Origins of Chocolate
Chocolate dates back to the ancient times of Mesoamerican people who drank chocolate as a bitter beverage.
For these people, chocolate wasn’t just a favorite food—it also played an important role in their religious and social lives.The first people clearly known to have discovered the secret of cacao were the Classic Period Maya
The Maya and their ancestors in Mesoamerica took the tree from the rainforest and grew it in their own backyards, where they harvested, fermented, roasted, and ground the seeds into a paste.
When mixed with water, chile peppers, cornmeal, and other ingredients, this paste made a frothy, spicy chocolate drink.
By 1400, the Aztec empire dominated a sizeable segment of Mesoamerica. The Aztecs traded with Maya and other peoples for cacao and often required that citizens and conquered peoples pay their tribute in cacao seeds—a form of Aztec money.
Like the earlier Maya, the Aztecs also consumed their bitter chocolate drink seasoned with spices—sugar was an agricultural product unavailable to the ancient Mesoamericans. Many people in Classic Period Maya society could drink chocolate at least on occasion, although it was a particularly favored beverage for royalty. But in Aztec society, primarily rulers, priests, decorated soldiers, and honored merchants could partake of this sacred brew.
Chocolate also played a special role in both Maya and Aztec royal and religious events. Priests presented cacao seeds as offerings to the gods and served chocolate drinks during sacred ceremonies. The Mayan and the Aztecs called this chocolate beverage Xocolatl, a Nahuatl word meaning bitter water
Europe’s first contact with chocolate came during the conquest of Mexico in 1521. The Spaniards recognized the value attached to cacao and observed the Aztec custom of drinking chocolate. Soon after, the Spanish began to ship cacao seeds back home.
An expensive import, chocolate remained an elite beverage and a status symbol for Europe’s upper classes for the next 300 years.
When the Spanish brought cacao home, they doctored up the bitter brew with cinnamon and other spices and began sweetening it with sugar.
They managed to keep their delicious drink a Spanish secret for almost 100 years before the rest of Europe discovered what they were missing. Sweetened chocolate soon became the latest and greatest fad to hit the continent Because cacao and sugar were expensive imports, only those with money could afford to drink chocolate. In fact, in France, chocolate was a state monopoly that could be consumed only by members of the royal court. Like the Maya and the Aztecs, Europeans developed their own special protocol for the drinking of chocolate. They even designed elaborate porcelain and silver serving pieces and cups for chocolate that acted as symbols of wealth and power.
Cacao and sugar were labor-intensive agricultural products. To keep up with the demand for chocolate, Spain and many other European nations established colonial plantations for growing these plants.
A combination of wage laborers and enslaved peoples were used to create a plantation workforce.
For centuries, chocolate remained a handmade luxury sipped only by society’s upper crust. But by the 1800s, mass production made solid chocolate candy affordable to a much broader public.
The first chocolate house opened in London in 1657. In 1689, noted physician and collector Hans Sloane developed a milk chocolate drink in Jamaica which was initially used by apothecaries, but later sold to the Cadbury brothers
Cacao growing hasn’t changed much since ancient times
cacao farming itself remains basically unaltered.
People grow cacao in equatorial climates all around the world today using traditional techniques first developed in Mesoamerica. Cacao is still harvested, fermented, dried, cleaned, and roasted mostly by hand.
But cacao is more than a source for calories and confections. The chemicals and substances in cacao can be extracted and incorporated into cosmetics and medicines. And the by-products of cacao can be used as mulch or fodder for cattle. The cacao tree grows in the shade of tropical rainforests near the equator.
Cacao trees are quite picky about their environment. If any of the following requirements are not met, the cacao tree will stop bearing fruit:
Regular rainfall Steady, warm temperatures Constant, high humidity Partial shade Rich, well-drained soil Canopy trees to protect plants from wind and moisture loss In addition, the seeds themselves won’t germinate after planting if they’re exposed to low temperatures or low humidity.Like people, cacao trees go through different stages of life. Their needs for food and shelter change as they mature.
Several types of chocolate can be distinguished. Pure, unsweetened chocolate contains primarily cocoa solids and cocoa butter in varying proportions. Much of the chocolate consumed today is in the form of sweet chocolate, combining chocolate with sugar. Milk chocolate is sweet chocolate that additionally contains milk powder or condensed milk. “White chocolate” contains cocoa butter, sugar, and milk but no cocoa solids
White chocolate is formed from a mixture of sugar, cocoa butter and milk solids. Although its texture is similar to milk and dark chocolate, it does not contain any cocoa solids. Because of this, many countries do not consider white chocolate as chocolate at all
Dark chocolate is produced by adding fat and sugar to the cacao mixture. The U.S. Government calls this “sweet chocolate”, and requires a 15% concentration of chocolate liquor. European rules specify a minimum of 35% cocoa solids