Few foods evoke all the senses like chocolate. The taste, the sight, the smell and the memories. It is by far the favourite food of North Americans yet, Chocolate in a solid form has been around for less than two centuries.
Chocolate (theobroma) is Greek for “food of the gods”, and was probably first used by the Olmec people of Mexico around 400 BC.. The Mayans likely began cultivating the cocoa beans around 250 A.D. For the Aztecs, consuming “cacahuatl” was a privilege for the rulers and gods only. Legend has it that Montezuma drank 50 cups of “xocolatl per day, and fathered children until very elderly. According to The Chocolate Bible, cocao was served as a thick concoction, flavored with chilies, cornmeal, achiote and hallucinogenic mushrooms. However, when served to dignitaries and princes they sometimes added aromatic spices, vanilla, aniseed and bees honey. It was also used as a form of currency to barter for goods and services.
In 1528,The Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes explorer who traveled originally with Christopher Columbus,brought the cacao bean from Central America, where it was used as currency. Literally a case of growing money on trees! The clever Spanish added sugar, vanilla and water to the liquid mixture, and changed the Mexican concoction to a more pleasing drink for their taste buds. The Spanish planted the Cacoa trees in its new colonies and managed to keep this treasured secret from the rest of Europe for nearly 100 years where it was a luxury. A handful of Mayans were brought to Spain to share the preparation instruction with the convents and Monasteries in Spain, and the cocoa beans was processed in secret and consumed in a liquid form by the Royal Court and privileged classes where it was highly prized for it medicinal and stimulating properties.
Chocolate beverage soon captivated Europe, spreading to Flanders and the Netherlands (which were Spanish territories) and imported by an Italian merchant to Italy in 1606. It reached France, when the young Spanish princess Infanta Anne was married to Louise X111 of France. She had a passion for chocolate. She brought with her an army of servants who were skilled at preparing chocolate, and it made its debut at the wedding ceremony. A fashion for this beverage was started when the king granted in 1659 “the exclusive privilege of making, selling and serving a certain composition known as chocolate” available to David Chaillou’s Chocolate Boutique. In London, a French establishment offered an excellent West Indian drink called chocolate and soon a large number of chocolate-houses appeared. Chocolate production was archaic using all manual labor to grind the cocoa beans as they did in Mexico. The change to mechanization was slow. In 1732 a grinder was introduced in France and in 1778 a hydraulic grinding machine appeared in Great Britain. Competition grew and new commercial techniques evolved.
We have the new world to thank for the chocolate as we know it today. Namely the English, Swiss, Dutch and French. The first breakthrough to the solid chocolate as we know it today came in Holland In 1828 a Dutch chemist named Van Houten invented a press to extract cocoa butter from the mass of roasted ground cocoa beans. He also discovered that by “alkalizing” cocoa (referred to Dutch processed cocoa powder) this produced a milder tasting cocoa with a darker color. Around that same time another technical advance appeared in Great Britain, in the form of a hydraulic press. When condensed milk was developed in 1875, a Swiss by the name of Daniel Peter successfully united milk and chocolate and created a milk chocolate which the Swiss are famous for.
A sweet chocolate confection was devised in Britain by Cadbury’s reflecting the national taste where sugar was inexpensive due to the many sugar producing mills in the British West Indies. In Belgium Jean Neuhaus developed the hard chocolate shell, which marked the end of the restrictions of centers being solid, and allowed for a liquid center like caramels, light ganache and pralines. The Belgians have been so successful with this creamy whipped filling that the term “praline” has become synonymous with Belgian chocolate. The later part of the 19th century found rapid change with the mechanization of chocolate making, the mass production of chocolate and availability to the masses.
Although cacoa trees is thought to have originated in the Amazon basin, growing under the protective canopy of the rain forest, today it is grown in the equatorial climates around the world, such as South and Central America, the Caribbean, West Africa, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and Hawaii.