The History of Chocolate

Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is just one of the few literary tributes to that popular sweet. No one who reads it can avoid craving chocolate, especially when reading of hungry Charlie Bucket sniffing the aroma from the factory on the way to and from school. Movies like Chocolat (Johnny Depp) and every movie version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory have the same result.

However, chocolate as the sweetmeat, with all its various tastes and flavors, is a rather recent development. New discoveries are still being made about chocolate, who used it over history, how it was used, and how old the use of chocolate is.

How Old Is Chocolate?

The latest discoveries show chocolate was probably used as early as 1,500 B.C. While anthropologists believed the earliest forms of chocolate were drinks, they have also discovered evidence that chocolate may have been eaten as garnishing or bases for food. The reason cacao beans were ever ground and eaten, however, is not yet known.

Where Does the Word “Chocolate” Come From?

Xocoatl is the original term for what we know as ‘chocolate.’ That word was used, specifically, for the Aztec drink brewed from cacao beans. There is no sure knowledge about the meaning of the word. The Mayan term for the beans was cacau, which we now know as cacao and its corrupted form, cocoa.

Chocolate in Mayan Culture

What we know today about how to prepare cacao beans for use in chocolate came from the Mayans. In fact, their methods of growing, picking, drying, grinding, and roasting the beans is practically unchanged even today. The only difference global popularity has made was to make mass production easier.

Mayans loved chocolate; it was an integral part of their culture. It was a drink for elites, but was also used for a number of ceremonies and rituals. The marriage ceremony was one, where husband and wife would drink the cacau much the same way wine is drank in modern ceremonies. Baptism of children was also done with chocolate.

Chocolate in Aztec Culture

Chocolate in Aztec Culture was very much the same as in Mayan culture. It was also used in their rituals and ceremonies, namely in marriage and baptism. Cacao beans were ground and used in bitter drinks, and they were also used as currency. Cacao also had a divinity of its own, seen as a bridge between man and the gods. Therefore, cacao drinks were believed to give some kind of supernatural gifting to those who drank them.

How Did Chocolate Reach Europe?

Chocolate found its way into Europe through conquerors and traders. According to legend, both Christopher Columbus and Hernando Cortez brought cacao beans to Europe from the Americas. They could not help but note the significance of the bean, because cacao was being used as currency.

Cacao was considered too bitter for anything but fashionable consumption, although some found a taste for the earliest forms. It took a while for cacao to become the soft, pasty consistency we know today. Sugar, and sometimes honey, was used in an attempt to lower the bitterness of the chocolate.

Eventually, a tiny company named Nestle discovered the mixture that would catapult the cacao bean into fame: cacao paste and milk. The taste produced by this recipe pioneered the modern milk chocolate which is the most common kind today. After this, the use of chocolate spread like wildfire over Europe and, later, to North America.

The History of Chocolate: A History of Potency

Today, we cannot name what made the old-time cacao mixtures so attractive to the Mayan and Aztec cultures. After all, what they developed at the time was bitter, and of one taste. However, the fact that the cacao products were well-loved is undeniable. This chocolate base has literally proved itself potent for several millennia.

Want to read about more awesome history? Check out the University of Memphis History Department for more historical awesomeness. A magical place where we help students get online masters in history.

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The History of Chocolate