God of Wisdom.
The history of chocolate begins in Mesoamerica. Fermented beverages made from chocolate date back to 1900 BC. The Aztecs believed that cacao seeds (also called cocoa) were the gift of Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom, and the seeds once had so much value that they were used as a form of currency.
Originally chocolate was served as a bitter, frothy liquid, mixed with spices or corn puree. After its arrival to Europe in the sixteenth century, sugar was added to it and it became popular throughout society, first among the ruling classes and then among the common people. The word “chocolate” entered the English language from the Spanish language.
Served as Alcohol.
Cultivation, use, and cultural elaboration of cocoa were early and extensive in Mesoamerica, to which the cocoa tree is native. When pollinated, the seed of the cocoa tree eventually forms a kind of sheath of 20 inch long, hanging from the branches. Within the sheath are 30 to 40 brownish-red almond-shaped beans embedded in a sweet viscous pulp. While the beans themselves are bitter due to the alkaloids within them, the sweet pulp may have been the first element consumed by humans. Evidence suggests that it may have been fermented and served as an alcoholic beverage as early as 1400 BC. The use of the fermented bean in a drink seems to have arisen in Mexico.
History in Europe.
After the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, chocolate was imported to Europe. There, it quickly became a court favorite. It was still served as a beverage, but the Spanish added sugar or honey to counteract the natural bitterness. Within about a hundred years, chocolate established a foothold throughout Europe.
The new craze for chocolate brought with it a thriving slave market, as between the early 17th and late 19th centuries the laborious and slow processing of the cacao bean was manual. Cacao plantations spread, as the English, Dutch, and French colonized and planted. With the depletion of Mesoamerican workers, largely to disease, cocoa production was often the work of poor wage laborers and African slaves. Wind-powered and horse-drawn mills were used to speed production, augmenting human labor. Heating the working areas of the table-mill, an innovation that emerged in France in 1732, also assisted in extraction. New processes that speed the production of chocolate emerged early in the Industrial Revolution. In 1815, Dutch chemist Coenraad van Houten introduced alkaline salts to chocolate, which reduced its bitterness. A few years thereafter, in 1828, he created a press to remove about half the natural fat (cocoa butter) from chocolate liquor, which made chocolate both cheaper to produce and more consistent in quality.
Roughly two-thirds of the world’s cocoa is produced in Western Africa, with close to half of the total sourced from Côte d’Ivoire. It has been alleged that an estimated 90% of cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire have used some form of slave labor in order to remain viable. When cocoa prices drop, farmers in West Africa sometimes cut costs by resorting to slave labour.