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The history of chocolate

By Catalogs Editorial Staff

Chocolate has a very rich history.

Chocolate has a very rich history.

Just about everyone likes chocolate. Whether in your favorite candy bar, a flavoring for ice cream, as hot cocoa on a cold-winter’s night or mixed in milk, we all have our own favorite sweet chocolate treat.


The Early Days of Chocolate


Chocolate wasn’t always a candy, though. In its earliest days, chocolate was a very bitter, unsweetened drink much like coffee. The history of chocolate goes back millennia. The earliest clearly documented cultivation of chocolate was by the ancient Mesoamerican people called the Maya more than 2,000 years ago. Even before that time the more ancient Olmec peoples harvested the beans from rainforest trees nearly 3,000 years ago.


The Maya


The Maya took the cacao tree (prounounced cuh-COW) out of the rainforests and cultivated it in farms. They then harvested the cacao beans and fermented them. In fact, it is believed that the very earliest chocolate drinks were alcoholic. Once the beans were fermented, they were roasted and ground into a paste. The paste was then mixed with chile powder or other spices and turned into a spicy drink.


In those days, the chocolate drink was used in religious ceremonies. It was thought to cure disease and was associated with the Maya god of fertility. It was also used as currency among the Maya and Aztec peoples.


Chocolate and Spanish Explorers


It wasn’t until the 1500’s when Spanish explorers, starting with such notable men as Hernen Cortes and Christopher Columbus, began bringing the drink to Spain that the world outside Mesoamerica discovered the marvelous wonders of the cacao bean and the history of chocolate was changed forever. The discovery of chocolate was so jealously guarded initially that Spaniards and Portuguese did not make it available to the rest of Europe for nearly a century. Even once it reached the rest of Europe, because of the expense of importing it, Europeans originally thought of chocolate only as a drink for royalty and nobles. In fact for a time in France it was against the law for any other than the aristocracy to drink it.



Chocolate in Europe


Once chocolate began to spread throughout Europe, it began to change. Even though like the Mesoamerican cultures, Europeans initially used chocolate as a drink, they very quickly dispensed with such additives as chile powder and maize paste and replaced them with ingredients that were more appealing to Europeans. The most notable additions were sugar, cinnamon, honey and vanilla. Chocolate immediately became a status symbol for the rich and remained so in Europe for hundreds of years before becoming more affordable and entering the mainstream.


For a time in Europe chocolate remained nothing but a drink. But by the mid 1600’s it was being added as an ingredient in cakes and rolls. It wasn’t until two full centuries later in the mid 1800’s that solid milk chocolate was invented in England. Things would never be the same. On that fateful day in 1847, chocolate as we know it was born.


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