Here’s an article written by us here at Aphrodite Chocolates, examining the History of Chocolate…interesting reading for all you chocophiles out there!
The earliest record of chocolate was over fifteen hundred years ago in the Central American rain forests, where the tropical mix of high rain fall combined with high year round temperatures and humidity provide the ideal climate for cultivation of the plant from which chocolate is derived, the Cacao Tree.
The Cacao Tree was worshipped by the Mayan civilisation of Central America and Southern Mexico, who believed it to be of divine origin, Cacao is actually a Mayan word meaning “God Food” hence the tree’s modern generic Latin name ‘Theobrama Cacao’ meaning ‘Food of the Gods’. Cacao was corrupted into the more familiar ‘Cocoa’ by the early European explorers. The Maya brewed a spicy, bitter sweet drink by roasting and pounding the seeds of the Cacao tree (cocoa beans) with maize and Capsicum (Chilli) peppers and letting the mixture ferment. This drink was reserved for use in ceremonies as well as for drinking by the wealthy and religious elite, they also ate a Cacao porridge.
The Aztecs of central Mexico also prized the beans, but because the Aztec’s lived further north in more arid regions at higher altitudes, where the climate was not suitable for cultivation of the tree, they had to acquire the beans through trade and/or the spoils of war. The Aztecs prized the beans so highly they used them as currency – 100 beans bought a Turkey or a slave – and tribute or Taxes were paid in cocoa beans to Aztec emperors. The Aztecs, like the Mayans, also enjoyed Cacao as a beverage fermented from the raw beans, which again featured prominently in ritual and as a luxury available only to the very wealthy. The Aztecs called this drink Xocolatl; the Spanish conquistadors found this almost impossible to pronounce and so corrupted it to the easier ‘Chocolat’ – the English further changed this to Chocolate.
The Aztec’s regarded chocolate as an aphrodisiac and their Emperor, Montezuma reputedly drank it fifty times a day from a golden goblet and is quoted as saying of Xocolatl:
“The divine drink, which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink permits a man to walk for a whole day without food”
In fact, the Aztec’s prized Xocolatl well above Gold and Silver – so much so, that when Montezuma was defeated by Cortez in 1519 and the victorious ‘conquistadors’searched his palace for the Aztec treasury expecting to find Gold & Silver, all they found were huge quantities of cocoa beans. The Aztec Treasury consisted, not of precious metals, but Cocoa Beans.
Xocolatl, or Chocolat or Chocolate as it became known, was brought to Europe by Cortez; by this time the conquistadors had learned to make the drink more palatable to European tastes by mixing the ground roasted beans with sugar and vanilla (a practice still continued today), thus offsetting the spicy bitterness of the brew the Aztec’s drank.
The first chocolate factories opened in Spain, where the dried fermented beans brought back from the new world by the Spanish treasure fleets were roasted and ground, and by the early 17th century chocolate powder – from which the European version of the drink was made – was being exported to other parts of Europe. The Spanish kept the source of the drink – the beans – a secret for many years, so successfully in fact, that when English buccaneers boarded what they thought was a Spanish ‘Treasure Galleon’ in 1579, only to find it loaded with what appeared to be ‘dried sheep’s droppings’, they burned the whole ship in frustration. If only they had known, chocolate was so expensive at that time, that it was worth it’s weight in Silver (if not Gold). Chocolate was Treasure Indeed!
Within a few years, the Cocoa beverage made from the powder produced in Spain had become popular throughout Europe, in the Spanish Netherlands, Italy, France, Germany and – in about 1520 – it arrived in England.
The first Chocolate House in England opened in London in 1657 followed rapidly by many others. Like the already well established coffee houses, they were used as clubs where the wealthy and business community met to smoke a clay pipe of tobacco, conduct business and socialise over a cup of chocolate.
Events went full circle when English colonists carried chocolate (and coffee) with them to England’s colonies in North America. Destined to become the United States of America and Canada, they are now the worlds largest consumers – by far – of both Chocolate and Coffee, consuming over half of the words total production of chocolate alone.
The Quakers were, and still are, a pacifist religious sect, an offshoot of the Puritans of English Civil War and Pilgrim Fathers fame and a history of chocolate would not be complete without mentioning their part in it. Some of the most famous names in chocolate were Quakers, who for centuries held a virtual monopoly of chocolate making in the English speaking world – Fry, Cadbury and Rowntree are probably the best known.
It’s probably before the time of the English civil war between Parliament and King Charles 1st, that the Quaker’s, who evolved from the Puritans, first began their historic association with Chocolate. Because of their pacifist religion, they were prohibited from many normal business activities, so as an industrious people with a strong belief in the work ethic, they involved themselves in food related businesses and did very well. Baking was a common occupation for them because bread was regarded as the biblical ” Staff Of Life”, and Bakers in England were the first to add chocolate to cakes so it would be a natural progression for them to start making pure chocolate. They were also heavily involved in breakfast cereals but that’s another story!
What is certain is that the Fry, Rowntree and Cadbury families in England, began chocolate making and in fact Joseph Fry of Fry & Sons (founded 1728 in Bristol, England) is credited with producing and selling the worlds first chocolate bar. Fry’s have now all but disappeared (taken over by Cadbury) and Rowntree have merged with Swiss company Nestle, to form the largest chocolate manufacturer in the world. Cadbury have stayed with chocolate production and are now, if not quite the largest, probably one of the best known Chocolate makers in the world.
From their earliest beginnings in business the Quakers were noted for their enlightened treatment of their employees, providing not just employment but everything needed for workers to better themselves such as good housing etc. In fact, Cadbury built a large town for their employees around their factory near Birmingham, England. Complete with libraries, schools, shops and Churches etc, they called it Bourneville. So the next time you see Cadbury’s chocolate with the name Bournville on it you will know where it comes from and what the name relates to.
The first mention of chocolate being eaten in solid form is in the mid 1600’s when bakers in England began adding cocoa powder to cakes. Then in 1828 a Dutch chemist, Johannes Van Houten, invented a method of extracting the bitter tasting fat or “cocoa butter” from the roasted ground beans; his aim was to make the drink smoother and more palatable, however he unknowingly paved the way for solid chocolate as we know it.
Chocolate as we know it today first appeared in 1847 when Fry & Sons of Bristol, England mixed Sugar with Cocoa Powder and Cocoa Butter (made by the Van Houten process) to produce the first solid chocolate bar then, in 1875, a Swiss manufacturer Daniel Peters found a way to combine (some would say improve, some would say ruin) cocoa powder and cocoa butter with sugar and dried milk powder to produce the first milk chocolate.
and the rest, is history, Chocolate History….
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