The Ancient History of Chocolate, Gift of the Gods

The Ancient History of Chocolate, Gift of the Gods

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In today’s society, chocolate is a popular treat, and comes in many forms, including blocks, paste and powder. Several centuries ago, however, chocolate was considered a luxury item, and came only in one form – as a drink.

An Aztec woman preparing the cacao drink. The liquid was poured from a height to create a froth or foam on top.

The Origins of Cacao

Chocolate is produced from the cacao tree, which is native to Central and South America. Based on chemical analysis, the earliest known consumption of cacao may be dated back to between 1400 and 1100 BC. At that early stage, it was not the cacao seeds, but the pulp of the fruit that was used. The sweet pulp was fermented so as to produce an alcoholic beverage. It was only later on that the cacao seeds were used. Still, it was much different from the chocolate we are used to today.

A cacao tree with fruit pods in various stages of ripening.

When the Spanish conquistadors came into contact with the Aztec civilization, they also came across the cacao drink. Incidentally, ‘chocolate’ is derived from the word xocolātl, which means ‘bitter water’ in Aztec. Although chocolate has its origins in the Aztec language (formally known as Nahuatl), it has been suggested that the Aztecs may have inherited the recipe from earlier Mesoamerican civilizations, such as the Mayans or the Olmecs.

Cacao seeds were fermented, roasted, and ground into a paste. The cacao paste would then be mixed with water or wine, ground maize and a variety of flavorings. These flavorings include chili pepper, vanilla, allspice and honey. The mixture would then go through a process called frothing, in which it is poured back and forth from pot to cup until a deep foam was formed on the top.


Ancient Uses

Not necessarily for everyday consumption, cacao was of great value, symbolically and economically. Pods were used in trade to the point where they were sometimes counterfeited by filling the plant pods with soil. The ‘bitter water’ was consumed by nobles and warriors, in a ritual with purpose and solemnity. It was believed the plant was of the gods, associated by the Aztecs with Quetzalcoatl.

Aztec. Man Carrying a Cacao Pod, 1440–1521. Volcanic stone, traces of red pigment. Brooklyn Museum/Wikimedia Commons

Chocolate was such an important part of life that it was used in special ancient Mayan ceremonies such as weddings, funerals, and religious rituals. And a study of pictorial representations of chocolate in 2018 suggests that it may have served another purpose in the economy of the Mayan civilization – as money.

Joanne Baron, an archaeologist with the Bard Early College Network, found that murals from the 8th century onward depict people bartering chocolate for other goods, such as dough, and also offering leaders roasted cacao beans as tribute. Baron has noted some 180 images of this kind. She notes in the journal Anthro Source , that cacao beans, ‘originally valued for their use in status display, took on monetary functions within a context of expanding marketplaces among rival Maya kingdoms’.

Chocolate Arrives in Europe

When cacao was brought to Europe by the Spanish, the drink was transformed by an ingredient not available to the Aztecs – sugar. This made the taste of the drink more appealing, and became popular among the Spanish nobility and officials of the Roman Catholic Church. It was only later that chocolate became popular in other European courts, as the Spanish seemed to have been keeping the secret of chocolate to themselves.

In France, for instance, the marriage of Anne of Austria to Louis XIII in 1615 popularized the drink among the French aristocracy, as the queen was a chocolate enthusiast. Chocolate had a harder time penetrating the markets of Protestant England, however, as the drink was associated with popery and idleness. Eventually, the craze for chocolate also hit London, though it did not really catch on. Still, several ‘chocolate houses’ sprang up in London, where the elites of society could indulge in decadence and rowdy behavior.

Chocolate soon became a fashionable drink of the nobility after the discovery of the Americas. The morning chocolate by Pietro Longhi ; Venice, 1775–1780.

New Ways of Production and Consumption

It was during the Industrial Revolution of the 18 th and 19 th centuries that a change in the way people consumed chocolate occurred. Firstly, the invention of hydraulic and steam chocolate mills in France in the 18 th century allowed chocolate to be processed faster and at a lower cost. Then, in 1828, the cocoa press was invented by Coenraad Johannes Van Houton. This machine removed the fat from the cacao seeds to produce cocoa powder, the basis for most chocolate products today. With this new ingredient, chocolate could be produced in the many forms we are familiar with today. These technological advances also resulted in a higher demand for raw cocoa in Europe. Soon, cocoa trees were planted as a cash crop in British, French and Dutch colonies near the equator, where the natural conditions were suitable for these trees.

A Lady Pouring Chocolate (1744) depicting drinking chocolate paraphernalia.

The Bitter Side of the Chocolate Story

As one may expect, the workers on these cocoa plantations were often slaves. It may be surprising to some, however, that such labor is still being used today by the chocolate industry. It has been claimed that children are being used as slaves on cocoa plantations in West Africa, in particular the Ivory Coast and Ghana, where cocoa is an important export crop. This cocoa would eventually end up as the chocolates on the shelves of our convenience stores and supermarkets. It is indeed horrifying to think that much of the sweet chocolate we see today is being produced through the hard labor of child slaves.

3,000 Years of Indulgence

Chocolate has been consumed, revered and desired for over 3,000 years and today we still indulge in this much enjoyed treat. Over the next six months, a festival of chocolate will celebrate this ancient food with a series of events throughout the UK involving delectable confectionary, chocolate-making, chocolatiers, and chocolate sculpting. The Fantastical Chocolate Festiva l will begin in October 2018 and conclude April 2019.

Drink of the Gods: The Ancient History of Cacao

Cacao beans are a rich and tasty treat (and resource) that have been in high demand all over the world for thousands of years.

The story begins in Mexico, where ancient fermenting pots and ceramic vessels showed traces of cacao and its active ingredient theobromine dating back to 1900 B.C. Then around 1500 B.C., the Olmec began brewing, roasting, and grinding cacao beans for drinks and food, including gruel, and there’s evidence that cacao may have been fermented and used as an alcoholic drink. They were an original group to find that cacao helps to improve mood, boost energy, and provide sustenance, and they treated it as something with mystical properties. But it’s the Mayan and Aztec empires that were the biggest early hard-core cacao lovers and innovators.

It’s important to know that cultivating and transporting cacao beans was very difficult, and the beans require the perfect combination of soil, climate, and weather. This means that the beans were very rare and treated with special care. It’s likely that traders transported seedlings along the coasts and the Maya then grew them in private orchard gardens. The Maya get credit for the basics of preparing cacao paste — fermenting, dying, roasting, unshelling, and grinding the nibs. A version of their process is used in modern cacao preparation today, so cacao lovers everywhere are indebted to this early breakthrough.

The Maya didn’t just enjoy cacao as a drink, however . They revered the beans as sacred, calling it the food of the gods and naming it “Ka’kau.” There are Mayan depictions showing gods sprouting from cacao pods, and it was rumored that cacao was used as an ingredient in the creation of humans, among other purposes. The Maya embraced their endowment and treated it as a resource and social centerpiece that people united around. Cacao drinks were included in celebrations and cacao often sealed the deal on important transactions. According to Mayan writings and artwork, cacao was even accepted in marriage dowries. The Maya adorned their vessels with images of cacao pods and images of cacao drink preparation, and cacao drinks were associated with prestige, similar to how fine wine or champagne is seen today.

So how did they like to drink their cacao? Recipes show the early Maya embraced cacao’s naturally bitter taste and drank it hot at full strength, unsweetened except for the occasional dash of honey. They often added different flavors like vanilla, chili, and magnolia, and they mixed it with maize and annatto, which gave it a red, blood-like color. Typically people drank cacao from gourds, but kings, nobles, and priests enjoyed their cacao drinks in elaborate ceramic cups adorned with etchings, paintings, or precious stones. That doesn’t sound like a bad idea to us.

Next on the cacao train was the Aztecs, who were introduced to the special plant by the Maya. The Aztecs also revered the plant and they used the beans for practical purposes. In fact, cacao beans became the Aztec’s primary form of currency, alongside obsidian and copper. (This also sounds like a great idea to us.) In the Aztec markets you could get a tomato for one bean, a rabbit for 30 beans, and if you were hungry, a turkey for 200 beans. The Aztecs additionally put cacao to work as a bitter spice, and because cacao wasn’t as available to the Aztecs as it was to the Maya, cacao drinks were mainly reserved for nobles and religious ceremonies who frequently enjoyed their cups with a side of tobacco. Another distinguishing difference? The Aztecs preferred their cacao cold. They also were early practitioners of “latte art” and poured it carefully to create a foamy top for a frothy drink.

Cacao had a deep religious significance for the Aztecs. It was considered to be of divine origin and the cacao tree was revered as a conduit between heaven and earth, with the tree being a gift from the god Quetzalcoatl. The plant’s flesh and the cacao drinks were regarded as the body and blood of the gods, and Aztecs believed that consuming cacao bestowed mortals with wisdom from Quetzalcoatl. Like the Maya, they believed that cacao was an ingredient in the creation of humans. The cacao plant, and consumption of cacao, was believed to restore balance to people and the beans were often offered to the gods (sometimes with people).

Aztec codices and artwork often depict vessels filled with the cacao drink being offered to deities and show it being used in funerary rites and important ceremonies. For example, couples drank a ritual cup of cacao and exchanged beans during their wedding, and assistants to the priests were given cacao beans at children's blessing ceremonies.

The Aztecs also made cacao powder so that the Aztec army could have cacao drinks by simply adding water. This suggests that the Aztecs may have may have intentionally used cacao as a stimulant and nutrient to sustain their soldiers. Additionally, it’s considered that warriors may have consumed cacao to receive blessings from the gods that would give them an edge in battle. In general, cacao was put to work as medicine, as an energy booster, and to increase stamina.

During the Spanish conquests, the Aztec word for water “atl” was added to the Mayan word “Ka’kau,” which eventually became…“chocolate.” Cacao and chocolate are still valued by cultures globally and growing cacao remains an important social and family tradition for many peoples. You may be surprised to know that 90% of the world’s cacao is grown on small family farms of 25 acres or less. And you may be heart-warmed to know that Mayan people living in Belize today keep their drinks the way their ancestors liked: hot, frothy, and bitter, with the occasional hit of chili.

Today the world depends on many foods and resources created by the indigenous peoples of the Americas, and cacao (and chocolate) is one of the favorites. It’s important not to forget that without these key innovations and the early relationship that indigenous peoples developed with this precious bean, we might not enjoy the benefits and the tastiness of this incredible natural resource.

A rich past

The person thought to be responsible for beginning the integration of cocoa into Europe was Hernan Cortes, a Spanish conquistador (soldier and explorer) following his return from the “New World”.

In 1518, Cortes and his men arrived in what is now Mexico and headed towards the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. During their time in Mexico, the Spaniards tasted a bitter drink known as “chikolatl”. The drink contained roasted cocoa beans that were crushed, then boiled in water with spices and chilli.

An Aztec woman generates pouring chocolate from one vessel to another. Wikimedia Commons

The first exposure to the drink was not a favourable experience for the Spaniards – deeming it too bitter and almost unpalatable. But having seen Montezuma II, king of the Aztecs, consume the drink around 50 times a day, Cortes was interested in the potential of cocoa and sought to bring it back to Spain following his conquest.

Once in Europe cocoa beans were crushed and mixed with honey and sugar, becoming a popular drink among the elite. Eventually, in the 19th century, the first chocolate bar was made by Joseph Fry and Sons, creating what we know as chocolate today.

Where does Chocolate come from?

From Latin America to the modern day, chocolate has come a long way to get to you. Intrigued? Join us for a journey through the fascinating history of the world’s favorite sweet treat.

It all started in Latin America

Chocolate’s 4,000-year history began in ancient Mesoamerica, present day Mexico. It’s here that the first cacao plants were found. The Olmec, one of the earliest civilizations in Latin America, were the first to turn the cacao plant into chocolate. They drank their chocolate during rituals and used it as medicine.

Centuries later, the Mayans praised chocolate as the drink of the gods. Mayan chocolate was a revered brew made of roasted and ground cacao seeds mixed with chillies, water and cornmeal. Mayans poured this mixture from one pot to another, creating a thick foamy beverage called “xocolatl”, meaning “bitter water.”

By the 15th century, the Aztecs used cocoa beans as currency. They believed that chocolate was a gift from the god Quetzalcoatl, and drank it as a refreshing beverage, an aphrodisiac, and even to prepare for war.

Chocolate reaches Spain

No one knows for sure when chocolate came to Spain. Legend has it that explorer Hernán Cortés brought chocolate to his homeland in 1528.

Cortés was believed to have discovered chocolate during an expedition to the Americas. In search of gold and riches, he instead found a cup of cocoa given to him by the Aztec emperor.

When Cortés returned home, he introduced cocoa seeds to the Spanish. Though still served as a drink, Spanish chocolate was mixed with sugar and honey to sweeten the naturally bitter taste.

Chocolate quickly became popular among the rich and wealthy. Even Catholic monks loved chocolate and drank it to aid religious practices.

Chocolate seduces Europe

The Spanish kept chocolate quiet for a very long time. It was nearly a century before the treat reached neighboring France, and then the rest of Europe.

In 1615, French King Louis XIII married Anne of Austria, daughter of Spanish King Phillip III. To celebrate the union, she brought samples of chocolate to the royal courts of France.

Following France’s lead, chocolate soon appeared in Britain at special “chocolate houses”. As the trend spread through Europe, many nations set up their own cacao plantations in countries along the equator.

A Chocolate Revolution

Chocolate remained immensely popular among European aristocracy. Royals and the upper classes consumed chocolate for its health benefits as well as its decadence.

Chocolate was still being produced by hand, which was a slow and laborious process. But with the Industrial Revolution around the corner, things were about to change.

In 1828, the invention of the chocolate press revolutionized chocolate making. This innovative device could squeeze cocoa butter from roasted cacao beans, leaving a fine cocoa powder behind.

The powder was then mixed with liquids and poured into a mold, where it solidified into an edible bar of chocolate.

And just like that, the modern era of chocolate was born.

Modern-Day Magnum

Fast forward a couple of centuries and the Magnum Classic ice cream bar appears on the scene. In 1989, Magnum first launched the classic chocolate ice cream you know and love.

Magnum’s origins lie in Belgium, where our premium Belgian chocolate producer developed a unique chocolate coating with the signature crack to complement smooth vanilla ice cream.

But just one flavor was not enough. In 1992, several new Magnums were released, including Magnum White and Almond. From Magnum Mini and more recently to Magnum Double, our most indulgent Magnum, we’ve been innovating ever since.

So next time you take a bite into your favorite Magnum, take a moment to savor the taste of chocolate history.

Chocolate, The Food of the Gods

Chocolate. The ultimate aphrodisiac. Once available only to priests and kings, today chocolate is prized around the world for its delicious taste and its seductive effects—effects that have been appreciated for centuries.

A Brief History of the Craze for Chocolate

Theobroma, cocoa’s botanical name, is Greek for “food of the gods.” Native to Central and South America, chocolate was first consumed by Olmec, Maya, and Aztec priests and nobility as an unsweetened foamy drink. It was prepared with meticulous care using cocoa beans that were roasted, pounded in a mortar, and flavored with chiles, vanilla, annatto, and sometimes honey and dried flowers.

This Maya vessel was once used to drink hot chocolate. Drinking Vessel Depicting Otherworldly Toad, Jaguar, and Serpent, 650–800 A.D. Mexico, Southern Campeche. Slip-painted ceramic, 5 3/8 in. high. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of the 2006 Collectors Committee (M.2006.41),

Europeans got their first taste of cocoa, it is said, when Aztec emperor Moctezuma—who drank 50 cups of chocolate a day from a gold goblet because he believed it made him more charming and attractive to women—met the Spanish conqueror Hernán Cortés and his army with a foaming cup of hot chocolate. Cocoa was introduced to Europe in the 16 th century by Spanish conquistadors, and for centuries remained a drink exclusively consumed by the aristocracy and the upper bourgeoisie.

Hot chocolate became the rage at Versailles in the 1600s when Maria-Thérèse, Louis XIV’s Spanish-born wife, popularized its consumption by drinking the exotic brew from delicate porcelain cups at breakfast time. Drinking chocolate provided yet another way to display wealth, elegance, and style, both through the decorative porcelain wares used to serve it and through the delicate art of sipping. In the following century, Louis XV was considered the greatest lover of the foamy drink and would occasionally prepare his own beverage in the kitchens of his private apartments. His mistress, Madame du Barry, particularly valued it for its qualities as an aphrodisiac.

Porcelain was the favorite serving material for chocolate, as well as tea and coffee, among the European upper-crust. A Tea Service (déjeuner ruban), about 1765–70, Sèvres Manufactory (gilding by Etienne-Henri Le Guay). Soft-paste porcelain with polychrome enamelled decoration and gilding. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 89.DE.25

Marie-Antoinette also enjoyed the hot drink, too—so much, in fact, that when she married Louis XVI in 1770 she arrived at Versailles with her very own master chocolate maker who was given the title of “Chocolate Maker to the Queen.” She began each day with a cup of chocolate with whipped cream and orange blossom.

Luckily for us, chocolate eventually reached the masses. It was first used for baking in the 18 th century, and by the 19 th it had become accessible to all thanks to manufacturing innovations by the Dutch, Swiss, and English, most notably John Cadbury and Henri Nestlé.

RECIPE: Double-Sexy Chocolate Cake

Why does chocolate make us feel good? It packs several stimulants, including caffeine, theobromine, and phenylethylamine, chemicals thought to arouse the body and the emotions. Of course, there’s also an aphrodisiac effect to receiving a delicious heart-shaped box of chocolates—or even better, a homemade cake!

This recipe includes avocado, another food with reputed aphrodisiac qualities native to Mexico. Referred to by the Aztecs as ahuacatl, or testicle, because of its shape and appearance, it is filled with nutrients essential for sexual health, including betacarotene, magnesium, and vitamin E. It’s the perfect sweet and sexy ending to any meal, especially on Valentine’s Day.

Plus, the cake (minus the ganache) is a vegan treat, proving that chocolate really can be enjoyed by everyone!

Double-Sexy Chocolate Avocado Cake with Ganache

For the cake:
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
2½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup almond flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ cup avocado oil
2 cups water
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large ripe avocado, cut lengthwise, pitted and mashed
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar

For the ganache:
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 350º F. Line a 10-inch Bundt pan with avocado oil and dust with flour, tapping out any excess.
  2. Place the chocolate chips and cocoa powder in a glass or stainless steel bowl over a double boiler. Stir gently until melted and combined. Remove from heat. (You can also melt the chocolate by placing it in the microwave for a few seconds at a time.)
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle, mix the all-purpose and almond flours, cinnamon, salt, baking soda, and baking powder at low speed.
  4. In a separate bowl whisk the mashed avocado, avocado oil, water, vinegar, vanilla extract and both sugars.
  5. Slowly incorporate the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just mixed. Add the chocolate and beat until fully incorporated.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean. Allow to cool.
  7. While the cake is baking, prepare the chocolate ganache. Heat the heavy cream and vanilla extract in a small saucepan until it starts to simmer. (You can also heat it in the microwave.) Remove from heat, add the chocolate, and stir until melted and smooth.
  8. When the cake cools, invert onto a platter and pour the warm ganache over it. Dust with powdered sugar and serve.

Makes one 10-inch Bundt cake.

For more from Maite Gomez-Rejón, follow her blog on The Huffington Post.


In season 1, episode 27 ("Ancient Medallions") Dario Cueto, the storyline owner of Lucha Underground, revealed that he had gathered seven ancient Aztec medallions during a taped segment. [5] He explained that they represented the seven tribes of the ancient Aztec world and that whomever held all seven of them would gain a "gift from the gods". Later on he ordered seven wrestlers to come to the ring Cage, Fénix, Killshot, King Cuerno, Pentagón Jr, Sexy Star and The Mack. The winner of the seven-way match would win the first of seven medallions. Fénix won the match and the first of the medallions. [5] In episode 30 ("Submit to the Master") Cueto announced that Jack Evans and Argenis would wrestle for the second of the medallions in a match that Jack Evans won. [6] Episodes showing how the remaining five medallions were awarded has not yet aired, but reports from the taping of the final match revealed that Aero Star, Bengala, Big Ryck, King Cuerno and Sexy Star win the remaining medallions at some point prior to episode 39 Ultima Lucha. [7] During Ultima Lucha Cueto revealed that the seven medallions all slotted into a wrestling championship called the "Gift of the Gods Championship", which would grant the champion a match for the Lucha Underground Championship any time they wanted, provided they gave Cueto a week's notice so he could promote the match. Fénix outlasted the other six competitors and won the Gift of the Gods Championship [7] After the Gift of the Gods Champion is vacated to challenge for the Lucha Underground Championship, the medallions are redistributed among the roster and the seven winners face off to determine a new champion. [8]

The ancient Mayan tradition of chocolate making

Of all its delicious offerings, chocolate is Guatemala’s most divine treat. The ancient Mayan tradition of chocolate making is a 2,500-year-old cultural legacy kept alive by dedicated farmers, roasters and chocolatiers. Hang on to your sweet tooth as we follow the “food of the Gods” from a simple seed on a cacao tree all the way to becoming a luxurious dessert.

Great Big Story takes us to Guatemala, where chocolate dates back to around 500 B.C. during the Mayan empire: Victor Alfredo Diaz Can shares how cacao is grown in Chocolá, while Brenda Elizabeth Oliva Sicán and Fernando Arias both show us how they makes artisanal chocolate in Antigua.

Related reading: How Did That Get In My Lunchbox?

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Chocolate : History, Culture, and Heritage

Chocolate. We all love it, but how much do we really know about it? In addition to pleasing palates since ancient times, chocolate has played an integral role in culture, society, religion, medicine, and economic development across the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Europe.

In 1998, the Chocolate History Group was formed by the University of California, Davis, and Mars, Incorporated to document the fascinating story and history of chocolate. This book features fifty-seven essays representing research activities and contributions from more than 100 members of the group. These contributors draw from their backgrounds in such diverse fields as anthropology, archaeology, biochemistry, culinary arts, gender studies, engineering, history, linguistics, nutrition, and paleography. The result is an unparalleled, scholarly examination of chocolate, beginning with ancient pre-Columbian civilizations and ending with twenty-first-century reports.

Here is a sampling of some of the fascinating topics explored inside the book:

Ancient gods and Christian celebrations: chocolate and religion

Chocolate and the Boston smallpox epidemic of 1764

Chocolate pots: reflections of cultures, values, and times

Pirates, prizes, and profits: cocoa and early American east coast trade

Blood, conflict, and faith: chocolate in the southeast and southwest borderlands of North America

Chocolate in France: evolution of a luxury product

Development of concept maps and the chocolate research portal

Not only does this book offer careful documentation, it also features new and previously unpublished information and interpretations of chocolate history. Moreover, it offers a wealth of unusual and interesting facts and folklore about one of the world's favorite foods.


Cultivation, consumption, and cultural use of cacao were extensive in Mesoamerica where the cacao tree is native. [4] When pollinated, the seed of the cacao tree eventually forms a kind of sheath, or ear, 20" long, hanging from the tree trunk itself. Within the sheath are 30 to 40 brownish-red almond-shaped beans embedded in a sweet viscous pulp. While the beans themselves are bitter due to the alkaloids within them, the sweet pulp may have been the first element consumed by humans.

Cacao pods grow in a wide range of colors, from pale yellow to bright green, all the way to dark purple or crimson. The skin can also vary greatly - some are sculpted with craters or warts, while others are completely smooth. This wide range in type of pods is unique to cacaos in that their color and texture does not necessarily determine the ripeness or taste of the beans inside. [5]

Evidence suggests that it may have been fermented and served as an alcoholic beverage as early as 1400 BC. [6]

Cultivation of the cacao was not an easy process. Part of this was because cacao trees in their natural environment grow to 60 feet tall or more. When the trees were grown in a plantation however, they grew to around 20 feet tall.

While researchers do not agree on which Mesoamerican culture first domesticated the cacao tree, the use of the fermented bean in a drink seems to have arisen in North America (Mesoamerica—Central America and Mexico). Scientists have been able to confirm its presence in vessels around the world by evaluating the "chemical footprint" detectable in the micro samples of contents that remain. [1] Ceramic vessel with residues from the preparation of chocolate beverages have been found at archaeological sites dating back to the Early Formative (1900–900 BC) period. For example, one such vessel found at an Olmec archaeological site on the Gulf Coast of Veracruz, Mexico dates chocolate's preparation by pre-Olmec peoples as early as 1750 BC. [7] On the Pacific coast of Chiapas, Mexico, a Mokayanan archaeological site provides evidence of cacao beverages dating even earlier, to 1900 BC. [7]

A study, published online in Nature Ecology and Evolution, suggests that cacao—the plant from which chocolate is made—was domesticated, or grown by people for food, around 1,500 years earlier than previously thought. In addition, the researchers found cacao was originally domesticated in South America, rather than in Central America. “This new study shows us that people in the upper reaches of the Amazon basin, extending up into the foothills of the Andes in southeastern Ecuador, were harvesting and consuming cacao that appears to be a close relative of the type of cacao later used in Mexico—and they were doing this 1,500 years earlier,” said Michael Blake, study co-author and professor in the University of British Columbia department of anthropology. The researchers used three lines of evidence to show that the Mayo-Chinchipe culture used cacao between 5,300 and 2,100 years ago: the presence of starch grains specific to the cacao tree inside ceramic vessels and broken pieces of pottery residues of theobromine, a bitter alkaloid found in the cacao tree but not its wild relatives and fragments of ancient DNA with sequences unique to the cacao tree. [8]

Pueblo people, who lived in an area that is now the U.S. Southwest, imported cacao from Mesoamerican cultures in southern Mexico between 900 and 1400. They used it in a common beverage consumed by everyone in their society. [1]

Archaeological evidence of Cacao in Mesoamerica Edit

Nature Ecology and Evolution reported probably the earliest cacao use from approximately 5,300 years ago recovered from the Santa Ana (La Florida) site in southeast Ecuador. [9] Another find of chemically traced cacao was in 1984 when a team of archaeologists in Guatemala explored the Mayan site of Río Azul. They discovered fifteen vessels surrounding male skeletons in the royal tomb. One of these vessels was beautifully decorated and covered in various Mayan glyphs. One of these glyphs translated to "kakaw", also known as cacao. The inside of the vessel was lined with a dark-colored powder, which was scraped off for further testing. Once the archaeologists took this powder to the Hershey Center for Health and Nutrition to be tested [ citation needed ] , they found trace amounts of theobromine in the powder, a major indicator of cacao. This cacao was dated to sometime between 460 and 480 AD [10]

Cacao powder was also found in beautifully decorated bowls and jars, known as tecomates, in the city of Puerto Escondido. Once thought to have been a very rare commodity, cacao was found in many more tecomates than once thought possible. However, since this powder was only found in bowls of higher quality, it led archaeologists to believe that only wealthier people could afford such bowls, and therefore the cacao. The cacao tecomates are thought to have been a centerpiece to social gatherings between people of high social status. [10]

Olmec use Edit

Earliest evidence of domestication of the cacao plant dates to the Olmec culture from the Preclassic period. [11] The Olmecs used it for religious rituals or as a medicinal drink, with no recipes for personal use. Little evidence remains of how the beverage was processed.

Mayan use Edit

The Mayans, (in Guatemala), by contrast, do leave some surviving writings about cacao which confirm the identification of the drink with the gods. The Dresden Codex specifies that it is the food of the rain deity Kon, the Madrid Codex that gods shed their blood on the cacao pods as part of its production. [12] The Maya people gathered once a year to give thanks to the god Ek Chuah who they saw as the Cacao god. [13] The consumption of the chocolate drink is also depicted on pre-Hispanic vases. The Maya seasoned their chocolate by mixing the roasted cacao seed paste into a drink with water, chile peppers and cornmeal, transferring the mixture repeatedly between pots until the top was covered with a thick foam. [2]

There were many uses for cacao among the Maya. It was used in official ceremonies and religious rituals, at feasts and festivals, as funerary offerings, as tribute, and for medicinal purposes. Both cacao itself and vessels and instruments used for the preparation and serving of cacao were used for important gifts and tribute. [14] Cacao beans were used as currency, to buy anything from avocados to turkeys to sex. A rabbit, for example, was worth ten cacao beans, (called “almonds” by the early sixteenth-century chronicler Francisco Oviedo y Valdés), a slave about a hundred, and the services of a prostitute, eight to ten “according to how they agree,”. [15] The beans were also used in betrothal and marriage ceremonies among the Maya, especially among the upper classes.

“The form of the marriage is: the bride gives the bridegroom a small stool painted in colors, and also gives him five grains of cacao, and says to him “These I give thee as a sign that I accept thee as my husband.” And he also gives her some new skirts and another five grains of cacao, saying the same thing.” [16]

Maya preparation of cacao started with cutting open cacao pods to expose the beans and the fleshy pulp. The beans were left out to ferment for a few days. In some cases, the beans were also roasted over an open fire in order to add a smoky flavor to it. The beans then had their husks removed and were ground into a paste. Since sweeteners were rarely used by Maya, they flavored their cacao paste with additives like flowers, vanilla pods, and chilies. The vessel used to serve this chocolate liquid was stubbier by nature to help froth the liquid better, which was very important to the Maya. The vessels also tended to be decorated in intricate designs and patterns, which tended to only be accessible by the rich. [11]

Aztec use Edit

By 1400, the Aztec Empire took over a sizable part of Mesoamerica. They were not able to grow cacao themselves, but were forced to import it. [2] All of the areas that were conquered by the Aztecs that grew cacao beans were ordered to pay them as a tax, or as the Aztecs called it, a "tribute". The cacao bean became a form of currency. The Spanish conquistadors left records of the value of the cacao bean, noting for instance that 100 beans could purchase a canoe filled with freshwater or a turkey hen. [6] [17] The Aztecs associated cacao with the god Quetzalcoatl, who they believed had been condemned by the other gods for sharing chocolate with humans. [2] Unlike the Maya of Yucatán, the Aztecs drank chocolate cold. It was consumed for a variety of purposes, as an aphrodisiac or as a treat for men after banquets, and it was also included in the rations of Aztec soldiers. [18]

Early history Edit

Until the 16th century, the cacao tree was wholly unknown to Europeans. [2]

Christopher Columbus encountered the cacao bean on his fourth mission to the Americas on August 15, 1502, when he and his crew seized a large native canoe that proved to contain among other goods for trade, cacao beans. [19] His son Ferdinand commented that the natives greatly valued the beans, which he termed almonds, "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." [19] But while Columbus took cacao beans with him back to Spain, [19] it made no impact until Spanish friars introduced chocolate to the Spanish court. [2]

Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés may have been the first European to encounter chocolate when he observed it in the court of Montezuma in 1519. [20] In 1568, Bernal Díaz, who accompanied Cortés in the conquest of Mexico, wrote of this encounter which he witnessed:

From time to time they served him [Montezuma] in cups of pure gold a certain drink made from cacao. It was said that it gave one power over women, but this I never saw. I did see them bring in more than fifty large pitchers of cacao with froth in it, and he drank some of it, the women serving with great reverence. [21]

José de Acosta, a Spanish Jesuit missionary who lived in Peru and then Mexico in the later 16th century, described its use more generally:

Loathsome to such as are not acquainted with it, having a scum or froth that is very unpleasant taste. Yet it is a drink very much esteemed among the Indians, wherewith they feast noble men who pass through their country. The Spaniards, both men and women that are accustomed to the country are very greedy of this chocolate. They say they make diverse sorts of it, some hot, some cold, and some temperate, and put therein much of that "chili" yea, they make paste thereof, the which they say is good for the stomach and against the catarrh.

After the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, chocolate was imported to Europe. In the beginning, Spaniards would use it as a medicine to treat illnesses such as abdominal pain because it had a bitterness to it. Once sweetened, it transformed. [22] It quickly became a court favorite. It was still served as a beverage, but the addition of sugar or honey counteracted the natural bitterness. [6] The Spaniards initially intended to recreate the original taste of the Mesoamerican chocolate by adding similar spices, but this habit had faded away by the end of the eighteenth century. [23] Within about a hundred years, chocolate established a foothold throughout Europe. [2]

According to the authority on the Spanish language, the Royal Spanish Academy, the Spanish word "chocolate" is derived from the Nahuatl word "xocolatl" (pronounced Nahuatl pronunciation: [ ʃoˈkolaːtɬ] ), which is made up from the words "xococ" meaning sour or bitter, and "atl" meaning water or drink. [24] However, as William Bright noted [25] the word "chocolatl" doesn't occur in central Mexican colonial sources making this an unlikely derivation. Santamaria [26] gives a derivation from the Yucatec Maya word "chokol" meaning hot, and the Nahuatl "atl" meaning water. More recently Dakin and Wichman derive it from another Nahuatl term, "chicolatl" from Eastern Nahuatl meaning "beaten drink". [27] They derive this term from the word for the frothing stick, "chicoli". The word xocoatl means beverage of the maize. [28] The words "cacaua atl" mean drink of cacao. [28] The word "xocolatl" does not appear in Molina's dictionary, Vocabulario en Lengua Castellana y Mexicana y Mexicana y Castellana. [28]

Expansion Edit

The new craze for chocolate brought with it a thriving slave market, as between the early 17th and late 19th centuries the laborious and slow processing of the cacao bean was manual. [2] Cacao plantations spread, as the English, Dutch, and French colonized and planted. With the depletion of Mesoamerican workers, largely to disease, cocoa beans production was often the work of poor wage laborers and enslaved Africans.

1729 - The first mechanic cocoa grinder was invented in Bristol, UK. Walter Churchman petitions king of England for patent and sole use of an invention for the “expeditious, fine and clean making of chocolate by an engine.” The patent was granted by His Majesty King George II to Walter Churchman for a water engine used to make chocolate. Churchman probably used water-powered edge runners for preparing cacao beans by crushing on a far larger scale than previously. [29] The patent for a chocolate refining process was later bought by J. S. Fry & Sons in 1761. [30]

Wind-powered and horse-drawn mills were used to speed production, augmenting human labor. Heating the working areas of the table-mill, an innovation that emerged in France in 1732, also assisted in extraction. [31] The Chocolaterie Lombart, created in 1760, claimed to be the first chocolate company in France, ten years before Pelletier et Pelletier. [32]

New processes that speed the production of chocolate emerged early in the Industrial Revolution. In 1815, Dutch chemist Coenraad van Houten introduced alkaline salts to chocolate, which reduced its bitterness. [2] A few years thereafter, in 1828, he created a press to remove about half the natural fat (cacao butter) from chocolate liquor, which made chocolate both cheaper to produce and more consistent in quality. This innovation introduced the modern era of chocolate. [19] Known as "Dutch cocoa", this machine-pressed chocolate was instrumental in the transformation of chocolate to its solid form when in 1847 Joseph Fry learned to make chocolate moldable by adding back melted cacao butter. [6] Milk had sometimes been used as an addition to chocolate beverages since the mid-17th century, but in 1875 Daniel Peter invented milk chocolate by mixing a powdered milk developed by Henri Nestlé with the liquor. [2] [19] In 1879, the texture and taste of chocolate was further improved when Rodolphe Lindt invented the conching machine. [33]

Lindt & Sprüngli AG, a Swiss-based concern with global reach, had its start in 1845 as the Sprüngli family confectionery shop in Zurich that added a solid-chocolate factory the same year the process for making solid chocolate was developed and later bought Lindt's factory. Besides Nestlé, several chocolate companies had their start in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Cadbury was manufacturing boxed chocolates in England by 1868. [2] In 1893, Milton S. Hershey purchased chocolate processing equipment at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago and soon began the career of Hershey's chocolates with chocolate-coated caramels.

Due to improvements in machines, chocolate underwent a transformation from a primarily a drink to food, and different types of chocolate began to emerge. At the same time, the price of chocolate began to drop dramatically in the 1890s and 1900s as the production of chocolate began to shift away from the New World to Asia and Africa. Therefore, chocolate could be purchased by the middle class. [34] In 1900–1907, Cadbury's fell into a scandal due to their reliance on West African slave plantations. [35]

Although it was men leading the charge towards mass production of chocolate for everyday people, advertisements also targeted women, who “were charged with providing wholesome cocoa for respectable consumption within the family,”. [36] Women were also targeted by advertising campaigns within courtship rituals, [36] though most early advertising was aimed more at housewives and mothers than at single women.

In 1947 the increase of the price of chocolate candy bars in Canada resulted in the country-wide youth protests.

Roughly two-thirds of the world's cocoa is produced in Western Africa, with Ivory Coast being the largest source, producing a total crop of 1,448,992 tonnes. [37] Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon are other West African countries among the top 5 cocoa-producing countries in the world. Like many food industry producers, individual cocoa farmers are at the mercy of volatile world markets. The price can vary from between £500 ($945) and £3,000 ($5,672) per ton in the space of just a few years. [ citation needed ] While investors trading in cocoa can dump shares at will, individual cocoa farmers can not ramp up production and abandon trees at anywhere near that pace.

Only three to four percent of "cocoa futures" contracts traded in the cocoa markets ever end up in the physical delivery of cocoa. Every year seven to nine times more cocoa is bought and sold on the exchange than exists.

A Brief History of Chocolate

When most of us hear the word chocolate, we picture a bar, a box of bonbons, or a bunny. The verb that comes to mind is probably "eat," not "drink," and the most apt adjective would seem to be "sweet." But for about 90 percent of chocolate's long history, it was strictly a beverage, and sugar didn't have anything to do with it.

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The True History of Chocolate

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"I often call chocolate the best-known food that nobody knows anything about," said Alexandra Leaf, a self-described "chocolate educator" who runs a business called Chocolate Tours of New York City.

The terminology can be a little confusing, but most experts these days use the term "cacao" to refer to the plant or its beans before processing, while the term "chocolate" refers to anything made from the beans, she explained. "Cocoa" generally refers to chocolate in a powdered form, although it can also be a British form of "cacao."

Etymologists trace the origin of the word "chocolate" to the Aztec word "xocoatl," which referred to a bitter drink brewed from cacao beans. The Latin name for the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, means "food of the gods."

Many modern historians have estimated that chocolate has been around for about 2000 years, but recent research suggests that it may be even older.

In the book The True History of Chocolate, authors Sophie and Michael Coe make a case that the earliest linguistic evidence of chocolate consumption stretches back three or even four millennia, to pre-Columbian cultures of Mesoamerica such as the Olmec.

Last November, anthropologists from the University of Pennsylvania announced the discovery of cacao residue on pottery excavated in Honduras that could date back as far as 1400 B.C.E. It appears that the sweet pulp of the cacao fruit, which surrounds the beans, was fermented into an alcoholic beverage of the time.

"Who would have thought, looking at this, that you can eat it?" said Richard Hetzler, executive chef of the café at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, as he displayed a fresh cacao pod during a recent chocolate-making demonstration. "You would have to be pretty hungry, and pretty creative!"

It's hard to pin down exactly when chocolate was born, but it's clear that it was cherished from the start. For several centuries in pre-modern Latin America, cacao beans were considered valuable enough to use as currency. One bean could be traded for a tamale, while 100 beans could purchase a good turkey hen, according to a 16th-century Aztec document.

Aztec hot chocolate (© Brian Hagiwara Studio, Inc./the food passionates/Corbis) The inside of a cacao pod (© the food passionates/Corbis) Cacao beans (© SAMSUL SAID/Reuters/Corbis) Woman with pile of cacao (© Jacob J. Gayer/National Geographic Society/Corbis) Stone detail: Ek Ahau, the Maya Deity of War, trade and cocoa, standing next to a cacao tree. Cacao had a large importance in Mayan Culture and was used as food, money, medicine, and religious offerings (© Enrique Perez Huerta/Demotix/Corbis ) Cacao beans and pods (© Owen Franken/Corbis) Workers harvesting cacao pods (© Underwood and Underwood/National Geographic Society/Corbis) Colorful cacao pods (© 167/Kelley Miller/Ocean/Corbis)

Both the Mayans and Aztecs believed the cacao bean had magical, or even divine, properties, suitable for use in the most sacred rituals of birth, marriage and death. According to Chloe Doutre-Roussel's book The Chocolate Connoisseur, Aztec sacrifice victims who felt too melancholy to join in ritual dancing before their death were often given a gourd of chocolate (tinged with the blood of previous victims) to cheer them up.

Sweetened chocolate didn't appear until Europeans discovered the Americas and sampled the native cuisine. Legend has it that the Aztec king Montezuma welcomed the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes with a banquet that included drinking chocolate, having tragically mistaken him for a reincarnated deity instead of a conquering invader. Chocolate didn't suit the foreigners' tastebuds at first –one described it in his writings as "a bitter drink for pigs" – but once mixed with honey or cane sugar, it quickly became popular throughout Spain.

By the 17th century, chocolate was a fashionable drink throughout Europe, believed to have nutritious, medicinal and even aphrodisiac properties (it's rumored that Casanova was especially fond of the stuff).  But it remained largely a privilege of the rich until the invention of the steam engine made mass production possible in the late 1700s.

In 1828, a Dutch chemist found a way to make powdered chocolate by removing about half the natural fat (cacao butter) from chocolate liquor, pulverizing what remained and treating the mixture with alkaline salts to cut the bitter taste. His product became known as "Dutch cocoa," and it soon led to the creation of solid chocolate.

The creation of the first modern chocolate bar is credited to Joseph Fry, who in 1847 discovered that he could make a moldable chocolate paste by adding melted cacao butter back into Dutch cocoa.

By 1868, a little company called Cadbury was marketing boxes of chocolate candies in England. Milk chocolate hit the market a few years later, pioneered by another name that may ring a bell – Nestle.

In America, chocolate was so valued during the Revolutionary War that it was included in soldiers' rations and used in lieu of wages. While most of us probably wouldn't settle for a chocolate paycheck these days, statistics show that the humble cacao bean is still a powerful economic force. Chocolate manufacturing is a more than 4-billion-dollar industry in the United States, and the average American eats at least half a pound of the stuff per month.

In the 20th century, the word "chocolate" expanded to include a range of affordable treats with more sugar and additives than actual cacao in them, often made from the hardiest but least flavorful of the bean varieties (forastero). 

But more recently, there's been a "chocolate revolution," Leaf said, marked by an increasing interest in high-quality, handmade chocolates and sustainable, effective cacao farming and harvesting methods. Major corporations like Hershey's have expanded their artisanal chocolate lines by purchasing smaller producers known for premium chocolates, such as Scharffen Berger and Dagoba, while independent chocolatiers continue to flourish as well.

"I see more and more American artisans doing incredible things with chocolate," Leaf said. "Although, I admit that I tend to look at the world through cocoa-tinted glasses."

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