Chocolate used to be a bitter liquid, a revered food, a currency, and even considered the food of Gods! Now, a popular comfort food, chocolate was once a totally different story. It has come a long way since then. Let’s understand the story behind chocolate.
History of Chocolate
Its first origin can be traced back to Mesoamerica. (a historical region in North America) The earliest use of chocolate is considered by Olmec people, but they used cacao, and it was for medicinal and religious purposes. No evidence has been found of them using it for personal uses.
The Mayans were the first people to use chocolate in an elaborate way. According to the Mayan book, Dresden Codex, chocolate was considered the food of the rain deity Kon. Another book Madrid Codex, suggests that cacao was produced after the gods shed their blood on it. Mayans also had a cacao god whom they showed their gratitude towards.
Since there wasn’t any sugar at that time in the region, the chocolate was not sweet, as we are used to it today. Rather, it was a bitter liquid. Mayans usually prepared their drink from crushed cocoa beans, water, and chili peppers, pouring the whole mixture from one pot to another until a thick foam developed.
Mayans also used cacao for other purposes. For example, they utilized it for festivals, funerary offerings, religious rituals, official ceremonies and for medicinal purposes.
Chocolate was also used as money! Whether you have to buy yourself a turkey, cacao beans were frequently used as currency. A rabbit cost ten cacao beans!
By the 15th century, Mesoamerica was conquered by the Aztecs. So, came to the picture new gods and a new way of consuming chocolate. The Aztecs starting taking cacao beans as a tax from the people. They called it ‘tribute.’ Chocolate continued to stay as a currency during their reign, too. They linked cacao with god Quetzalcoatl. However, unlike the Mayans, they drank their chocolate cold. They also used the chocolate for multi-purposes, like a treat after banquets for men, as an aphrodisiac, or as a ration for their soldiers.
Europe – Cacao Beans Meet Sugar
In the 16th century, chocolate was imported to Europe after the Spanish took control of Mesoamerica. Initially, it was used for medicinal purposes owing to its bitterness. When they sweetened it, it quickly became a favorite food in courts. In the ensuing 100 years, chocolate slowly became popular throughout Europe. The Mayan practice of adding spices in the chocolate faded away towards the end of the 18th century.
The Modern Era of Chocolate
From the early 17th and late 19th century, the processing of the beans was completely manual. The plantation of cacao was spreading as French, Dutch, and English colonized. In 1732, an innovation developed in France that aided in the extraction of chocolate. The 1760 the first chocolate company opened in France, the Chocolaterie Lombart. The Industrial Revolution gave birth to the new techniques that increased the rate of production of chocolate. The modern era of chocolate was introduced after a method was developed to remove half the natural fat contained in the chocolate liquor. This made chocolate more consistent in quality and also cheaper. It came to known as ‘Dutch cocoa.’ Towards the late 19th and early 20th century, many chocolate companies, such as Nestlé were established. Cadbury was producing boxed chocolate by 1868. Hershey’s chocolates came soon after 1894.
These chocolate companies are still running their business smoothly. However, the main production, roughly two-third, is done in Western Africa. Cameroon, Nigeria, and Ghana are among the top five countries in the world that produce cocoa.