The History of Chocolate

The word “chocolate” is usually associated with something sweet, e.g. a delicious bar or a fragrant box.

However, the history of chocolate creation proves that it was served as a beverage for centuries and was anything but sweet. Lexicologists believe the word “chocolate” originates from the Aztec “xocoatl”, a word used to denote a cacao tree, which, translated from Latin, means “food of the gods”. Cacao mainly grows in the tropics, i.e. Africa, America, as well as Java and Ceylon Islands.

The Olmecs used it for special rituals as a high-value drink, passing down the recipe to Mayas as well, who worshipped cacao apart from consuming it. As mentioned above, the Aztek believed cacao was a gift from the gods and also used it as currency, valuing it more than gold. The Aztek chocolate was mainly accessible to the rich and noble class.

So how did chocolate reach Europe? According to the most wide-spread theory, in 1519, General Hernan Cortes, a Spanish conquistador, was treated to xocoatl upon his visit to Montezuma 2, Emperor of Mexico.  The drink was made from cacao beans, combined with vanilla, hot pepper and other spices, and was served cold in golden goblets. In 1527, Cortes returned to Spain with this priceless recipe. The drink grew popular, marking a new era in the history of chocolate. The chili pepper was gradually ousted from the recipe, to be replaced with honey. Later the Spanish started serving the drink hot, which made it even tastier.

Up to the 17th century, chocolate was a symbol of luxury, with ascribed medicinal and even aphrodisiac properties. Throughout this period, the drink was solely accessible to the rich.

In early 19th century, Dutch chemist Coenraad van Houten created a press to remove the cocoa butter from chocolate liquor, which resulted in cacao powder accumulating in the press, making chocolate both cheaper and easily soluble in water and milk. Via adding back melted cocoa butter into hot chocolate, the chemist was able to transform the chocolate to its solid form. Houten’s son, who patented his father’s innovation in 1828, introduced the cocoa alkalization process, thus neutralizing the microorganisms and considerably extending the product expiry date. As a result, the modern solid chocolate was born.

The first solid chocolate bar was produced at an English confectionery plant in 1847, whereas in 1875, Daniel Peter from Vevey, following a series of unsuccessful attempts, managed to add dry milk into chocolate recipe, creating milk chocolate.

Since the 20th century, chocolate has been consumed on a wide scale, giving rise to a variety of chocolate types that contain sugar and artificial additives.