rainforests and other areas in South America. There aren’t any written records, which isn’t all that surprising, considering the time-frame.

Instead, evidence was found through science. There was trace chemicals that includes theobromine, which is in the plant, that showed up in ceramic objects that were found. It’s guessed that they held chocolate.

These ceramic objects could have been used for the preparation of or used to consume the chocolate. It’s thought that chocolate at this time was roasted and fermented and consumed.

The cacao seeds would be smashed and grounded in using a mortar and pestle. As mentioned before, chocolate was usually a drink. Not only that, but it was usually alcoholic.

The Mayans and Aztecs

The first documentation of chocolate is with the Mayan people. They also drank chocolate instead of eating it.

There are Mayan depictions that show a ritual style when it comes to drinking it. Because of this, when Europeans found the plant they decided that it was Plants of the Gods.

The Aztecs saw cacao and chocolate as a religiously important drink. It had a connection with the god Quetzalcoatl. The deity is depicted a feathered serpent who protected and held the knowledge of chocolate.

The gods got angry when humans learn of chocolate. This is because it’s thought that Quetzalcoatl came down from heaven carrying a stolen cocoa tree. It was then given to the humans.

They also used cacao beans as money to buy food and other items. They were thought to be more valuable than gold.

The Aztecs drink it cold and the Mayans’ warm and fermented.

There is also the Aztec word “xocoatl” that can be roughly translated to chocolate. They believe that it was a health mixture that would cure everything.

They also thought that wisdom and power came from eating the fruit of the tree.

Chocolate and Spain

In 1517 Don Cortes set sail from Cuba looking for fame and fortune in the New World. He had 11 ships and 600 men. He landed on the Mexican coast and wanted to see the Aztec Empire. More specifically, the rumored riches of Emperor Montezuma.

Cortes did find Montezuma and he introduced Cortes to his favorite drink “Chocolatl.” It’s been reported that he would drink 50 goblets of the stuff. He especially liked to drink it before going into his harem.

Of course, this friendship didn’t last long. Eventually the Spanish took over the Empire and the Aztec civilization disappeared.

Cortes brought back gallons of cacao beans with him when he went back home. This is when the Spanish version of chocolate was created. Cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar were added to the bitter beans.

This was popular among the rich in Spain because there was a limited supply of beans, which made it expensive.

Somehow, Spain managed to keep chocolate a secret for 100 years.

​The European’s Use

​Spanish conquistadors, especially Cortes, brought chocolate to the “civilized world.” Europeans actually didn’t like it at first. They found it too bitter.

In 1590s they mixed chocolate with honey, vanilla, and sugar. This gave it a better taste to the European palate.

The continuation of conquest of South America and the West Indies gave Europeans access to sugarcane plantations. The production of sugar and chocolate changed European tastes forever.

The style of having chocolate didn’t change however. It was drunk and was connected to the upper class and royalty. However, at the time, the church saw the drink as sinful.

​The Beginnings of Chocolate Production

crushed chocolate

​Image by Jürgen Brandes from Pixabay

​Because people loved chocolate so much, it pushed forward the demand for slaves in the 17th and 18th century.

In the 18th century, the first chocolate factories in Britain were created using hydraulic machinery. By 1820, new machines were invented to separate the cacao solids and butter. This was how cacao powder was made.

Chocolate soon became mass produced. In 1848, it was discovered that adding cacao butter, sugar, and cacao liquor is what could create a solid chocolate bar.

By the 19th century, improvements in machinery allowed middle class people to have access to chocolate bars.

​The Creation of Cacao Powder

​Once again, a new invention changed the history of chocolate forever. In 1828, Dutch chemist Coenraas Johannes van Houten figured out a way to treat cacao beans with alkaline salts to create Cacao Powder.

The process was called “Dutch processing” and the Cacao Powder can also be known as “Dutch Cocoa.”

Supposedly, van Houten invented the cocoa press, though it’s hard to say for sure. The press can separate the cocoa butter from the roasted cocoa powder.

This is important because it made chocolate more affordable for everyone. It also helps with the creation of mass produced chocolate.

​The First Chocolate Bar

​As mentioned before, chocolate was enjoyed as a liquid. It wasn’t until 1847 that the 1st chocolate bar was created. It happened in Britain and was done chocolatier J.S. Fry Sons.

It was molded from a paste made of sugar, chocolate liquor, and cocoa butter.

In that same vein, Milk Chocolate wasn’t made until 1876. This was done by Daniel Peter, a Swiss chocolatier. A few years later he partnered with his friend, Henri Nestle, and they created the Nestle Company and brought Milk Chocolate to the world.

​Chocolate and the American Colonies

​Chocolate actually arrived at what would be Florida on a Spanish ship in 1641. Supposedly, the 1st chocolate house opened in Boston in 1682.

By 1773, cocoa beans were a major import and was a favorite desert of all classes.

During the Revolutionary War, chocolate was a ration given to soldiers. It once again was used as money. The chocolate was considered the payment for fighting.

​The Birth of Famous Brands

hershey chocolate bar

​Image by tfrulla0112 from Pixabay

​Many familiar chocolate brands like Nestle, Cadbury, Lindt, and Hersey’s came into being during the mid-1800s as technology advanced. In fact, it was Rodolphe Lindt that created the conching machine. This machine makes chocolate have that velvety texture that we love.

Milton S. Hershey started out selling chocolate coated caramels. Then he created his own milk chocolate formula and opened a factory in 1900.

1923 was the year that Mars Co. created the Milky Way and a former Hersey employee made the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

​How to Harvest Cacao Beans

​With all this information on the history of chocolate, you might be wondering how people get the cacao beans in the first place?

The cacao trees have fruit the size of a papaya. They are lumpy berries, also known as pods, that can have up to 50 beans in each one. They are covered in white pulp.

They are harvested by hand because machines can hurt the trees. People remove the pods and open them with a machete. Then the beans are put in big fermentation trays. The trays are covered with banana leaves.

They are left for 2 to 7 days.

The formation is what gives the chocolate flavor and smell, and the white pulp falls away from the seeds. After fermenting, the beans dry out, and workers with turn them many times a day for 3 to 5 days.  

Fun fact—Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Indonesia, and Brazil have 79% of the world’s cacao production.

​How Many Different Types of Chocolate Are There?

bowl of chocolates

​Image by makingmilly from Pixabay

​There are many different types of chocolate, more than you might realize.

Cacao

This is the cacao bean without the shell. You can buy it raw or roasted. It can be rather bitter. It can also be known as Cacao Nibs, Raw Cacao, Roasted Cacao, and Ground Cacao.

Chocolate Liquor

This is the base of all chocolate. It’s formed by smashing beans into a liquid paste. Nothing is added to it and it’s not alcoholic. It contains around 53% cocoa butter.

Unsweeten Chocolate

This is pure chocolate without any added sugar. It can also be known bitter chocolate, baking chocolate, chocolate liquor, and pure chocolate.

It’s most used for baking. 

Bittersweet Chocolate

At least 35% pure chocolate with some sugar added. Also known as dark chocolate. It’s used for both baking and eating.

There’s not much of a different between Unsweeten and Bittersweet Chocolate.

Semisweet Chocolate

It’s at least 35% pure chocolate with added cocoa butter and sugar. It’s sweeter than bittersweet chocolate.

Also good for baking and eating.

Milk Chocolate

10% pure chocolate with added cocoa butter and sugar. It has a milder flavor than other chocolate. It tends to be softer in texture and melts faster than darker chocolates.

This tends to be the more popular chocolate.

It’s good for baking and eating.

Sweet Baking Chocolate

This chocolate has at least 15% pure chocolate with added cocoa butter and sugar. It’s sweeter than semisweet chocolate.

It’s good for baking, hence the name.

Unsweetened Cocoa Powder

This is pure chocolate with the cocoa butter removed. It’s made by squishing the chocolate liquor with a hydraulic press to get rid of the cocoa butter. It then hardens and gets smashed into powder.

White Chocolate

This is made by combining cocoa butter with sugar, milk solids, and usually vanilla flavor. It’s called chocolate, though it’s technically not a true one.

​Mexican Chocolate

​This is sweet chocolate that has cinnamon and sugar added to the pure chocolate. Ground almonds can also be added.

​The Many Health Benefits of Chocolate

woman biting candy

​Image from Pexels

Even though eating too much chocolate can make you sick, there are some health benefits. People in the past may have not been too far off when they thought chocolate had special properties.

Chocolate’s antioxidant properties could have a wide range of benefits. The higher the cocoa content, like in dark chocolate, the healthier it is.

Eating chocolate could help with lowering cholesterol levels, preventing cognitive decline, and reduce the risk of heart problems.

​Cholesterol

​With cholesterol, chocolate may reduce low density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. This is the bad kind of cholesterol. The idea is that bars that have plant sterols and cocoa favanols may support heart health when partnered with a low-fat diet. It would help with lowering cholesterol and improving blood pressure.

​Brain Health

​Scientists at Harvard Medical School have suggested that drinking 2 cups of hot chocolate a day could keep your brain healthy. It also could reduce memory loss in the elderly.

The hot chocolate helped improved blood flow to parts of the brain.

Results of an experiment showed that a cocoa extract, called lavado, might reduce or prevent damage to nerve pathways that is seen with Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s also thought that eating chocolate at least once a week could help better brain function.

​Heart Disease

​Eating chocolate could cut the risk of getting heart disease by a third. This needs more research though, it’s a bit iffy.

​Stroke

​A study in Canada found that people who ate one serving of chocolate were 22% less likely to have a stroke. People who had 2 ounces of chocolate as a week were 46% less likely to die from a stroke.

​Exercise Performance

​There is a suggestion that some dark chocolate could boost oxygen during working out. This could be because dark chocolate has flavonals like epicatechins that will increase the release of nitric oxcide.

​Mood Booster

​Chocolate does have substances that stimulate the brain like how cannabis does, like anandamines. Chocolate can also mimic amphetamine with tryamine and phenylethylamine. Though these substances are in small amounts, too low to make any antidepressant effect.

Chocolate can interact with your neurotransmitter systems that make you hungry, make you feel rewarded, and mood regulation.

Researchers think this has more to do with how it tastes than anything chemical effects.

There have been studies shown that people who have depression tend to eat more chocolate than people who don’t have depression. Though the study couldn’t explain why this connection happens.  

Though it’s not all good. Remember chocolate has connections to weight gain, migraines, poor bone health, acne, and more.

​Chocolate in Today’s Market

​Today, chocolate manufacturing is more than 4-billion-dollar industry in the US alone. Americans tend to eat half a pound of the stuff each month.

Sadly, there is still slavery that comes with chocolate production. Many cacao farmers have a hard time surviving. So they use low wage or slave labor that can be found by child trafficking to stay above water.

It’s been estimated that around 2.3 million children work in chocolate production in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. They are exposed to chemicals, long work hours, and aren’t allowed to be educated.

There are many different organizations are trying to help these kids. As a consumer, you can look for certifications designating Fair Trade, Rain Forest Alliance, UTZ, and Fair for Life.

Climate change has also been a huge problem for cacao farmers. The regions where the plants grow are getting hotter without more rainfall. This means there is less humidity, which the plants need to grow healthy.

Some farmers are trying planting taller trees. They hope this will make more shade and have less water loss. The farms may even move up higher, where there are cooler temperatures and more rain.

​The History of Chocolate Is Very Rich and Deep

tray of chocolates

Image by Monique Carrati from Unsplash

Chocolate is a lot more complicated than people think. Blood has been spilled, wars have been waged, and civilizations have disappeared due to chocolate.

It’s interesting that it was liquid for most of its history. There isn’t a lot of drinking of chocolate anymore with the exception of hot chocolate and chocolate milk. The solid bars are now the most popular way to enjoy it.

It’s hard to believe that something we can easily buy for under $5 was only available to royalty and the rich. Maybe even harder to believe is the fact the beans were used as currency.

It’s also interesting that many famous chocolate brands like Lindt, Nestle, Cadbury, and Hersey’s all came into the world around the mid-1800s.

Next time you are sitting with a bag of chocolate in your lap, maybe you will remember everything people have done to get to the point you are at.


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