A Brief History of Chocolate.


The origin of chocolate dates back almost 4000 years ago in Mesoamerica, the exact origin in the Americas is unknown, but archaeological evidence of ceramic vessels with residues from the preparation of cocoa beverages have been found at archaeological sites dating back to the Mokaya and Olmec Civilisations along the Orinoco river.

1000 BC – The Trees Earliest Known Name

“Kakawa,” came into use among the Olmec, the people of the Mexican Gulf Coast who built the first of the great Mesoamerican civilisations. It is likely that the Olmec were also already cultivating the tree.

100 AD – The Word “Cocoa”

The Maya adopted the word “cocoa” from the Olmec and it is also presumed that they also were cultivating cocoa. Taking the Cocoa tree from the rainforest and growing it in their back gardens, harvesting, roasting, and then grounding the seeds into a paste. When mixed with water, chilli peppers, cornmeal, and other ingredients, this paste made a foamy, spicy chocolate drink.

600 AD- Chocolate a Status Symbol

Around this period, clay chocolate-drinking vessels begin to appear among the grave goods of the Maya nobility, strong evidence that chocolate consumption is an important status symbol.

Mayan Chocolate Drinking Cup

Mayan Chocolate Drinking Cup

1000 AD – The Value of Cocoa

The people of Central America used cocoa beans as currency as described in Mexican picture scripts, a basket with 8,000 beans represents the figure 8,000. Control of the main cocoa growing regions thus became a prime objective in the intermittent warfare that scars the next several centuries.

1200 – 1500 – The Chocolate Wars

By subjugating the Chimimeken and the Mayas, the Aztecs strengthened their supremacy in Mexico. The Aztec empire annexes the richest cocoa region in Mesoamerica, modern Chiapas (Mexico, Guatemala).The Aztecs refer to chocolate as “xocalatl” meaning warm or bitter liquid.

1502 – Europe Discovers Chocolate

First European contact with cocoa beans (fourth voyage of Christopher Columbus), yet its value was not realised.

1528 – Spanish Conquest of Chocolate

Spanish conquistador over Aztec, Hernando Cortez returns to Spain with cocoa beans, impressed by the fact that the Aztecs used them as currency. Hernando seeded plantations on Trinidad, Haiti, and the West African island of Bioko to grow “money” to trade with Aztecs for gold. Spain then had a virtual monopoly of the cocoa market for almost a century.

1544 – Mayans Go to Spain

A delegation of Kekchi (indigenous) Mayans from Guatemala visit the Spanish court of Prince Philip. Among the gifts are containers of the Mayan chocolate drink, the first recorded appearance of cocoa in the Old World. The Spanish began to add cane sugar and flavourings such as vanilla to their sweet cocoa beverages.

Cocoa Beans

Cocoa Beans

1560 – Cocoa in Asia

The earliest known introduction of cocoa into Asia; the tree is brought to the island of Sulawesi, in Indonesia, from Caracas, Venezuela.

1657 – A Meeting Place For High Society

The first chocolate house opens in London. The high price of cocoa limits access to only the most affluent classes. But as prices fall, establishments of this type multiply and even replace cafes, tearooms and pubs.

1671 – The Origins of the “Praline”

The chef of the Duke of Plessis-Praslin accidently spilt boiling melted sugar on ground almonds. Delighted by this, the Duke would give his name to the preparation. The praline is born: a mix based on almonds or shelled nuts, covered in caramel and then ground together. A few centuries later, Belgian chocolatiers improved on this recipe by coating this mix in a chocolate shell.

1674 – The First Cooking Chocolate

Whilst chocolate was still only a drink throughout Europe, English confectioners had the idea of adding cocoa to their cake mix. Chocolate is eaten for the first time.

1697 – From Brussels to Zurich

The future Belgium is already a reputed chocolate centre. It is on the Grand-Place in Brussels that the Mayor of Zurich discovers chocolate and decides to introduce it into Switzerland. An initiative that had delicious consequences…

1712 – Chocolate Returns to America

At the turn of the 18th century, chocolate comes back to North America. In little more than a decade, we see the flowering of advertising in Boston for imported chocolate from Europe.

1778 – Cacao Production in Indonesia Begins

The Dutch bring cocoa from the Philippines to Jakarta and Sumatra, where they establish a propagation facility that soon leads to major production in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia and Malaysia).

1828 – The Creation of Cocoa

Chocolate Revolutionises, the industrial revolution mechanizes chocolate making and brings the price within the public’s reach. Conrad Van Houten, a Dutch chemist, learns to press cocoa butter out of chocolate liquor. This allows the production of cocoa powder.

1948 – Eating Chocolate

The introduction of cocoa powder not only made creating chocolate drinks much easier, but also later made it possible to combine chocolate with sugar and then remix it with cocoa butter to create a solid. Others began to build on Van Houten’s success, experimenting to make new chocolate products. The English manufacturer J.S. Fry & Sons uses cocoa powder to create the first successful mass-produced chocolate bar.

1850 – 1860 – Cocoa Tree Enemy

The cocoa pod borer, a moth whose larvae infest the cocoa fruit, emerges in the Indonesian archipelago. Established plantations are ruined, and production is driven even further into previously undisturbed forest. The borer remains cocoa’s most feared insect pest.

Cocoa Tree

Cocoa Tree

1875 – The First Milk Chocolate Bar

Daniel Peter and Henri Nestle combine chocolate and milk powder and create the first milk chocolate bar. It is an instant commercial success.

1879 – Conching Chocolate

Rodolphe Lindt produces chocolate that melts on the tongue. He develops the “conching” process that gives chocolate a smoother texture. In the same year the first really successful introduction of cocoa to the African mainland – Gold Coast (now Ghana) – occurs.

1912 – Chocolate Creations

Jean Neuhaus invents a chocolate shell that could be filled with cream or nut pastes. The Belgium pralines are born. In Belgium, chocolate has been considered as a present from its earliest days – something to give or to receive. No wonder that pralines, one of the most popular presents, are a Belgian invention.


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