The history of chocolate started over 2,000 years ago, as tribes from the Americas discovered the cacao tree, the base of chocolate as we know it. Today, this sweet treat can be found at all corners of the globe.
History of Chocolate: Where It All Began
Mesoamerican cultures, like the Mayans and Aztecs, had been mixing ground cacao seeds into a bitter, frothy drink for many years before the Spanish arrived to conquer their lands.
The ancient Mayans are believed to be the first to discover the culinary possibilities of cacao, around 250 to 900 AD. By 1400, the Aztecs had discovered the power of cacao. The seeds were so important to the culture that they were used as currency.
Chocolate drinks were served as part of important ceremonies and cacao seeds were often offered as gifts to the gods.
Guide to Chocolate: Europe Takes Control
The Mayans and Aztecs love of cacao was discovered by Spaniards in the 1500s, when explorers from the land set foot in Mexico and Central America for the first time. When the Spanish conquered the Aztec culture, they began importing chocolate back to Europe.
The Spaniards, under Hernan Cortes, developed their own cacao drink because they didn’t like the bitter taste of the Aztec’s brew. Instead, they added sugar, cinnamon and other spices to sweeten up the beverage, making hot chocolate for the first time.
After nearly 100 years, other European nations took interest in chocolate. Royals in every European court loved the treat. Eventually, the Industrial Revolution made the production of chocolate easier, improving the availability of the treat. Many Europeans also began drinking cacao with milk.
As Europeans began to colonize lands all over the world, they built cacao-growing plantations. Native people were initially used as labor on these plantations, but when many of the natives were wiped out from disease, Europeans turned to Africa. A combination of slaves and paid laborers helped grow the industry.
When Did People Start Eating Chocolate in Solid Form?
Around 1828, a Dutch chemist figured out that, by removing cacao butter from chocolate liquor, a solid mixture could be made. By adding alkaline salts to the butter, the bitter taste was eliminated and Dutch cocoa was created.
By 1847, Joseph Fry discovered that he could make a moldable chocolate paste by adding cacao butter back into Dutch cocoa, and the first chocolate bar was born. Cadbury began selling solid chocolate candies in England in 1868 and Nestle created what we know today was milk chocolate just a few years later.
These discoveries helped create more ways for people to enjoy benefits of eating chocolate.