The History of Chocolate: A New Taste

There’s nothing quite like opening a chocolate hamper and sinking your teeth into that sweet, sweet goodness. But hold on a second. Do you have any idea where chocolate comes from? I’m not just talking about where it’s produced today; I’m talking about the history of chocolate.

The story of chocolate is likely not what you think it is–unless you are aware of the original ceremonial drinks made thousands of years ago that led to the chocolate we consume now. But don’t worry if you haven’t recently brushed up on your chocolate history because, in this article, I’m going to take you through its entire story!

Chocolate’s Beginnings: Mesoamerica

Chocolate comes from cacao, and it just so happens that Mesoamerica is full of it. We know that the native people had been using cacao to make a chocolate drink since at least 1500 BC. The beverage was made with ground cacao beans, cornmeal, and chili pepper, resulting in a rich, frothy, and spicy concoction–sometimes honey was added.

Mayans and Aztecs just about worshipped cacao and used the chocolate drink in various celebrations and ceremonies. The Aztecs especially had a deep connection with the fruit, and there was even a legend that told the story of cacao being brought down by a god called Quetzalcoatl–thanks, Quetzalcoatl!

For thousands of years, the people of Mesoamerica had a sweet, tasty secret, but all that would change.

The Spanish Bring Chocolate to Europe

Spanish explorers started washing up on the shores of Mesoamerica by the end of the 15th century, and the local people would offer them the chocolate beverage. The Europeans’ reactions must have been like an infant trying ice cream for the first time–they loved it.

Ships returned to Spain fully stocked with cacao, and by the 16th century, the chocolate beverage was the latest and greatest culinary delight in the Spanish court. The chocolate craze spread across Europe and led to the creation of cacao plantations that were unfortunately made possible by slave labor.

The Invention That Changed Chocolate Forever

In 1828 something happened, something big.

Coenraad van Houten, a chemist from the Netherlands, developed a way to create cacao powered using alkaline salts. Soon after, he or his father, it’s unclear who deserves credit, developed a cacao press that could separate the butter of the cacao beans, leaving a fine powder left over. The powder could easily be mixed into beverages or, more importantly, mixed with cacao butter to make dark chocolate bars – revolutionary!

 

But what about milk chocolate bars?

Well, if you’re a milk chocolate person, you can thank the Swiss chocolatier, Daniel Peter. In 1875, he added powdered milk to his chocolate mix, and–voilá–one of the world’s most popular treats was born!

Chocolate in the Present

Today, it’s hard to imagine a world without chocolate in it. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, big-time companies like Hershey and Nestlé successfully marketed and mass-produced chocolate candy into the mainstream, making it a staple in our diets. For many people, holidays like Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Christmas just don’t feel complete without a lovely box of chocolates.

Final Thoughts

Each time you receive a chocolate hamper or other chocolate gifts, reflect on the food’s long and fascinating history. Think of the Mayans and Aztecs and their chocolatey drink, the Spanish, and the individuals who created new tools and took culinary risks to create the chocolate we know and love today. I guarantee you it will make that first bite taste oh so much sweeter!

Not sure what to do with your chocolate? Check out these chocolate recipes.

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