Chocolate, a treat enjoyed by almost all, began its life in Latin America. The sole reason for its origins? Cacao trees. But who actually invented chocolate?
The first known people to use chocolate were the Maya. In fact, they used cacao beans as a form of currency.
Asides from being used as a currency, cacao beans were also used in religious rituals, in marriage ceremonies and in baptisms. The Maya people even believed in a ‘Cacao God’.
The difference between then and now
Although chocolate was prepared thousands of years ago in a similar way as it is today, the Maya people used it exclusively as a liquid form.
The solid form wasn’t created until the 1850s. To prepare liquid chocolate, the beans were first harvested, then fermented, and finally dried. They were then roasted, the shells were removed and the beans were ground into a paste.
This paste was combined with hot water and a variety of flavours in the shape of spices, such as vanilla and chilli, flowers and honey. To froth the mixture, it was passed between two containers before being served up as a warming drink.
Who consumed chocolate?
In Mayan times, it was only the rich who had the pleasure of enjoying hot chocolate. This lavish concoction was served in embellished cups. In addition to this, emperors were often buried with jars of chocolate.
The growth of the cacao bean
When the Aztecs invaded and conquered Maya, they allowed the chocolate tradition to live on.
From 1200-1500, they continued to use cacao beans as a form of currency, importing it to the capital city of Tenochtitlan – what is now known as Mexico City. Chocolate continued to grow in status, although the Aztec’s enjoyed this liquid substance both as a hot and cold drink.
In 1502, Columbus, alongside his son Ferdinand, conquered Mexico City. Whilst in the area, they came across a canoe brimming with cacao beans. They ordered the locals to carry the vessel on board their ship.
However, whilst this transfer was taking place, the loot fell. According the Ferdinand, the natives ran to save the beans as if their life depended on it. However, instead of raving about this instance and discovering the true value of cacao beans, Columbus forgot all about it!
Next came Cortez and his associates, who arrived in the Aztec capital when cacao trading was in full force. In fact, the Aztec ruler, Montezuma, was rumoured to have one billion beans hidden away. Cortez was keen to try these beans, although when he did, he instantly declared it ‘a drink for pigs’ due to its bitter taste.
Without spices, cacao was a very harsh drink. Instead of using chocolate as a drink, Cortez continued to use it as currency. Cacao beans eventually made their way to the Caribbean, where there was sugar. It was the Spanish who combined the two to create the moreish delight, which is now enjoyed by many.
Chocolate history and the church
The Spanish kept chocolate a secret for sometime. When it first landed in Spain, many prescribed it as a medicine, hoping that it would cure the likes of indigestion, fevers, aches and pains. This didn’t last long, as when combined with sugar, hot chocolate was simply too good to be reserved for medicine alone.
Not long after, cacao made its way to Europe – with the rich being the only ones lucky enough to enjoy it. The first chocolate house opened its doors in 1657 in London. This space was primarily used by the wealthy, as somewhere to talk politics and play cards over a drink of hot chocolate.
The evolution of cacao
Cinnamon and milk were later introduced, creating an even sweeter substance. This is when cacao really took off; making its way to the rest of Europe.
Plantations popped up, with thousands and thousands of individuals being employed to produce cacao. As demands and supplies increased, it lost its hefty pricetag, and slowly but surely became available to the masses.
More Resources on Chocolate:
- facts about chocolate
- All you Need to Know about Belgian Chocolates
- Chocolate health topics
- 7 Health Benefits of Eating Chocolates
- Fine Chocolate Industry Association
- Home Economics: Baking With Chocolate!
- Slave Free Chocolate
- Where does Chocolate Come from? – A Chocoholic’s Guide
- International Cocoa Association
- All about Fair Trade Chocolate
- Chocolate Production