It is in the tropical rainforests of Central America that the flavoursome appeal of the cacao tree was discovered over 2000 years ago. The high rain in the tropical coupled with high temperature and humidity all year round favoured the cultivation of the cacao plant. This tree produces pods whose seed are processed into chocolate. All through this time the tasty chocolate has maintained a universal appeal, growing from a local beverage in the Mesoamerican into global saccharine endeared by many cultures all over. The Mayan culture by the year 300 AD, had viewed the cocoa pods to epitomise life and fertility and it could be seen from their pictures sculptures in temples and palaces showing the cocoa pod pictures.
The Mayan civilization in Southern Mexico and Central America believed that the cacao tree was divine. To the Mayans the cacao was the God Food as the name suggested in the language and this was accentuated in the modern generic Latin name for the cacao tree ‘Theobrama Cacao’ translating into ‘Foods Of Gods’. The Mayan territory expanded when the Mayans moved from Central America to the lower parts of South America, stretching from the Pacific coast of Guatemala to the Yucatan Peninsula where they cultivated the first ever known plantations of the cocoa. This dates back to around 600 AD. The Cacao was however secularised by the European explorers and this left the Mayans pounding the roasted cocoa beans mixing it with maize and Capsicum peppers and fermenting the mixture before brewing a bitter, sweet and spicy drink.
By 1200 AD, the Aztecs in Central America associated the cocoa plant to Quetzalcoatl, one of their god. The Aztec brewed a thick, unsweetened, cold drink which was believed to have healthy benefits. They made use of various spices to flavour the drink. The drink, also referred then Xocolatl, as was associated with power and wisdom as well as having nutritious and aphrodisiac intrinsic worth. This belief led Montezuma , the Aztecs Emperor, was reported to indulge into the drink from a golden goblet. The Aztecs however had to acquire the cocoa beans through trade owing to the fact that they lived in arid regions in the north with higher altitudes and the climate was unfavourable to the cultivation of the Cacao tree. Interesting to note is that the Aztecs placed more value to the cocoa drink than silver and gold.
From here we can trace the history of chocolate to Europe. Prior to that however, Columbus in 1492 had presented a number of wonderful gifts to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella during his return from America. Among these gifts were dark brown beans believed to be the cocoa beans. The King and the Queen did not accord them lot of importance though. During Columbus fourth voyage to America in 1502 in his search for a route to India, he found himself in what is present day Nicaragua. It is here that Columbus learnt of cocoa beans being used to make a drink besides it being used as a form of currency. By the year 1513 the cocoa beans was used to trade for a slave. By this time the cocoa drink had changed its name to Chocolatl from Xocoatl, the Mayan word.
Chocolate (Chocolatl by then) was introduced to Europe by Hernando Cortez. Cortez had conquered a part of Mexico in 1519 and had envisioned making golden doubloons from the beans, being fascinated by the beans value although he was disgusted by the bitter spicy beverage of the Aztec. Later Cortez started a cocoa plantation in Spain and by the time he had packaged himself with better skills to brew the chocolate drink in a more pleasant flavour to appease the European from grounded roasted beans mixed with sugar and vanilla. Following this development the first factory of chocolate processing was opened in Spain. The Spanish exported the chocolate powder from which the European edition of chocolate drink was made. In a short time later, the cocoa a drink of choice all over Europe especially in Italy, France, Germany and Netherlands. The Cocoa beverage made its way to England in 1520.
Interesting in the history of chocolate is its return to America. When England established colonies in North America the English colonialist brought with them the chocolate to their colonies including USA and Canada. The Quakers too had a hand in the history of chocolate. They are said to have monopolised the chocolate processing in the English speaking world. Actually most chocolate products bear the Quakers’ names such as Cadbury, Rowntree and Fry.
By mid 1600′s, bakers in England began to use cocoa powder when making cakes. The breakthrough of having chocolate products in solid came when Johannes Van Houten , the Dutch chemist, innovated a way to extracting fat ,commonly known as cocoa butter, from the roasted beans. In 1847 in Bristol England, Fry & Sons produced the first chocolate bar through mixing cocoa powder, cocoa butter and sugar. These are how the history of chocolate has evolved and led establishment of chocolate as we know it today.