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Chocolate’s history can be traced back to the ancient Mayans, and even further to the ancient Olmecs of southern Mexico. The word chocolate may conjure up visions of sweet candy bars and decadent truffles, but today’s chocolate is nothing like the chocolate of yesteryear. Throughout most of history, chocolate was regarded as a cherished but bitter beverage rather than a sweet, edible delight.
How Is Chocolate Made?
Chocolate is produced from the fruit of cacao trees native to Central and South America. The fruits are known as pods, and each pod contains approximately 40 cacao beans. To make cocoa beans, the beans are dried and roasted.
It’s uncertain when cacao first appeared on the scene or who invented it. According to Hayes Lavis, cultural arts curator for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, residues of theobromine, a stimulant component found in chocolate and tea, were discovered in ancient Olmec pots and vessels from around 1500 B.C.
Cacao is said to have been utilized by the Olmecs to make a ceremonial drink. However, because they left no written history, perspectives dispute whether they employed cacao beans or only the pulp of the cacao pod in their concoctions. Also, you must try to play this History Of Chocolate Quiz.
History Of Chocolate Quiz
Chocolate from the Mayans
The Olmecs probably passed on their cacao knowledge to the Central American Mayans, who not only consumed but also revered chocolate. Chocolate drinks are mentioned in Mayan written history as being used in festivities and to settle important deals.
Despite its prominence in the Mayan civilization, chocolate was not only available to the wealthy and powerful, but to practically everyone. Chocolate was served with every meal in many Mayan households. Mayan chocolate was thick and frothy, and it was frequently flavored with chile peppers, honey, or water.
Cacao Beans as Money
The Aztecs took chocolate adoration to new heights. Cacao, they believed, was given to them by their gods. They liked the caffeine jolt of hot or cold, spiced chocolate beverages in elaborate containers, just like the Mayans, but they also used cacao beans as cash to buy food and other commodities. Cacao beans were considered more valuable than gold in Aztec society.
Aztec chocolate was mostly an upper-class indulgence, though it was occasionally relished by the lower classes at weddings or other events.
The great Aztec monarch Montezuma II, who allegedly consumed quarts of chocolate every day for vitality and as an aphrodisiac, was perhaps the most notorious Aztec chocolate lover of all. He is also reported to have set aside part of his cacao beans for his military.
Hot Chocolate from Spain
There are contradictory tales about when chocolate first arrived in Europe, but it is generally acknowledged that it first arrived in Spain. According to legend, Christopher Columbus discovered cocoa beans after intercepting a trading ship on his way to America and bringing them back to Spain with him in 1502.
According to another legend, the Aztecs of Montezuma’s court introduced Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes to chocolate. He allegedly kept his chocolate knowledge a well-guarded secret after returning to Spain with cacao beans in tow. According to a third narrative, the friars who delivered Guatemalan Mayans to Philip II of Spain in 1544 also carried cocoa beans as a gift.
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Whatever route chocolate took to Spain, by the late 1500s it had become a popular pleasure among the Spanish court, and Spain began importing chocolate in 1585. Other European countries, such as Italy and France, learned about cacao and took chocolate back to their own countries as they visited portions of Central America.
Chocolate frenzy quickly spread throughout Europe. With the increased demand for chocolate came the establishment of chocolate plantations, which employed thousands of slaves.
The History of Chocolate in the American Colonies
In 1641, a Spanish ship brought chocolate to Florida. The first American chocolate house is claimed to have been established in Boston in 1682. Cocoa beans were a major American colony import by 1773, and chocolate was appreciated by people of all social groups.
During the Revolutionary War, chocolate was given to the military as rations and was occasionally given to soldiers in lieu of money as payment. (During World War II, soldiers were also given chocolate as rations.)
When chocolate first appeared on the European stage, it was considered a luxury item available mainly to the wealthy. However, in 1828, Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes van Houten devised a method to process cacao beans with alkaline salts in order to produce powdered chocolate that was easier to combine with water.
The method became known as “Dutch processing,” and the resulting chocolate was known as cacao powder or “Dutch cocoa.”