Chocolate in Mesoamerica

Chocolate in Mesoamerica

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Chocolate was one of the most desired foods of Mesoamerica and was consumed by the Olmec, Maya, and Aztec civilizations, amongst others. Its consumption even spread via trade routes to other parts of the Americas including the Chaco Canyon in modern New Mexico. The earliest known use of chocolate was by the Olmec around 1900 BCE and, enjoyed as a drink, it was drunk from special round jars known as tecomates. The Maya used tall cylinder beakers for drinking chocolate, and these very often had text on the rim indicating their intended use. The Aztecs also had richly decorated tall cups specifically reserved for chocolate drinks. It may be that such conspicuous vessels were designed to impress onlookers that the drinker had the means and status to enjoy such a prized drink.

Cultivation & Value

Chocolate is made from the beans of cacao pods from the Theobroma cacao tree (actually native to South America) which was first cultivated in extensive orchards near the Pacific and Gulf coasts of Central America, especially in the Xoconusco region and the valleys of the Sarstoon, Polochic, and Motagua Rivers (modern Guatemala and Belize), where the tree thrives in the warm and humid climate. There were, in fact, four varieties of cacao bean or cacahuatl, as the Aztecs knew them, and the corruption of this word or their term for the chocolate drink - xocolatl - is probably the origin of the word chocolate.

'...the drink of nobles, of rulers - finely ground, soft, foamy, reddish, bitter.' Sahagún

So esteemed was chocolate that beans were a commonly traded item, very often demanded as tribute from subject tribes and even used as a form of currency by the Aztecs. In fact, cacao beans were so valuable that they were even counterfeited either to pass as currency or, even more fiendishly, hollowed out of their valuable interior and refilled with a substitute such as sand. As a currency, we know that in the Aztec markets one cacao bean could buy you a single tomato, 30 beans got you a rabbit and, for the more ambitious shopper, a turkey could be had for 200 beans.

As an expensive import then, chocolate was drunk mainly by the upper classes and consumed after meals, typically accompanied by the smoking of tobacco. It may have been enjoyed mixed with maize gruel by the poorer classes at important events such as weddings, but some scholars maintain that the pure chocolate drink was an exclusive status symbol of the nobility. Curiously, it could even be given to favoured sacrificial victims as a final treat before they departed this world, for example, at the annual Aztec festival of Panquetzaliztli held in honour of Huitzilopochtli.

Preparation & Consumption

To prepare the chocolate, cacao beans were fermented, cured, and roasted. Then the beans were ground into powder and mixed with hot water, as chocolate was usually (but not always) consumed as a warm frothy drink, the froth made by vigorously whisking the liquid with a wooden implement and pouring the liquid from one vessel to another. Indeed, the froth was considered the best part of the drink. Bitter to taste, it could be flavoured by adding, for example, maize, vanilla, flowers, ground chile peppers, herbs, honey, or fermented agave sap (octli). Apart from the taste, another advantage of chocolate is that it also contains caffeine and so can act as a stimulant.

Bernardino de Sahagún wrote a vivid eyewitness account of how chocolate was prepared by the Aztecs and how to tell a good quality drink from an inferior one:

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The seller of fine chocolate [is] one who grinds, who provides people with drink, with repasts. She grinds cacao [beans]; she crushes, breaks, pulverizes them. She chooses, selects, separates them. She drenches, soaks, steeps them. She adds water sparingly, conservatively; aerates it, filters it, strains it, pours it back and forth, aerates it; she makes it form a head, makes it foam; she removes the head, makes it form a head, makes it foam...She sells good, superior, potable [chocolate]: the privilege, the drink of nobles, of rulers - finely ground, soft, foamy, reddish, bitter; [with] chile water, with flowers, with uei nacaztli, with teonacaztli, with vanilla, with mecaxochitl, with wild bee honey, with powdered aromatic flowers. [Inferior chocolate has] maize flour and water; lime water; [it is] pale; the [froth] bubbles burst. (Townsend, 178)

Chocolate in Mesoamerica: a cultural history of cacao

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A Brief History of Chocolate

When most of us hear the word chocolate, we picture a bar, a box of bonbons, or a bunny. The verb that comes to mind is probably "eat," not "drink," and the most apt adjective would seem to be "sweet." But for about 90 percent of chocolate's long history, it was strictly a beverage, and sugar didn't have anything to do with it.

"I often call chocolate the best-known food that nobody knows anything about," said Alexandra Leaf, a self-described "chocolate educator" who runs a business called Chocolate Tours of New York City.

The terminology can be a little confusing, but most experts these days use the term "cacao" to refer to the plant or its beans before processing, while the term "chocolate" refers to anything made from the beans, she explained. "Cocoa" generally refers to chocolate in a powdered form, although it can also be a British form of "cacao."

Etymologists trace the origin of the word "chocolate" to the Aztec word "xocoatl," which referred to a bitter drink brewed from cacao beans. The Latin name for the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, means "food of the gods."

Many modern historians have estimated that chocolate has been around for about 2000 years, but recent research suggests that it may be even older.

How Chocolate Is Made

Chocolate is made from the fruit of cacao trees, which are native to Central and South America. The fruits are called pods and each pod contains around 40 cacao beans. The beans are dried and roasted to create cocoa beans.

It’s unclear exactly when cacao came on the scene or who invented it. According to Hayes Lavis, cultural arts curator for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, ancient Olmec pots and vessels from around 1500 B.C. were discovered with traces of theobromine, a stimulant compound found in chocolate and tea.

It’s thought the Olmecs used cacao to create a ceremonial drink. However, since they kept no written history, opinions differ on if they used cacao beans in their concoctions or just the pulp of the cacao pod.

Where does Chocolate come from?

From Latin America to the modern day, chocolate has come a long way to get to you. Intrigued?

It all started in Latin America

Chocolate’s 4,000-year history began in ancient Mesoamerica, present day Mexico. It’s here that the first cacao plants were found. The Olmec, one of the earliest civilizations in Latin America, were the first to turn the cacao plant into chocolate. They drank their chocolate during rituals and used it as medicine.

Centuries later, the Mayans praised chocolate as the drink of the gods. Mayan chocolate was a revered brew made of roasted and ground cacao seeds mixed with chillies, water and cornmeal. Mayans poured this mixture from one pot to another, creating a thick foamy beverage called “xocolatl”, meaning “bitter water.”

By the 15th century, the Aztecs used cocoa beans as currency. They believed that chocolate was a gift from the god Quetzalcoatl, and drank it as a refreshing beverage, an aphrodisiac, and even to prepare for war.

Chocolate reaches Spain

No one knows for sure when chocolate came to Spain. Legend has it that explorer Hernán Cortés brought chocolate to his homeland in 1528.

Cortés was believed to have discovered chocolate during an expedition to the Americas. In search of gold and riches, he instead found a cup of cocoa given to him by the Aztec emperor.

When Cortés returned home, he introduced cocoa seeds to the Spanish. Though still served as a drink, Spanish chocolate was mixed with sugar and honey to sweeten the naturally bitter taste.

Chocolate quickly became popular among the rich and wealthy. Even Catholic monks loved chocolate and drank it to aid religious practices.

Chocolate seduces Europe

The Spanish kept chocolate quiet for a very long time. It was nearly a century before the treat reached neighboring France, and then the rest of Europe.

In 1615, French King Louis XIII married Anne of Austria, daughter of Spanish King Phillip III. To celebrate the union, she brought samples of chocolate to the royal courts of France.

Following France’s lead, chocolate soon appeared in Britain at special “chocolate houses”. As the trend spread through Europe, many nations set up their own cacao plantations in countries along the equator.

A Chocolate Revolution

Chocolate remained immensely popular among European aristocracy. Royals and the upper classes consumed chocolate for its health benefits as well as its decadence.

Chocolate was still being produced by hand, which was a slow and laborious process. But with the Industrial Revolution around the corner, things were about to change.

In 1828, the invention of the chocolate press revolutionized chocolate making. This innovative device could squeeze cocoa butter from roasted cacao beans, leaving a fine cocoa powder behind.

The powder was then mixed with liquids and poured into a mold, where it solidified into an edible bar of chocolate.

And just like that, the modern era of chocolate was born.

Types of chocolate

Different forms and flavours of chocolate are produced by varying the quantities of the different ingredients. Other flavours can be obtained by varying the time and temperature when roasting the beans.

Milk chocolate is solid chocolate made with milk added in the form of powdered milk, liquid milk, or condensed milk. In 1875 a Swiss confectioner, Daniel Peter, developed the first solid milk-chocolate using condensed milk, which had been invented by Henri Nestlé, Peter's neighbour in Vevey. European Union regulations specify a minimum of 25% cocoa solids. However, an agreement was reached in 2000 that allowed an exception from these regulations in the UK, Ireland, and Malta, where "milk chocolate" can contain only 20% cocoa solids. Such chocolate is labelled as "family milk chocolate" elsewhere in the European Union. "Cadbury" is the leading brand of milk chocolate in the United Kingdom. The United States government requires a 10% concentration of chocolate liquor. The Hershey Company is the largest producer in the US. The actual Hershey process is a trade secret, but experts speculate that the milk is partially lipolyzed, producing butyric acid, and then the milk is pasteurized, stabilizing it for use. This process gives the product a particular taste, to which the US public has developed an affinity, to the extent that some rival manufacturers now add butyric acid to their milk chocolates

Dark chocolate, also known as "plain chocolate", is produced using a higher percentage of cocoa with all fat content coming from cocoa butter instead of milk, but there are also "dark milk" chocolates and many degrees of hybrids. Dark chocolate can be eaten as is, or used in cooking, for which thicker baking bars, usually with high cocoa percentages ranging from 70% to 100%, are sold. Baking chocolate containing no added sugar may be labeled "unsweetened chocolate".

  • Semisweet and bittersweet are terms for dark chocolate traditionally used in the United States to indicate the amount of added sugar. Typically, bittersweet chocolate has less sugar than semisweet chocolate,[8] but the two are interchangeable when baking. Both must contain a minimum of 35% cocoa solids many brands now print on the package the percentage of cocoa in the chocolate.
  • Couverture chocolate is a high-quality class of dark chocolate, containing a high percentage of cocoa solids and cocoa butter, and precisely tempered. Couverture chocolate is used by professionals for dipping, coating, molding and garnishing ('couverture' means 'covering' in French). Popular brands of couverture chocolate used by pastry chefs include: Valrhona, Lindt & Sprüngli, Scharffen Berger, Callebaut, and Guittard.

White chocolate is made of sugar, milk, and cocoa butter, without the cocoa solids. It is pale ivory colour, and lacks many of the compounds found in milk and dark chocolates. It remains solid at room temperature as that is below the melting point of cocoa butter.

Ruby chocolate is a type of chocolate created by Barry Callebaut. The variety was in development from 2004, and was released to the public in 2017. The chocolate type is made from the Ruby cocoa bean, resulting in a distinct red colour and a different flavour, described as "sweet yet sour".

Raw chocolate is chocolate that has not been processed, heated, or mixed with other ingredients. It is sold in chocolate-growing countries, and to a much lesser extent in other countries, often promoted as healthy

Compound chocolate is the name for a confection combining cocoa with other vegetable fat, usually tropical fats or hydrogenated fats, as a replacement for cocoa butter. It is often used for candy bar coatings. In many countries it may not legally be called "chocolate".

Modeling chocolate is a chocolate paste made by melting chocolate and combining it with corn syrup, glucose syrup, or golden syrup. It is primarily used by cakemakers and pâtisseries to add decoration to cakes and pastries.

Cocoa powder is the pulverized cocoa solids left after extracting almost all the cocoa butter. It is used to add chocolate flavour in baking, and for making chocolate drinks. There are two types of unsweetened cocoa powder: natural cocoa produced by the Broma process, with no additives, and Dutch process cocoa, which is additionally processed with alkali to neutralize its natural acidity. Natural cocoa is light in colour and somewhat, and is commonly used in recipes that also use baking soda as baking soda is an alkali, combining it with natural cocoa creates a leavening action that allows the batter to rise during baking. Dutch cocoa is slightly milder in taste, with a darker colour. It is frequently used for chocolate drinks such as hot chocolate due to its ease in blending with liquids. However, Dutch processing destroys most of the flavonoids present in cocoa.


Cultivation, consumption, and cultural use of cacao were extensive in Mesoamerica where the cacao tree is native. [4] When pollinated, the seed of the cacao tree eventually forms a kind of sheath, or ear, 20" long, hanging from the tree trunk itself. Within the sheath are 30 to 40 brownish-red almond-shaped beans embedded in a sweet viscous pulp. While the beans themselves are bitter due to the alkaloids within them, the sweet pulp may have been the first element consumed by humans.

Cacao pods grow in a wide range of colors, from pale yellow to bright green, all the way to dark purple or crimson. The skin can also vary greatly - some are sculpted with craters or warts, while others are completely smooth. This wide range in type of pods is unique to cacaos in that their color and texture does not necessarily determine the ripeness or taste of the beans inside. [5]

Evidence suggests that it may have been fermented and served as an alcoholic beverage as early as 1400 BC. [6]

Cultivation of the cacao was not an easy process. Part of this was because cacao trees in their natural environment grow to 60 feet tall or more. When the trees were grown in a plantation however, they grew to around 20 feet tall.

While researchers do not agree on which Mesoamerican culture first domesticated the cacao tree, the use of the fermented bean in a drink seems to have arisen in North America (Mesoamerica—Central America and Mexico). Scientists have been able to confirm its presence in vessels around the world by evaluating the "chemical footprint" detectable in the micro samples of contents that remain. [1] Ceramic vessel with residues from the preparation of chocolate beverages have been found at archaeological sites dating back to the Early Formative (1900–900 BC) period. For example, one such vessel found at an Olmec archaeological site on the Gulf Coast of Veracruz, Mexico dates chocolate's preparation by pre-Olmec peoples as early as 1750 BC. [7] On the Pacific coast of Chiapas, Mexico, a Mokayanan archaeological site provides evidence of cacao beverages dating even earlier, to 1900 BC. [7]

A study, published online in Nature Ecology and Evolution, suggests that cacao—the plant from which chocolate is made—was domesticated, or grown by people for food, around 1,500 years earlier than previously thought. In addition, the researchers found cacao was originally domesticated in South America, rather than in Central America. “This new study shows us that people in the upper reaches of the Amazon basin, extending up into the foothills of the Andes in southeastern Ecuador, were harvesting and consuming cacao that appears to be a close relative of the type of cacao later used in Mexico—and they were doing this 1,500 years earlier,” said Michael Blake, study co-author and professor in the University of British Columbia department of anthropology. The researchers used three lines of evidence to show that the Mayo-Chinchipe culture used cacao between 5,300 and 2,100 years ago: the presence of starch grains specific to the cacao tree inside ceramic vessels and broken pieces of pottery residues of theobromine, a bitter alkaloid found in the cacao tree but not its wild relatives and fragments of ancient DNA with sequences unique to the cacao tree. [8]

Pueblo people, who lived in an area that is now the U.S. Southwest, imported cacao from Mesoamerican cultures in southern Mexico between 900 and 1400. They used it in a common beverage consumed by everyone in their society. [1]

Archaeological evidence of Cacao in Mesoamerica Edit

Nature Ecology and Evolution reported probably the earliest cacao use from approximately 5,300 years ago recovered from the Santa Ana (La Florida) site in southeast Ecuador. [9] Another find of chemically traced cacao was in 1984 when a team of archaeologists in Guatemala explored the Mayan site of Río Azul. They discovered fifteen vessels surrounding male skeletons in the royal tomb. One of these vessels was beautifully decorated and covered in various Mayan glyphs. One of these glyphs translated to "kakaw", also known as cacao. The inside of the vessel was lined with a dark-colored powder, which was scraped off for further testing. Once the archaeologists took this powder to the Hershey Center for Health and Nutrition to be tested [ citation needed ] , they found trace amounts of theobromine in the powder, a major indicator of cacao. This cacao was dated to sometime between 460 and 480 AD [10]

Cacao powder was also found in beautifully decorated bowls and jars, known as tecomates, in the city of Puerto Escondido. Once thought to have been a very rare commodity, cacao was found in many more tecomates than once thought possible. However, since this powder was only found in bowls of higher quality, it led archaeologists to believe that only wealthier people could afford such bowls, and therefore the cacao. The cacao tecomates are thought to have been a centerpiece to social gatherings between people of high social status. [10]

Olmec use Edit

Earliest evidence of domestication of the cacao plant dates to the Olmec culture from the Preclassic period. [11] The Olmecs used it for religious rituals or as a medicinal drink, with no recipes for personal use. Little evidence remains of how the beverage was processed.

Mayan use Edit

The Mayans, (in Guatemala), by contrast, do leave some surviving writings about cacao which confirm the identification of the drink with the gods. The Dresden Codex specifies that it is the food of the rain deity Kon, the Madrid Codex that gods shed their blood on the cacao pods as part of its production. [12] The Maya people gathered once a year to give thanks to the god Ek Chuah who they saw as the Cacao god. [13] The consumption of the chocolate drink is also depicted on pre-Hispanic vases. The Maya seasoned their chocolate by mixing the roasted cacao seed paste into a drink with water, chile peppers and cornmeal, transferring the mixture repeatedly between pots until the top was covered with a thick foam. [2]

There were many uses for cacao among the Maya. It was used in official ceremonies and religious rituals, at feasts and festivals, as funerary offerings, as tribute, and for medicinal purposes. Both cacao itself and vessels and instruments used for the preparation and serving of cacao were used for important gifts and tribute. [14] Cacao beans were used as currency, to buy anything from avocados to turkeys to sex. A rabbit, for example, was worth ten cacao beans, (called “almonds” by the early sixteenth-century chronicler Francisco Oviedo y Valdés), a slave about a hundred, and the services of a prostitute, eight to ten “according to how they agree,”. [15] The beans were also used in betrothal and marriage ceremonies among the Maya, especially among the upper classes.

“The form of the marriage is: the bride gives the bridegroom a small stool painted in colors, and also gives him five grains of cacao, and says to him “These I give thee as a sign that I accept thee as my husband.” And he also gives her some new skirts and another five grains of cacao, saying the same thing.” [16]

Maya preparation of cacao started with cutting open cacao pods to expose the beans and the fleshy pulp. The beans were left out to ferment for a few days. In some cases, the beans were also roasted over an open fire in order to add a smoky flavor to it. The beans then had their husks removed and were ground into a paste. Since sweeteners were rarely used by Maya, they flavored their cacao paste with additives like flowers, vanilla pods, and chilies. The vessel used to serve this chocolate liquid was stubbier by nature to help froth the liquid better, which was very important to the Maya. The vessels also tended to be decorated in intricate designs and patterns, which tended to only be accessible by the rich. [11]

Aztec use Edit

By 1400, the Aztec Empire took over a sizable part of Mesoamerica. They were not able to grow cacao themselves, but were forced to import it. [2] All of the areas that were conquered by the Aztecs that grew cacao beans were ordered to pay them as a tax, or as the Aztecs called it, a "tribute". The cacao bean became a form of currency. The Spanish conquistadors left records of the value of the cacao bean, noting for instance that 100 beans could purchase a canoe filled with freshwater or a turkey hen. [6] [17] The Aztecs associated cacao with the god Quetzalcoatl, who they believed had been condemned by the other gods for sharing chocolate with humans. [2] Unlike the Maya of Yucatán, the Aztecs drank chocolate cold. It was consumed for a variety of purposes, as an aphrodisiac or as a treat for men after banquets, and it was also included in the rations of Aztec soldiers. [18]

Early history Edit

Until the 16th century, the cacao tree was wholly unknown to Europeans. [2]

Christopher Columbus encountered the cacao bean on his fourth mission to the Americas on August 15, 1502, when he and his crew seized a large native canoe that proved to contain among other goods for trade, cacao beans. [19] His son Ferdinand commented that the natives greatly valued the beans, which he termed almonds, "for when they were brought on board ship together with their goods, I observed that when any of these almonds fell, they all stooped to pick it up, as if an eye had fallen." [19] But while Columbus took cacao beans with him back to Spain, [19] it made no impact until Spanish friars introduced chocolate to the Spanish court. [2]

Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés may have been the first European to encounter chocolate when he observed it in the court of Montezuma in 1519. [20] In 1568, Bernal Díaz, who accompanied Cortés in the conquest of Mexico, wrote of this encounter which he witnessed:

From time to time they served him [Montezuma] in cups of pure gold a certain drink made from cacao. It was said that it gave one power over women, but this I never saw. I did see them bring in more than fifty large pitchers of cacao with froth in it, and he drank some of it, the women serving with great reverence. [21]

José de Acosta, a Spanish Jesuit missionary who lived in Peru and then Mexico in the later 16th century, described its use more generally:

Loathsome to such as are not acquainted with it, having a scum or froth that is very unpleasant taste. Yet it is a drink very much esteemed among the Indians, wherewith they feast noble men who pass through their country. The Spaniards, both men and women that are accustomed to the country are very greedy of this chocolate. They say they make diverse sorts of it, some hot, some cold, and some temperate, and put therein much of that "chili" yea, they make paste thereof, the which they say is good for the stomach and against the catarrh.

After the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, chocolate was imported to Europe. In the beginning, Spaniards would use it as a medicine to treat illnesses such as abdominal pain because it had a bitterness to it. Once sweetened, it transformed. [22] It quickly became a court favorite. It was still served as a beverage, but the addition of sugar or honey counteracted the natural bitterness. [6] The Spaniards initially intended to recreate the original taste of the Mesoamerican chocolate by adding similar spices, but this habit had faded away by the end of the eighteenth century. [23] Within about a hundred years, chocolate established a foothold throughout Europe. [2]

According to the authority on the Spanish language, the Royal Spanish Academy, the Spanish word "chocolate" is derived from the Nahuatl word "xocolatl" (pronounced Nahuatl pronunciation: [ ʃoˈkolaːtɬ] ), which is made up from the words "xococ" meaning sour or bitter, and "atl" meaning water or drink. [24] However, as William Bright noted [25] the word "chocolatl" doesn't occur in central Mexican colonial sources making this an unlikely derivation. Santamaria [26] gives a derivation from the Yucatec Maya word "chokol" meaning hot, and the Nahuatl "atl" meaning water. More recently Dakin and Wichman derive it from another Nahuatl term, "chicolatl" from Eastern Nahuatl meaning "beaten drink". [27] They derive this term from the word for the frothing stick, "chicoli". The word xocoatl means beverage of the maize. [28] The words "cacaua atl" mean drink of cacao. [28] The word "xocolatl" does not appear in Molina's dictionary, Vocabulario en Lengua Castellana y Mexicana y Mexicana y Castellana. [28]

Expansion Edit

The new craze for chocolate brought with it a thriving slave market, as between the early 17th and late 19th centuries the laborious and slow processing of the cacao bean was manual. [2] Cacao plantations spread, as the English, Dutch, and French colonized and planted. With the depletion of Mesoamerican workers, largely to disease, cocoa beans production was often the work of poor wage laborers and enslaved Africans.

1729 - The first mechanic cocoa grinder was invented in Bristol, UK. Walter Churchman petitions king of England for patent and sole use of an invention for the “expeditious, fine and clean making of chocolate by an engine.” The patent was granted by His Majesty King George II to Walter Churchman for a water engine used to make chocolate. Churchman probably used water-powered edge runners for preparing cacao beans by crushing on a far larger scale than previously. [29] The patent for a chocolate refining process was later bought by J. S. Fry & Sons in 1761. [30]

Wind-powered and horse-drawn mills were used to speed production, augmenting human labor. Heating the working areas of the table-mill, an innovation that emerged in France in 1732, also assisted in extraction. [31] The Chocolaterie Lombart, created in 1760, claimed to be the first chocolate company in France, ten years before Pelletier et Pelletier. [32]

New processes that speed the production of chocolate emerged early in the Industrial Revolution. In 1815, Dutch chemist Coenraad van Houten introduced alkaline salts to chocolate, which reduced its bitterness. [2] A few years thereafter, in 1828, he created a press to remove about half the natural fat (cacao butter) from chocolate liquor, which made chocolate both cheaper to produce and more consistent in quality. This innovation introduced the modern era of chocolate. [19] Known as "Dutch cocoa", this machine-pressed chocolate was instrumental in the transformation of chocolate to its solid form when in 1847 Joseph Fry learned to make chocolate moldable by adding back melted cacao butter. [6] Milk had sometimes been used as an addition to chocolate beverages since the mid-17th century, but in 1875 Daniel Peter invented milk chocolate by mixing a powdered milk developed by Henri Nestlé with the liquor. [2] [19] In 1879, the texture and taste of chocolate was further improved when Rodolphe Lindt invented the conching machine. [33]

Lindt & Sprüngli AG, a Swiss-based concern with global reach, had its start in 1845 as the Sprüngli family confectionery shop in Zurich that added a solid-chocolate factory the same year the process for making solid chocolate was developed and later bought Lindt's factory. Besides Nestlé, several chocolate companies had their start in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Cadbury was manufacturing boxed chocolates in England by 1868. [2] In 1893, Milton S. Hershey purchased chocolate processing equipment at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago and soon began the career of Hershey's chocolates with chocolate-coated caramels.

Due to improvements in machines, chocolate underwent a transformation from a primarily a drink to food, and different types of chocolate began to emerge. At the same time, the price of chocolate began to drop dramatically in the 1890s and 1900s as the production of chocolate began to shift away from the New World to Asia and Africa. Therefore, chocolate could be purchased by the middle class. [34] In 1900–1907, Cadbury's fell into a scandal due to their reliance on West African slave plantations. [35]

Although it was men leading the charge towards mass production of chocolate for everyday people, advertisements also targeted women, who “were charged with providing wholesome cocoa for respectable consumption within the family,”. [36] Women were also targeted by advertising campaigns within courtship rituals, [36] though most early advertising was aimed more at housewives and mothers than at single women.

In 1947 the increase of the price of chocolate candy bars in Canada resulted in the country-wide youth protests.

Roughly two-thirds of the world's cocoa is produced in Western Africa, with Ivory Coast being the largest source, producing a total crop of 1,448,992 tonnes. [37] Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon are other West African countries among the top 5 cocoa-producing countries in the world. Like many food industry producers, individual cocoa farmers are at the mercy of volatile world markets. The price can vary from between £500 ($945) and £3,000 ($5,672) per ton in the space of just a few years. [ citation needed ] While investors trading in cocoa can dump shares at will, individual cocoa farmers can not ramp up production and abandon trees at anywhere near that pace.

Only three to four percent of "cocoa futures" contracts traded in the cocoa markets ever end up in the physical delivery of cocoa. Every year seven to nine times more cocoa is bought and sold on the exchange than exists.

Chocolate in Mesoamerica: A Cultural History of Cacao

New models of research and analysis, as well as breakthroughs in deciphering Mesoamerican writing, have recently produced a watershed of information on the regional use and the importance of cacao, or chocolate as it is commonly called today. This book brings together scholars in the fields of archaeology, history, art history, linguistics, epigraphy, botany, chemistry, and cultural anthropology to explore the domestication, preparation, representation, and significance of cacao in ancient and modern communities of the Americas, with a concentration on its use in Mesoamerica. Cacao was used by . More

New models of research and analysis, as well as breakthroughs in deciphering Mesoamerican writing, have recently produced a watershed of information on the regional use and the importance of cacao, or chocolate as it is commonly called today. This book brings together scholars in the fields of archaeology, history, art history, linguistics, epigraphy, botany, chemistry, and cultural anthropology to explore the domestication, preparation, representation, and significance of cacao in ancient and modern communities of the Americas, with a concentration on its use in Mesoamerica. Cacao was used by many cultures in the pre-Columbian Americas as an important part of rituals associated with birth, coming of age, marriage, and death, and was strongly linked with concepts of power and ruler-ship. While Europeans have for hundreds of years claimed that they introduced “chocolate” as a sauce for foods, evidence from ancient royal tombs indicates cacao was used in a range of foods as well as beverages in ancient times. In addition, the volume's chapters present information that supports a greater importance for cacao in pre-Columbian South America, where ancient vessels depicting cacao pods have recently been identified. From the botanical structure and chemical makeup of Theobroma cacao and methods of identifying it in the archaeological record, to the importance of cacao during the Classic period in Mesoamerica, to the impact of European arrival on the production and use of cacao, to contemporary uses in the Americas, this book provides an account of the history and cultural significance of chocolate.

The Olmec

The ancient Olmec are widely regarded as the first civilization of the Americas. From about 1500 to 400 BC, their culture flourished in the humid lowlands of the southern part of present-day Veracruz, along the Gulf of Mexico. Anthropologists consider the Olmec civilization to be the mother culture of the many Mesoamerican cultures that followed it. Olmec architecture included pyramids and earth-and-clay mounds that formed the basis for massive ceremonial centers. The Olmec are best-known for their colossal stone heads, carved as portraits of their kings.

In the late 1960s, Yale University led archaeological excavations of the Olmec site of San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán in the state of present-day Veracruz, Mexico. These excavations were led by Professor Coe and assisted by Richard Diel, who was then a doctoral candidate at Pennsylvania State University. The San Lorenzo excavations are described in a document titled Olmec World (1969) in eHRAF Archaeology:

In the dry season (January to June) of 1966 and 1967, Dr. Michael Coe of Yale University conducted large-scale excavations at San Lorenzo … Coe (1967B) has found over two dozen new stone sculptures to add to the two dozen found earlier by Stirling. At the time this book goes to press, six colossal heads have been found at San Lorenzo. The sculpture of the colossal heads, altars, and animal and human figures at San Lorenzo apparently began about 1200 B.C. and came to a sudden end about 900 B.C., when most of the stone monuments were mutilated and buried, perhaps to conceal them, under earthen mounds. Coe believes this to have been a “revolutionary act” done by the San Lorenzo people themselves (Bernal 1969: 45).

The History of Chocolate

The history of chocolate begins in Latin America, where cacao trees grow wild. The people who first utilized cacao were the inhabitants of what is now Venezuela in northwestern South America. The Olmec civilization consumed a beverage made with chocolate thousands of years ago. It was used to fortify soldiers during marches and in battle. Little evidence remains of how the beverage was processed.

While researchers do not agree which Mesoamerican culture first domesticated the cacao tree, it is likely that cacao has been a cultivated crop for at least 3,000 years. Before that, it is certain that the seeds of wild cacao trees were gathered. Initially, a few cacao trees would be planted just inside the heavy rainforest, mixed with both wild and cultivated understory plants. Eventually, the cultivation grew to more specific plots of cacao, still under the canopy and within the rainforest.

1900 B.C. – 300 B.C.: The Olmec Indians, who lived in what is now southeast Mexico, are believed to be the first to grow cacao beans (“kakawa”) as a domestic crop.

Scientists have been able to confirm the presence of cacao in vessels around the world by evaluating the “chemical footprint” detectable in the micro-samples of contents that remain. Ceramic vessels with the residue from the preparation of chocolate beverages have been found at archaeological sites dating back to the Early Formative period (1900-900 BC). For example, one such vessel found at an Olmec archaeological site on the Gulf Coast of Veracruz, Mexico dates chocolate’s preparation by pre-Olmec peoples as early as 1750 BC. The Olmec civilization lasted to approximately 300 B.C.

300 B.C. – 500 A.D.: The Olmec, a very sophisticated society, gave much of their culture to the Maya, including “xocoatl”, (pronounced sho-KWA-til). Consumption of cocoa beans was restricted to the Mayan society’s elite, in the form of an unsweetened cocoa drink made from the ground beans.

600 -1000 A.D.: The Maya migrated into northern regions of South America and Mesoamerica, establishing the earliest known cocoa plantations in the Yucatan. Nobles drank frothy “cacau” from tall pottery beakers. Beans were a valuable commodity, used both as local and internal currency and also as units of calculation.

1200s: The Maya began trade with the Aztecs, and gave them cacau. The Aztecs called it “cacahuatl” (ca-ca-WAH-tel), meaning “warm or bitter liquid”. It was flavored with local spices (including chile, cinnamon, musk, pepper and vanilla), thickened with cornmeal, and then frothed in a bowl and served at room temperature. Sugar was not part of the ingredients to sweeten the drink, since “sugar was unknown to the Aztecs”.

1300s-1400s: The Aztec empire took over a sizable part of Mesoamerica. Cacahuatl became popular among the Aztec upper classes. The Aztecs were not able to grow cacao themselves, and therefore were forced to import it. All areas conquered by the Aztecs that grew cacao beans were ordered to pay cacao beans as a tax, or as the Aztecs called it, a “tribute”. The cacao bean became a form of currency. The Spanish conquistadors left records of the value of the cacao bean, noting, for instance, that 100 beans could purchase a canoe filled with fresh water or a turkey hen. The beans were restricted to noblemen, priests, officials, warriors, and the rich traders who supplied them.

The Aztecs associated cacao with the god Quetzacoatl, whom they believed had been condemned by the other gods for sharing chocolate with humans. Unlike the Maya of Yucatán, the Aztecs drank chocolate cold. It was consumed for a variety of purposes (a restorative, a medicinal revitalizer, a ceremonial beverage and an as ‘abetter’ of longevity), and was included in the rations of Aztec soldiers.

Montezuma II, the 9th emperor of the Aztecs, was one of the most wealthy and powerful men in the world. He was also known as The Chocolate King. At the height of his power, he had a stash of nearly a billion cacao beans. He reportedly drank 50 golden goblets of hot chocolate every day. It was thick, dyed red, and flavored with chili peppers.

1502: Cacao was tasted by Columbus on his fourth and last voyage to the New World. Columbus encountered a great Mayan trading canoe on the island of Guanaja, off Honduras, carrying a cargo of cocoa beans. He presented the King and Queen of Spain with the beans, but Ferdinand and Isabella saw no real worth in them. The beans were overlooked in favor of the many other treasures Columbus had found.

1519: Spanish explorer Hernan Cortès conquered part of Mexico. By chance, his arrival coincided with the expected return of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl—supposedly the god who had given cacao to the people and taught them how to cultivate it—from his travels. Quetzalcoatl was believed to be white-skinned and bearded, and Cortès was initially mistaken for the god. Hernan Cortès recorded the cacao usage in the Aztec court of Emperor Montezuma in San Juan de Ulloa (Vera Cruz, Mexico). Montezuma was rumored to have a billion beans in storage. Cortès and his fellow explorers tried chocolate and hated it. One writer labeled it “more a drink for pigs than a drink for humanity”. (Without sugar, cacao was fairly bitter!) Cortès built a cocoa plantation to “grow money” in the name of Spain, beginning a Spanish cocoa monopoly that lasted two centuries.

1527 or 1528: Cortès brought cacao beans, equipment, and recipes for preparing chocolate from Mexico to the Spanish court of King Charles V. It was greeted with excitement, but was heavily taxed, meaning only the rich could afford it. Monks, hidden away in Spanish monasteries, were appointed as the processors of the cocoa beans to keep chocolate a secret for nearly another century. It made a profitable industry for Spain, which planted cocoa trees in its overseas colonies. Conveniently, the Spanish had taken over many Caribbean islands, and on those islands was sugar. It didn’t take long for sugar to be added to chocolate, which made chocolate more appealing.

1544: Dominican friars took a delegation of Kekchi Mayan nobles from Alta Verapaz to visit Prince Philip of Spain. The Mayans brought gift jars of beaten cocoa, mixed and ready to drink. Spain and Portugal did not export the beloved drink to the rest of Europe for nearly a century. Early after its arrival, the Spanish replaced the chile with sugar and kept the cinnamon to make the bitter cacao beverage more to their liking. It was decided that the beverage tastes better warm. The most likely scenario for the development of the word “chocolate” is that the Spaniards combined the Maya word chocol, meaning “hot,” and the Aztec atl, meaning “water,” to produce chocolatl. The proper pronunciation of tl is “te.” It is surmised that the Spanish would not want to use the Aztec word, cacahuatl, because “caca” in Spanish is a vulgar word.

1565: The first record of how the cocoa drink is prepared was found in the notes of Benzoni, an explorer working for the Spanish army. The Spanish kept this secret from the rest of the world, with the hope they could keep their monopoly on the cocoa trade.

1585: The first official shipments of cocoa beans began arriving in Seville from Vera Cruz, Mexico.

1590: Spanish nuns in Oaxaca, Mexico were the first to sweeten chocolate with honey, cinnamon and cane sugar, making the drink popular with colonials. Spanish monks introduced the first sweetened drink to Spain around 1590. They sweetened it with honey and vanilla. For many Europeans, drinking chocolate (especially before it was sweetened) was an acquired taste. Spanish missionary Jose de Acosta, who lived in Peru in the late 1500s, described it this way:

“Loathsome to such as are not acquainted with it, having a scum or froth that is very unpleasant to taste. Yet it is a drink very much esteemed among the Indians, where with they feast noble men who pass through their country. The Spaniards, both men and women, that are accustomed to the country, are very greedy of this Chocolaté. They say they make diverse sorts of it, some hot, some cold, and some temperate, and put therein much of that ‘chili’ yea, they make paste thereof, the which they say is good for the stomach and against the catarrh.”

1606: An Italian traveler, Antonio Carletti, discovered chocolate in Spain. He took it to Italy, where chocolate-mania developed. Cioccolatieri opened in all major cities. From Italy, chocolate spread to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

1615: Spanish Princess Maria Theresa gave her fiancé Louis XIV of France an engagement gift of chocolate, packaged in an elegant, ornate chest. Their marriage was symbolic of the marriage of chocolate in the Spanish-Franco culture. The word of chocolate spread further throughout Europe.

1631: The first publication of a recipe for chocolate was by the Spanish doctor Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma and was based on the Aztec recipe. The bitter flavor was enhanced by adding almonds, anise, cinnamon, flowers, hazelnuts, roses of Alexandria and vanilla. The exact spices depended on the physical ailment.

1641: Cocoa was introduced to Germany by a German scientist named Johann Georg Voldkammer, who discovered it in Naples, Italy. The Germans instituted the habit of a cup of hot chocolate before bedtime.

1653: Chocolate was seen as having largely medicinal properties. In fact, the first official statement about chocolate was made by Bonavontura Di Aragon, brother of Cardinal Richelieu, describing the use of chocolate as stimulating the healthy functioning of the spleen and other digestive functions.

1657: The first chocolate house was opened in London…by a Frenchman! Coffee houses were already popular. One could go to a chocolate house to have a drink, play some cards, talk politics, etc. Eventually, the chocolate drinks began to include milk and cinnamon.

1659: Louis XIV gave the chocolate monopolies of the Paris chocolate drink trade and the French Royal Court to David Chaillou, a baker who made costly biscuits and cakes with chocolate. He is considered France’s first chocolatier.

1664: Samuel Pepys noted in his diary that he had been to a coffee house to drink “Jocolatte” and that it was “very good”.

1700s: Drinking chocolate expanded worldwide. Chilies disappeared as an ingredient except in Mexican mole sauces.

While in Jamaica in the early 1700s, Irish physician and naturalist Hans Sloane (1660-1753) came up with the idea of mixing the bitter local chocolate beverage with milk to improve its taste. He later patented the idea. It soon became popular back in England and quickly spread throughout Europe.

1712: By the turn of the 18th century, chocolate made its way back to the Americas. In little more than a decade, Massachusetts sea captains were bringing back cargoes of cocoa beans. Boston apothecary shops were advertising and selling chocolate imported from Europe.

1728: Fry set up the first chocolate factory in Bristol, England using hydraulic machinery to process and grind the cacao beans.

1730: Cocoa beans dropped in price from $3 per pound to being within the reach of more than just the very wealthy.

1732: A French inventor, Monsieur Dubuisson, invented a table mill for grinding chocolate.

1750: European countries colonized much of the world, and, in the process, they acquired cacao plantations that ensured their own supply of cocoa beans. The French colonized western India and Madagascar, the Dutch colonized Ceylon and Java, the Belgians, the Congo, the British, western India, the Germans, the Cameroon, and the Portuguese colonized Brazil.

1753: Swedish naturalist, Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), was dissatisfied with the word “cacao”, so renamed it “theobroma,” Greek for “food of the gods”.

1765: Irish chocolate-maker John Hanan imported cocoa beans from the West Indies into Dorchester, Massachusetts, to refine with the help of American Dr. James Baker. The pair built America’s first chocolate mill and, by 1780, the mill was making BAKER’S chocolate.

1775–1783: During the Revolutionary War, soldiers were sometimes paid in chocolate.

1780: The first machine-made chocolate was produced in Barcelona, Spain.

1795: Dr. Joseph Fry of Bristol, England, employed a steam engine to grind cocoa beans, an invention that led to the manufacture of chocolate on a large factory scale.

1810: Venezuela was producing half the world’s cacao, and one-third of all chocolate products being manufactured in the world were being consumed by the Spaniards.

1819: The pioneer of Swiss chocolate-making, François Louis Callier, opened the first Swiss chocolate factory in Corsier, near Vevey.

1825: The Royal Navy purchased more chocolate than the rest of Britain. Nutritious, hot and non-alcoholic, it was considered a perfect drink for sailors on watch duty. Among sailors on duty in the Atlantic Ocean and the Baltic Sea, the cold wind from the northwest was known as a “chocolate gale.”

1828: Dutchman Coenraad Van Houten invented and patented a hydraulic cocoa press, to force the fat (cocoa butter) from roasted cacao beans to create cocoa powder. The powder was treated with alkaline salts so that it mixed more easily with water. The final product had a darker color, and the chocolate had a milder taste and smoother consistency. Since Van Houten was Dutch and patented his invention in Amsterdam, his alkalizing process became known as “dutching”. His invention helped cut prices. The creation of powdered chocolate made it easier to mix with water, sugar, and other ingredients to make chocolate a solid form. Many other chocolate makers began to build on Van Houten’s success to make a variety of chocolate products.

1839: A German baker named Stollwerck started a business that grew into one of the largest companies in Germany, producing a variety of chocolate products and brands.

1840: The first pressed chocolate tablets and pastilles were produced in Belgium by the chocolate company Berwaerts.

1847: Joseph Fry’s grandson, Francis Fry, then head of the firm J.S. Fry & Sons, discovered a way to mix some of the cocoa butter back into the dutched chocolate (cocoa powder) and added sugar, creating a paste that can be molded. He called it “eating chocolate”. This was the first modern chocolate bar. Conching had not yet been invented it was a rough, grainy chocolate instead of the smooth, silky bar we know today.

1851: Prince Albert’s Exposition in London was the first time that Americans were introduced to bonbons, chocolate creams, hand candies (called “boiled sweets”), and caramels.

1852: German chocolate cake did not originate in Germany. In 1852, Sam German developed a sweet baking bar for Baker’s Chocolate Co. The product was named in honor of him – Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate.

1860: Ghiradelli, who imported beans from Peru to San Francisco to sell to gold prospectors, discovered how to extract cocoa butter from ground cocoa to create a very soluble cocoa powder.

1861: Richard Cadbury created the first known heart-shaped candy box for Valentine’s Day.

1865: The first gianduja, chocolate mixed with hazelnut paste, was created in Italy.

1868: John Cadbury mass-marketed the first boxes of chocolate candies.

Quakers, such as the Cadburys, amassed a great fortune producing drinking chocolate as an alternative to alcohol.

1875: Daniel Peter of Vevey, Switzerland (who had developed an accidental interest in chocolate due to his affection for Fanny Cailler, the eldest daughter of chocolatier François-Louis Cailler) experimented for eight years before finally inventing, at age 31, a means of making milk chocolate using condensed milk. The milk has been perfected by his neighbor Henri Nestlé, a food scientist.

1879: Daniel Peter and Henri Nestlé formed the Nestlé Company, which later became the world’s largest producer of chocolate.

Also in 1879: Rodolphe Lindt of Berne, Switzerland, invented the conching machine, which heats and rolls chocolate in order to refine it to a smooth consistency. The result was a more smooth and creamy chocolate that melted on the tongue. Up to that point, even the finest chocolate had a grainy character. After warm chocolate is conched for seventy-two hours in a long narrow trough, and has more cocoa butter added to it, it is possible to create chocolate fondant and other creamy forms of chocolate. (Today, conching can be finished in 12 hours.)

1884: Félix Bonnat founded the Bonnat Chocolate Shop. Shortly afterward, he created the French praline.

1894: Milton Hershey added a line of chocolate to his caramel manufacturing business. Soon, he invented the Hershey bar by experimenting with milk chocolate. Hershey’s cocoa appears next.

1896: Leonard Hershfield invented the Tootsie Roll. It is named after his daughter.

1899: The Tobler firm, founded in 1868, started to produce its own chocolate. The Toblerone nougat, almond, and honey chocolate bar was born.

Late 1800s: Major companies had begun growing cacao on large plantations, clearing rainforest to provide open land. It was at this time that the extremely low pollination rate of cacao (1 in 3000) was noticed, but no one paid much attention. Moving cacao from the rainforest to plantations took it farther away from the habitat of the midges which pollinate cacao trees.

1900: Milton Hershey created a model factory town called Hersheyville, dedicated to the production of chocolate. The specialty was the Hershey Kiss. Around 1900, the price of cacao and sugar dropped tremendously, and Hershey was using modern, mass-production techniques. Both helped to make chocolate affordable to the masses. Hershey sold his caramel business in 1900 for $1 million to focus on chocolate.

Queen Victoria sent her New Year’s greetings to the British troops stationed in South Africa during the Boer War in the form of a specially molded chocolate bar.

About 1900: A machine called the enrober was invented to replace the task of hand-dipping chocolate.

1906: The first-known published recipe for chocolate brownies appeared, in The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, edited by Fanny Merritt Farmer. A reference often given for the first publication of brownies, in the 1897 Sears and Roebuck Catalogue, is erroneous. That recipe is not for a chocolate and flour baked brownie bar, but for a molasses candy also called brownies. The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book recipe used flour and two squares of Baker’s chocolate.

Also in 1906: Milton Hershey’s birthplace (Derry Church, Pennsylvania) was renamed Hershey.

1910: Canadian Arthur Ganong marketed the first nickel chocolate bar.

1912: Jean Neuhaus invented the chocolate shell that can be filled with soft centers and nut pastes, which offered a vast variety in comparison to the previous dipped and enrobed chocolate.

1913: Swiss confiseur Jules Séchaud of Montreux introduced a machine process for manufacturing filled chocolates and created the first box of filled chocolates.

1920: Jean Neuhaus’ daughter-in-law invented the ballotin, the rectangular box with molded insets that protects individual pieces of chocolate from rolling around.

1920: The Kestekides family launched the Leonidas brand in Belgium.

1920s: Chocolate bars became individual-sized. They started to be made in 30g and 45g sizes (1 ounce and 1.5 ounces) in addition to 150g (5 ounces). They were also made into tablet shapes for snacking.

1922: Twenty-two years after Hershey’s kisses debut, Francesco Buitoni, a relative of the family known for making pasta, launched Baci (Italian for “kiss”). His chocolate kisses have a hazelnut in the center.

1925: Barry Callebaut began the production of chocolate couverture in Belgium. (It is not documented which company actually made the first couverture.)

Also in 1925: The New York Cocoa Exchange began in New York City.

1926: Belgian chocolatier Joseph Draps started the Godiva Company to compete with Hershey’s and Nestlé’s American chocolate market.

1930: Nestlé made its first white chocolate, named Galak (though it was called different names, such as Milkbar or Alpine White, in different countries). During the 1930s, brand names became increasingly important. After two years of research, Nestlé launched the Black Magic bar.

1939: Nestle introduced semisweet chocolate morsels.

1941: M&Ms were created as a means for soldiers to enjoy chocolate without it melting.

1947: Hundreds of Canadian kids went on strike and boycotted chocolate after the price of a chocolate bar jumped from 5 to 8 cents.

1980: A story of (chocolate) espionage hit the world press when an apprentice of the Swiss company of Suchard-Tobler unsuccessfully attempted to sell secret chocolate recipes to Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, and other countries.

1986: Valrhona introduced the concept of the single origin chocolate bar, making their first with beans exclusively from South America. The 70% cacao bar was named Guanaja in honor of the island of Guanaja, off Honduras, where Christopher Columbus first tasted chocolate almost 500 years earlier. They called it Grand Cru chocolate.

1990s: Following Valrhona’s pioneering efforts, other “designer chocolate bars” debuted, including bars made from the beans of single plantations.

Present Day:

The new generation of chocolatiers knows no bounds. The cuisine of the late 20th century has logically found its way to chocolate: exotic spices such as saffron, curry and lemongrass are now commonplace in chocolate, as are everyday kitchen foods such as basil, goat cheese and olive oil. Most appropriately, chocolate has returned to its Mesoamerican roots. Many artisan chocolatiers now offer some version of “Aztec” chocolate, spiced with the original “new world” flavors of chile and cinnamon.

Chocolate history has had its dark side. Slave-like conditions and child labor still produce much of the world’s chocolate. Huge sections of rainforest have been razed to make room for cacao trees. Fortunately, chocolate connoisseurs are buying more and more Fair Trade chocolate, which helps insure better working conditions for farmers and helps preserve higher quality cacao varieties, like criollo.

The chocolate market has seen growth in organic and kosher brands, and a high percentage of cacao in chocolate is recognized as a functional food, delivering antioxidants. It seems that the Aztecs were right about the health-giving properties of cacao.

Chocolate in Mesoamerica - History

If you can't imagine life without chocolate, you're lucky you weren't born before the 16th century. Until then, chocolate only existed in Mesoamerica in a form quite different from what we know. As far back as 1900 BCE, the people of that region had learned to prepare the beans of the native cacao tree. The earliest records tell us the beans were ground and mixed with cornmeal and chili peppers to create a drink - not a relaxing cup of hot cocoa, but a bitter, invigorating concoction frothing with foam. And if you thought we make a big deal about chocolate today, the Mesoamericans had us beat. They believed that cacao was a heavenly food gifted to humans by a feathered serpent god, known to the Maya as Kukulkan and to the Aztecs as Quetzalcoatl. Aztecs used cacao beans as currency and drank chocolate at royal feasts, gave it to soldiers as a reward for success in battle, and used it in rituals. The first transatlantic chocolate encounter occurred in 1519 when Hernán Cortés visited the court of Moctezuma at Tenochtitlan. As recorded by Cortés's lieutenant, the king had 50 jugs of the drink brought out and poured into golden cups. When the colonists returned with shipments of the strange new bean, missionaries' salacious accounts of native customs gave it a reputation as an aphrodisiac. At first, its bitter taste made it suitable as a medicine for ailments, like upset stomachs, but sweetening it with honey, sugar, or vanilla quickly made chocolate a popular delicacy in the Spanish court. And soon, no aristocratic home was complete without dedicated chocolate ware. The fashionable drink was difficult and time consuming to produce on a large scale. That involved using plantations and imported slave labor in the Caribbean and on islands off the coast of Africa. The world of chocolate would change forever in 1828 with the introduction of the cocoa press by Coenraad van Houten of Amsterdam. Van Houten's invention could separate the cocoa's natural fat, or cocoa butter. This left a powder that could be mixed into a drinkable solution or recombined with the cocoa butter to create the solid chocolate we know today. Not long after, a Swiss chocolatier named Daniel Peter added powdered milk to the mix, thus inventing milk chocolate. By the 20th century, chocolate was no longer an elite luxury but had become a treat for the public. Meeting the massive demand required more cultivation of cocoa, which can only grow near the equator. Now, instead of African slaves being shipped to South American cocoa plantations, cocoa production itself would shift to West Africa with Cote d'Ivoire providing two-fifths of the world's cocoa as of 2015. Yet along with the growth of the industry, there have been horrific abuses of human rights. Many of the plantations throughout West Africa, which supply Western companies, use slave and child labor, with an estimation of more than 2 million children affected. This is a complex problem that persists despite efforts from major chocolate companies to partner with African nations to reduce child and indentured labor practices. Today, chocolate has established itself in the rituals of our modern culture. Due to its colonial association with native cultures, combined with the power of advertising, chocolate retains an aura of something sensual, decadent, and forbidden. Yet knowing more about its fascinating and often cruel history, as well as its production today, tells us where these associations originate and what they hide. So as you unwrap your next bar of chocolate, take a moment to consider that not everything about chocolate is sweet.

Chocolate gets its sweet history rewritten

Long believed to have been domesticated in Central America some 4,000 years ago, cacao has a more interesting story than previously thought.

A Maya Love for Chocolate

When did humans first start cultivating chocolate? It's not just a candy conundrum: the question has long interested both biologists and anthropologists who wonder how and why cacao became so important to ancient Mesoamerican civilizations such as the Maya and Aztecs, both of whom cherished chocolate so much they used it in religious rites and as currency.

Archaeological evidence has pointed to the first use of cacao in Mesoamerica about 3,900 years ago. Traditionally, archaeologists have assumed that Mesoamericans were the first not just to use cacao, but to cultivate it.

Now, new research published in Communications Biology suggests that cacao was first domesticated around 3,600 years ago—and not in Mesoamerica.

The Ancient Art of Chocolate-Making

In their hunt for the origins of domesticated cacao, researchers analyzed the genomes of 200 cacao plants, then sussed out how each subspecies was related. As they worked, they looked for a telltale sign of domestication: genetic differentiation.

When a plant is domesticated, people select for desirable characteristics, breeding it over and over and correcting for things like size and taste. As a result, the genes of a domesticated plant don’t have as much variety as those of its wild relatives.

One likely candidate early domestication was Criollo—the world’s most coveted variety of cacao—which was cultivated by the ancient Maya. The extremely rare variety of chocolate (it makes up just 5% of the world chocolate crop) is beloved by candy fans who love its deep and complex flavor, and students of cacao know that Criollo trees found in Central America are markedly different from the ones found in the Amazon basin. (Can GMOs save chocolate?)

“If we compare all the different [cocoa] populations, the only one that shows a very high amount of genetic differentiation consistent with an event of domestication is Criollo,” says Omar Cornejo, a Washington State University population geneticist who was the lead author on the study.

In this case, says Cornejo, early cacao cultivators seem to have bred Criollo from an ancient relative called Curaray. As they bred the plants generation after generation, its flavor shifted and its theobromine content—the compound that gives chocolate its bitterness and stimulant qualities—increased. Its susceptibility to disease rose as well, leading to its ever-increasing rarity.

According to Cornejo, cocoa domestication may have happened at any point between about 2,400 and 11,000 years ago, and the “most likely scenario” seems to be about 3,600 years ago. Surprisingly, Criollo was also found to have first been domesticated in South America (present-day Ecuador), not in Central America as previously thought.

But how did cacao get from the Amazon basin to Mesoamerica? Another newly released study gives a possible answer. Archaeologists have found the earliest example of cacao usage in the Americas on pieces of stone and ceramic from Mayo-Chinchipe sites in Ecuador that are about 5,300 years old—1,700 years earlier than the evidence from Mesoamerica. And since the Mayo-Chinchipe were in contact with groups along the Pacific coast, it seems likely that they traded cacao with people who brought it north to Mesoamerica.

Watch the video: Unit 3 - The Mesoamerican Origins of Chocolate