A BRIEF HISTORY OF CHOCOLATE A chronicle of when and where it was discovered and how it evolved to the confection we enjoy today.

Many sources claim that chocolate originated in the Amazon basin and that the ancient Aztec and Mayan cultures were the first to discover the value of the cacao plant, from which cacao beans are harvested and processed into chocolate.

In 600 A.D. the Mayans migrated into the northern regions of South America and established the earliest known cocoa plantations in the Yucatan. It has been argued that the Mayans had been familiar with cocoa several centuries prior to this date. They considered it a valuable commodity and used it both as a means of payment and as units of calculation.

Mayans and Aztecs took beans from the cacao tree and made a drink they called xocoatl. Aztec Indian legend held that cacao seeds had been brought from Paradise and that wisdom and power came from eating the fruit of the cacao tree.

Ancient chronicles report that the Aztecs, believing that the god Quetzalcoatl traveled to earth on a beam of light from the Morning Star with a cacao tree from Paradise, took his offering to the people. They learned from Quetzalcoatl how to roast and grind the cacao seeds, making a nourishing paste that could be dissolved in water. They added spices and called this drink chocolatl, or bitter-water, and believed it brought universal wisdom and knowledge.

Aztec Chocolate God

The word chocolate is said to derive from the Mayan xocoatl; cocoa from the Aztec cacahuatl. The Mexican Indian word chocolate comes from a combination of the terms choco (foam) and atl (water); early chocolate was only consumed in beverage form. As part of a ritual in twelfth-century Mesoamerican marriages, a mug of the frothy chocolate was shared. This drink was mixed with a long slick with the end used for mixing fluted with several paddles. The other end of the stick was rapidly rubbed between the palms of the hands. The rapid agitation created the frothy characteristic of the drink and helped reduce the harshness of the unsweetened chocolate.

Ancient Mexicans believed that Tonacatecutli, the goddess of food, and Calchiuhtlucue, the goddess of water, were guardian goddesses of cocoa. Each year they performed human sacrifices for the goddesses, giving the victim cocoa at his last meal.

Christopher Columbus is said to have brought back cacao beans to King Ferdinand from his fourth visit to the New World, but they were overlooked in favor of the many other treasures he had found.

Chocolate was first noted in 1519 when Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez visited the court of Emperor Montezuma of Mexico. Reports claim that Montezuma took no other beverage than the chocolatl (thick liquid chocolate flavored with vanilla and spices) prepared as a froth the consistency of honey, which gradually dissolved in the mouth. The fact that Montezuma consumed his chocolatl in goblets before entering his harem led to the belief that it was an aphrodisiac.

In 1528 Cortez brought chocolate back from Mexico to the royal court of King Charles V. Monks, hidden away in Spanish monasteries, processed the cocoa beans and kept chocolate a secret for nearly a century. It made a profitable industry for Spain, which planted cocoa trees in its overseas colonies.

It took an Italian traveler, Antonio Carletti, to discover the chocolate treasure in 1606 and take it into other parts of Europe. With the decline of Spain as a power, the secret of cacao leaked out at last and the Spanish Crown's monopoly of the chocolate trade came to an end. In a few years the knowledge of it had spread through France, Italy, Germany, and England.

When the Spanish Princess Maria Theresa was betrothed to Louis XIV of France in 1615, she gave her fiancé an engagement gift of chocolate, packaged in an elegantly ornate chest. Their marriage was symbolic of the marriage of chocolate in the Spanish-Franco culture.

The first chocolate house opened in London in 1657. Costing 10 to 15 shillings per pound (equivalent to $35.00 per pound today), chocolate was considered a beverage for the elite class. As in the new world, Cocoa passed as money among all the European nations.

Chocolate also appears to have been used as a medicinal remedy by leading physicians of the day.

Chocolate traveled to the Low Countries with the Duke of Alba. By 1730, it had dropped in price to be within financial reach of those other than the very wealthy. The invention of the cocoa press in 1828 helped further to cut prices and improve the quality of chocolate by squeezing out some of the cocoa butter and giving the beverage a smoother consistency. (Water-based hot cocoa drinks make with unpressed cocoa would be so high in fat that a layer of liquefied cocoa butter would tend to float on the surface of the drink. The new world technique for frothing the drink would help keep this layer of fat from rising to the surface. Cool drinks wouldn't be able to melt the cocoa butter and it would form small lumps in the drink.)

Where chocolate was mostly considered a beverage for centuries, and predominantly for men, it became recognized as an appropriate drink for children in the seventeenth century. It had many different additions: milk, wine, beer, sweeteners, and spices. Drinking chocolate was considered a very fashionable social event.

Eating chocolate was introduced in 1674 in the form of rolls and cakes, served in various chocolate emporiums.

Chocolate came to the United States in 1765 when John Hanan brought cocoa beans from the West Indies into Dorchester, Massachusetts, to refine them with the help of Dr. James Baker. The first chocolate factory in the country was established there.

By 1795, Dr. Joseph Fry of Bristol, England, employed a steam engine for grinding cocoa beans, an invention that led to the manufacture of chocolate on a large scale making it inexpensive enough for the middle classes to enjoy.

Around 1847, Fry & Sons sold a "Chocolat Delicieux a Manger," which is thought to be the first chocolate bar for eating.

By the year 1810, Venezuela was producing half the world's requirements for cocoa, and one-third of all the cocoa produced in the world was being consumed by Spaniards.

The invention of the cocoa press in 1828 by C.J. Van Houten, a Dutch chocolate master, helped reduce the price of chocolate and bring it to the masses.

Daniel Peter of Vevey, Switzerland, experimented for eight years before finally inventing a means of making milk chocolate for eating in 1876. He brought his creation to a Swiss firm that today is the world's largest producer of chocolate: Nestle.

In 1879 Rodolphe Lindt of Berne, Switzerland, produced chocolate that melted on the tongue. He invented conching, a means of heating and rolling chocolate for several days it reduce graininess and drive off volatiles that imparted bitter notes to the flavor. Prior to this, chocolate had a very coarse and grainy texture, nothing like the smooth texture of modern chocolate.

Cadbury Brothers displayed eating chocolate in 1849 at an exhibition in Bingley Hall at Birmingham, England.

While the United States leads the world in cocoa bean importation and chocolate production, Switzerland continues as the leader in per capita chocolate consumption.

During World War II, the U.S. government recognized chocolate's role in the nourishment and morale of the Allied Armed Forces, so much so that it allocated valuable shipping space for the importation of cocoa beans. Many soldiers were thankful for the pocket chocolate bars which gave them the strength to carry on until more food rations could be obtained. Today, the U.S. Army D-rations include three 4-ounce chocolate bars. Chocolate has even been taken into space as part of the diet of U.S. astronauts.

By the 1990s, chocolate had proven its popularity as a product and its success as a big business. Annual world consumption of cocoa beans averages approximately 600,000 tons, and per capita chocolate consumption is greatly on the rise. Chocolate manufacturing in the United States is a multibillion-dollar industry.

(Sources: www.mastertech-home.com and www.karachocolates.com)


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