Chocolate history starts out in Latin America, where cacao (also called cocoa) trees grow wild. The first people to use chocolate were probably the Olmec of what is today southeast Mexico. They lived in the area around 1000 BC, and their word, “kakawa,” gave us our word “cacao.” Unfortunately, we don’t know how the Olmec actually used chocolate.
We do know, however, that the Maya, who inhabited the same general area a thousand years later (from about 250-900 AD), did use chocolate. A lot. And not just internally. It is with the Maya that chocolate history really begins. The cocoa beans were used as currency. 10 beans would buy you a rabbit or a prostitute. 100 beans would buy you a slave. Some clever person even came up with a way to counterfeit beans – by carving them out of clay. The beans were still used as currency in parts of Latin America until the 19th century!
If Rupee notes were edible, would you eat them? Probably not, unless you had some to spare. The same was true of the Maya – usually only the rich drank much chocolate, although working folks probably enjoyed chocolate every now and then too. The rich enjoyed drinking their chocolate from elaborately painted chocolate vessels. Emperors were buried with jars of chocolate at their side. Clearly, they wanted to make chocolate history themselves.
So it’s no surprise that when the Aztecs conquered the Maya, they kept the chocolate tradition alive. From about 1200-1500, the Aztecs dominated the region and continued using cocoa as currency. Because cocoa could not grow in the capital city, Tenochitlan (where Mexico City is today), it had to be imported through trading. Conveniently, the Spanish had taken over lots of Caribbean islands. And on those islands was sugar. Next thing you know, somebody put sugar in chocolate and everybody was clamoring for the stuff.
Chocolate History in Church
For a while, the Spaniards kept the chocolate secret to themselves. And when chocolate first made it to Spain, it was considered a health food and a medicine. Doctors prescribed it for curing fevers, cooling the body, aiding in digestion, and alleviating pain. The church also approved it as a nutritional supplement to take while fasting.
In the 1850s, Englishman Joseph Fry changed my life by adding more cocoa butter, rather than hot water, to cocoa powder and sugar. The world’s first solid chocolate was born.
In 1875, Daniel Peter and Henri Nestle added condensed milk to solid chocolate, creating a milk chocolate bar.
In 1879, Swiss chap Rudolphe Lindt invented the conch, a machine that rotated and mixed chocolate to a perfectly smooth consistency.
By 1907, Milton Hershey’s factory was spitting out 33 million kisses per day.
Checkout our recent innovations in Chocolates –