History of Chocolate
The origin of chocolate is a romantic mix of fact, fiction, legend, and myth. Humanity’s love affair with chocolate is over 2,000 years old and like all enduring relationships, it has a rich and complex history. A thorough treatment of that history could fill encyclopedic volumes. However, following is a summary of several important periods including some respective milestones.
Chocolate’s modern form has been around for over 100 years. The world’s demand for chocolate turned its cultivation, processing, marketing, and consumption into big business. The 1900s witnessed chocolate redefined from a specialty confection to an economic juggernaut highlighted by it’s inclusion as a star player in many world commodity exchanges.
In the 1800s, the industrial revolution marshaled in a period of innovation for chocolate particularly the development of the process that produced its solid form. Other achievements included the completion of the first industrial facility for the manufacture of chocolate and the invention of the cocoa press which reduced the cost of manufacturing while improving chocolate’s taste.
The 1700s were marked by chocolate’s complete and total conquest of Europe. This period was also highlighted by chocolate’s “reentry” into the new world. Having left the continent as a bitter, warm drink, chocolate made a grand reentrance as a sweetened confection. Chocolate’s importation to the America’s was also illustrative of its completed journey from a high-end luxury item consumed by the elite to a consumer item available to middle and lower income populace.
During the 1600s chocolate spread across Europe; first through its myriad royal courts and eventually by the social elite. Because its raw materials were still imported from equatorial regions of the new world, chocolate commanded a high price. Thus, only the affluent classes could afford to consume it. Due to its association with royalty, this period also established chocolate’s standing as a stimulant and reputation as an aphrodisiac.
Chocolate made its first appearance in Europe upon Colombus’ return in 1492. However, its value and importance were not appreciated until the 1500s when Hernando Cortez observed it being used as currency among the native peoples of South America. Cortez did two things that hastened chocolate’s bewitching grip over all of Europe. First, he added sugar and spices to the original drink the Aztecs made from the cocoa seeds. And secondly, Cortez introduced chocolate to King Charles V of Spain. In the next 500 years, chocolate consumption reached every continent and country in the world.
Before 1400, chocolate was a simple drink prepared and consumed by Mesoamerican peoples including the Maya from 250 AD to 1100 AD and the Aztecs from 1100 AD to the arrival of the conquistadors. These native peoples gathered pods containing seeds from the cacao tree. The pods were allowed to ferment then dried, roasted, and ground up to make a paste. Different spices and herbs were added along with water to make a bitter frothy drink called ‘xocoatl’. This drink was consumed for many reasons including as part of a ritual, for medicinal purposes, and as a stimulant for warriors. These facts are confirmed by the Mesoamerican’s ancient writings and imagery in their art.