History of Chocolate

Theobroma Cacao - "Food of the Gods"

Theobroma Cacao, the scientific name for the cocoa bean, literally translates as "food of the gods". The ancient Incas, Mayans, and Aztecs believed it was a source of power. They didn't know whether to call it a food or a medicine because of its medicinal properties. Rulers, like Montezuma, drank theobroma cacao in small amounts up to fifty times a day for increased virility. When Cortez discovered the drink he made it the mainstay of his soldiers' diet. History reports that those who drank it felt increased energy, focus, stamina, happiness, and virility.

cacao-harvest

Columbus also discover cacao beans

Columbus was apparently the first European to encounter cacao beans on August 15, 1502, on his fourth and last voyage to the Americas. Columbus and his crew encountered a large dugout canoe near an island off the coast of what is now Honduras.

Columbus' son Ferdinand wroting about the encounter was struck by how much value the Native Americans placed on cacao beans, saying:

"They seemed to hold these almonds [referring to the cacao beans] at a great price; 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."

The cocoa beans were the local currency and in some parts of Central America, cacao beans continued to be used as currency as recently as the last century.

Cortez Imports Cacao to Europe

The chocolate these Mesoamerican civilizations consumed was a bitter-tasting drink made of ground cacao beans mixed with a variety of local ingredients. The frothy beverage, which was sometimes made with water, and sometimes with wine, could be seasoned with vanilla, pimiento, and chili pepper. It was thought to cure diarrhea and dysentery, and was believed to be an aphrodisiac. Cortez is said to have tried the beverage, but found it too bitter. Cortez is said to have brought back three chests full of cacao beans twenty years after Columbus first encountered cacao beans. This time the beans were recognized as one treasure among the many stolen from the conquered Aztecs.

Soon chocolate would regularly make its way across the Atlantic -- first to Spain, and then to the rest of Europe. The first official shipment was made in 1585 from Veracruz to Seville.

Beginings of chocolate as we now know it

When the Spanish first brought chocolate back to Europe, it was still being served as a beverage, but soon went through an important evolution: the chili pepper was replaced by sugar. The new, sweetened, chocolate beverage was a luxury few could afford, but by the 17th century the drink was common among European nobility. In England, which was somewhat more egalitarian than the rest of Europe, chocolate was more widely available. Those who could afford it could enjoy chocolate drinks in the new coffee and chocolate houses of London.

As other countries challenged Spain's monopoly on cacao, chocolate became more widely available. Soon the French, English, and Dutch were cultivating cacao in their colonies in the Caribbean, and later, elsewhere in the world. With higher production came lower prices, and soon the masses in Europe and the Americas were enjoying chocolate.

Modern Era of Chocolate

Dutch chocolate maker Conrad J. van Houten patented an inexpensive method for pressing the fat from roasted cacao beans in 1828, thus heralding the "modern era" of chocolate making and production. The center of the bean, known as the "nib," contains an average of 54 percent cocoa butter, which is a natural fat. Van Houten's machine -- a hydraulic press -- reduced the cocoa butter content by nearly half. This created a "cake" that could be pulverized into a fine powder known as "cocoa." Van Houten treated the powder with alkaline salts (potassium or sodium carbonates) so that the powder would mix more easily with water - a process now known as "Dutching." The final product, Dutch chocolate, has a dark color and a mild taste.

Cocoa powder not only makes creating chocolate drinks much easier, but also makes it possible to combine chocolate with sugar and then remix it with cocoa butter to create a solid. In 1849, English chocolate maker Joseph Storrs Fry produced what was arguably the world's first eating chocolate.

The Swiss are famous for their chocolate and developed a number of processes that contributed greatly to creating the solid chocolate candy that we all enjoy today. Two major developments occurred in 1879. Daniel Peter, a Swiss chocolate manufacturer, had the idea of using powdered milk (invented by Swiss Chemist Henri Nestle in 1867) to make a new kind of chocolate, milk chocolate. Second, Rudolphe Lindt invented a process called "conching," which greatly improved the quality of chocolate candy by making it more blendable.

Recent Scientific Studies Confirm GOOD Chocolate is GOOD for You

Scientists are discovering new, valuable information that the ancients understood or experienced for years: chocolate is good for you. Today, the number one killer in America is heart disease. Our bodies are daily bombarded with pollutants, many in the form of free radicals. Free radicals have been linked to diseases like cancer, heart disease, and strokes. Antioxidants are the best way to combat free radicals. In a recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Journal of the American Chemical Society, chocolate was found to be the number one antioxidant food on the planet!