The history of Chocolate. Ancient cultures of Mesoamerica ground cacao beans to make a bitter drink that was used in ceremonies and everyday life.
Chocolate is enjoyed and celebrated in many parts of the world as a sweet treat and a romantic gift. Chocolate’s unique taste and its association with dynamic and universally desired qualities such as love and vitality, has fascinated us for centuries. The history of chocolate begins in the tropical rainforest of Mesoamerica, when ancient cultures of the region ground cacao beans to make a bitter drink that was used in ceremonies and everyday life.
Throughout its history, chocolate has been consumed by people in one form or another. Olmec historians have found vessels with chocolate residue pre-dating this civilization from Veracruz. Mayan glyphs and chocolate residue found in cups indicate that they were consuming chocolate as early as the year 250. Mayan territory extended over southern Mexico and parts of some Central American countries. The Mayan had an extensive trade network, which allowed Mayans living in cool, dry areas to enjoy the tropically grown cocoa bean. Mayan paintings show kings, gods and animals drinking chocolate. Drinking vessels were specially labeled with a specific glyph designated for the word chocolate. Some of these vessels were elaborately decorated; suggesting that chocolate was a favorite beverage among the Mayan.
Mayans probably processed chocolate by first fermenting the cacao pods, and then drying and roasting the beans. They would then remove the shells and grind the shelled beans into a paste, then mix it with water, chili peppers, cornmeal or other ingredients. Mesoamericans didn’t have sugar, but they may have used other available ingredients such as honey and vanilla to sweeten the drink.
By the 13th century, the Aztecs controlled a vast area of Mexico that extended into the dry central highlands, where the cacao bean does not grow. Aztecs imposed taxes on the people they conquered and included in their empire. The Mayans, who had been using cacao beans as a form of currency, were forced to offer cacao beans as tributes to Aztec rulers. As these beans arrived to the empire from the distant moist lowlands, they were a valuable item and only the ruling class could use them to make drinks. The famous Aztec ruler Moctezuma is said to have drank fifty cups of Chocolate a day. All other classes used the beans for money.
The chocolate drink had a number of other purposes in Mesoamerica. It was used to treat cold and fever symptoms. It was also used in religious ceremonies and as offerings to the gods. Sometimes seeds from the annatto tree were mixed with the drink to give it a blood red color for religious purposes.
In the 16th century, the Spanish conquistadors noticed right away the importance of chocolate in Mesoamerican culture. They took the beans back to Spain, where Astorga, Spain would be the European birthplace of chocolate. It is here where new recipes for the drink developed including the addition of sugar as well as new recipes to change the texture. It should be noted that as recently as 1914 there were 49 chocolate manufacturers around the city. The drink’s popularity quickly spread all over Europe and other countries would take the lead in its manufacture and fame. Most notably today the most famous chocolate comes from Switzerland, Belgium, the United States, Mexico and Spain.
From its noble origins of antiquity to its modern global appeal, chocolate lovers have been discovering new ways to indulge on the treat. One thing has always remained the same however; the high value placed on the product and its special flavor.