Diving into the history of our favourite treat
Whether you have a sweet tooth or not, few would argue that chocolate is one of the finest treats available on the planet! Be it dark, white, classic milk, in a cake, ice cream, or brownie; the options are plentiful and mouth-watering to most.
In celebration of World Chocolate Day, we thought we’d delve into the history of this culinary delight in all its forms. From its origins as the humble cocoa bean to the worldwide mass-production industry we know today – chocolate has an interesting past.
Olmec Indians, Southern Mexico
Cacao trees are believed to have been growing naturally for over 10,000 years, however, Olmec Indians in southern Mexico began growing hand harvesting their beans from 1,500 – 300 BC.
Soon adopted into an unsweetened beverage, the elite and wealthy of the Olmec society would lord it over others with their new hot chocolate invention.
The Mayans, Central America
It was obvious humanity knew it was on to a good thing, with the early concept of chocolate moving across the Americas over the course of time. We can most likely attribute the word chocolate itself to the Mayans, with their word for tree being ‘cacahuaquchtl’, and the word for their version of hot cacao being ‘xocoatl’. Much like the Olmec civilisation, the Mayans enjoyed their chocolate as a bitter, unsweetened drink between 300-500 AD.
From 600-1000 AD, the Mayans migrated further south, along with their treasured cacao plants. They even considered the cacao pod to be a sacred religious symbol and a ‘food of the gods’!
The Aztecs Spice Things Up
A fierce tribe of warriors, the Aztecs resided in the Valley of Mexico in the thirteenth century. They developed a complex society with towns, cities and pyramids laying monuments to their many gods and deities. Known for their ritual sacrifice in dedication to their beliefs, their discovery of liquid chocolate was seen as a gift from the god of wisdom ‘Quetzalcoatl’.
Carrying on the Mayan tradition, the Aztecs were known for mixing cacao with chilli, herbs and other spices. Although bitter and in no way like the sweetened, creamy chocolate we know today, the Aztec’s reverence and value for chocolate went so far as cocoa seeds being used as currency.
Europe and the Chocolate Explosion
Around the 16th century, Spanish explorers became the first European explorers to discover the Aztec delicacy and began shipping it across the ocean for trade and consumption. The strong, bitter taste proved unpopular, however, so cane sugar was added for the first time along with vanilla and other flavours.
This led to the opening of the world’s very first chocolate shop in 1657, in Kendal England. The famous Chocolate House began serving hot drinking chocolate for sale to the public, and maintains it to this day!
Chocolate as We Know It
Although our beloved cocoa-based treat had been making waves as a drink over the centuries, it wasn’t until 1830 that J.S. Fry & Sons developed and produced the very first solid chocolate bar designed for eating. Most famously known these days for a taste of eastern promise in their chocolate-enrobed Turkish delight bars, Cadbury’s still produces Fry’s most popular chocolates.
With the approval of Queen Victoria, the Cadbury chocolate company, a Quaker-formed co-operative in Birmingham began mass-producing chocolates in 1868.
Not long after, milk chocolate was devised by the famous Swiss brand, Nestle in 1875. Soon to become the world’s favoured cacao recipe, Nestle would later become the world’s largest manufacturer of Chocolate.
The United States followed suit in 1895, with Milton Hershey beginning mass production of the famous Hershey bar. This would be the first instance of chocolate being priced reasonably for the average consumer due to greater economies of scale, and fewer premium ingredients.
The way chocolate is produced and consumed today is a far cry from its raw, bitter origins. The cacao pods must be picked, cleaned, dried and then fermented. Once ready, the cacao shells are shelled to reveal the ‘nib’ which are then ground into cocoa mass. From this, we derive cocoa solids and cocoa butter, the core ingredients for consumable chocolate.
Every chocolate maker has a different recipe and ratio of cocoa, milk and sugar, so its just a question of taste and what tends to be popular in local markets.
Celebrating World Chocolate Day in Wolverhampton
Why not hit up some local chocolatiers in Wolverhampton and treat yourself in-store or online to some chocolatey delights!
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