Born in the ancient world

     Where did chocolate come from? why does everyone seem to love chocolate? The history of chocolate may be stranger than you thought. Fermented beverages made from chocolate date back to 450 BC. The Aztecs believed that cacao seeds were the gift of Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom, and the seeds once had so much value that they were used as a form of currency. Evidence  of chocolate consumption dates from the Classic Period of the Ancient Maya of Mexico and Central America (200-900 CE). The Maya made it into a spicy drink made of chocolate and chili powder that they used in ceremonies, and they traded cacao with people who couldn’t grow their own. The cacao tree only grew in the rain forests to lived under the higher trees. So cacao trees only grew in certain parts of the world.

      The Aztec in Central America, between the 13th and 16th centuries AD, were among those who had to and wanted to trade for cacao. To them, chocolate was a luxury, a drink for warriors and nobility, used in rituals and ceremonies. They also used cacao seeds as money; in fact, the seeds were so valuable that dishonest merchants are believed to have made counterfeits.

       Some scholars think the Aztec called their chocolate chocolatl. But others think that was a Spanish invention, based on the Aztec word cacahuatl (“bitter water”) or the Mayan chocol haa (“hot water”).

 Chocolate meets European culture

     As part of the Colombian Exchange, the Spanish brought domesticated animals with them to the new world. The Old World loved beef and pigs, and did not want to go to the new continents without them. So they left Europe with boats loaded with cows, pigs, sheep, and horses. None of these existed in the New World. As the Europeans reached the Americas, they left many of these animals behind as they explored. When they or if they returned, the animals had scattered, reproduced or escaped. Soon there were wild varieties of each of these domesticated species. The cows gave meat, milk and leather.

      In the 16th century, the Spanish, searching for gold in the New World, instead found cacao. Finding the drink bitter, they mixed it with sugar and kept their discovery secret from the rest of Europe for nearly a century. By law, allowing this secret out to the public without royal consent was punishable under the law. And all early forms of ground cacao seeds were put into a drink. There was soon chocolate milk. To die for? This is truer than you can imagine.

    Not until the 1600's did the other European countries find out about this American drink. One of the first to allow the public to use cacao was the English.

     The first English chocolate house opened in 1657. Before long, because the English, Dutch, and French were so enamored of chocolate, they set out to colonize cacao-growing lands of their own. Often, wars broke out over territory that was suitable for growing this intoxicating drink. To get what they wanted, many European countries conquered parts of the world where they could get the labor to produce chocolate. The chocolate trade was thus built on a system of forced labor and slavery of Meso-American and African people.

     By 1700, there were nearly 2,000 chocolate houses (like today’s coffee shops) in London alone. They soon evolved into men’s social clubs, hotbeds of gambling and political activity.

     In 18th-century Italy, chocolate was the preferred drink of the Cardinals (high ranking Catholic clergy); they even had it delivered in while they were electing a new Pope. Chocolate also was rumored to have disguised a poison that killed Pope Clement XIV in 1774.

     While the Aztec–and the Europeans, at first–used chocolate only as a drink, in the late 17th and 18th centuries the adventurous Italians pushed it to new culinary heights. They began experimenting with chocolate as a flavoring in everything from soup to polenta (a rice dish); they even dipped liver in chocolate and then fried it.

Mass-produced in the industrial world

     The technology of processing cacao scarcely changed from the Maya to the late 18th century. Then new inventions made it possible to produce chocolate for the masses:

1776 A Frenchman named Doret invents a hydraulic machine to grind cacao seeds into a paste. Not long afterwards, it is replaced by the steam engine, making it even easier to produce large amounts of chocolate.

1828 A Dutch chemist, Coenraad Van Houten, invents the cocoa press, which extracts cocoa butter from chocolate, leaving the powder we call cocoa. This makes chocolate both more consistent and cheaper to produce.

1847 Fry and Sons Company of Bristol, England, introduces the first solid eating chocolate. The family–who, like several of the early chocolate dynasties, were Quakers–also boycotted cacao from parts of the world where working conditions resembled slavery. As a consequence, the economies of countries began to change, slavery began to fall apart, and working conditions changed for many workers- thanks to chocolate.