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A brief history of chocolate

Updated on February 11, 2016

Chocolate in the beginning.

Chocolate is almost certainly the most loved food in the history of mankind. For thousands of years it has been one of mans most prized possessions. It is widely believed that chocolate originated in the Amazon rainforest, a small tree known as Theobroma cacao. It is most likely the cacao was first utilized by being made into some sort of fermented drink, the seed pods being used in this process. These small pods are highly favoured by many rodent type animals such as Squirrels, Monkeys, Rats and Bats.

Around 1100 BC we have the first evidence of the use of cacao. Chemical residue from the cacao has been found in Northern Honduras in the Ulua Valley. The Mesoamerican, the civilizations that originate from this part of the world, held this magnificent seed in extremely high regard. The cacao beverage was used in important ceremonies such as weddings and funerals.

Aztecs were strong believers that chocolate was an aphrodisiac, most probably because of the chemicals phenyl ethylamine and theobromine that reside in this seed, these chemicals very much linked with attraction. Chocolate was an extremely valuable product and as such was often used by the Aztecs as a form of currency. As a an example of value, ninety cacao beans could be exchanged for a new cotton mantle.

Chocolate meets the world.

With the Spanish conquests of the Americas, the secret of cocoa spread beyond just the Mesoamericans. It was most likely in 1519 that this amazing product was truly introduced.

The Spanish settlers quickly adopted the traditional uses of cocoa set down by the Mesoamericans and continued to use the beans as currency. The Spanish however found the cocoa beverage almost undrinkable so they found ways to make it more to their liking by warming it and adding spices and, more importantly, sweeteners. It was also the Spanish that came up with another name for this beverage, rather than the hard to pronounce cocoa, the name chocolate was introduced.

It is believed that chocolate was first introduced on the lands of the old world in 1544, in that year a delegation of Mayan nobility were brought back to Spain by Dominican friars, who had travelled to the new world on a quest to convert the natives to Christianity. The nobles brought back many high value gifts which included cocoa ready to drink. The Spanish immediately took the drink but were determined to keep the discovery of chocolate from the rest of Europe. The Spanish managed to keep the secret of cocoa for nearly a century and during this time started their own cocoa plantations and factories. With Spain's decline as a world power, the secret progressively leaked out. By the middle of the seventeenth century, the knowledge of cacao had spread quickly to Italy, France, Germany and England.

The advancement of chocolate.

With the advent of the industrial revolution, chocolate was now in mass production, it was available all over Europe, not just available to the wealthy. In 1829 a Dutch chemist named Conrad Van Houten invented a process known as dutching. Dutching was the process in which cocoa butter is squeezed out of the cacao been, leaving just the powder we know as cocoa. Alkaline is then added to the cocoa, which helps it mix better with water, this whole process makes the chocolate smoother, creamier and much more tasty.

In 1847, a man named Joseph Fry added back the cacao butter, this process then making chocolate mouldable, creating the first solid chocolate bar. Then in 1875 Daniel Peter added powdered milk developed by Henri Nestle, to the liquor thus developing milk chocolate and in 1879 Rodolphe Lindt invented the conching machine, this machine produced velvety textured chocolate and superior taste.

Milk chocolate in America.

At the Worlds Columbian Exposition in 1893, Milton Hershey bought German chocolate-making machinery for his Lancaster plant and started to produce many different chocolate creations. Three years later he would build a new factory at Derry Church where he was then able to gain larger supplies of fresh milk. Hershey was fascinated by the potential of milk chocolate and he was set on developing it for the American public. Indeed he was successful in his quest and created his own formula. In 1905 Hershey's milk chocolate became the first product of its kind to be marketed nationally.

Chocolate in the now.

In essence chocolate has become one of the most loved foods of all time and it continues to play an important role in our lives. It is used as one of the most important ways to celebrate special occasions, whether it be Halloween, Christmas or Birthdays, chocolate is and will continue to be loved and celebrated until the end of our days. God bless chocolate.


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