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History of Chocolate

Chocolate Resources - History of Chocolate
Sunday, 05 October 2008 21:35

The source of chocolate, the seeds of the cacao tree, have figured prominently in many different cultures, first in prehistoric Central America, then in Mayan and Aztec civilization, then around the world, spread by the great colonial powers. Chocolate lovers might swear that the cacao tree's major contribution has been gastronomic, but it has also played an important part in religious, medical, economic, and social history

The chocolate tree, Theobroma cacao, evolved in the tropical rain forests of South America's Amazon region. Evidence of cacao usage dates back as far as 1000 BC, when wild forms of the tree were cultivated by Mesoamerican Indians in small, diversified gardens in what are now Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras, as well as the Yucatan peninsula. Much later, in the 15th and 16th centuries, the Aztecs cultivated cacao in the central highlands of Mexico. 
The first known picture of a chocolate drink being made, which dates from 750 AD, shows the liquid being poured from one vessel to another to raise foam. The foam was considered the choicest part of the drink. In pre-Conquest Mesoamerica, chocolate took the form of a vast array of drinks, porridges, and powders flavored in many ways. Cacao seeds were ground with water, chili peppers, black pepper and other spices, vanilla, and cornmeal to make a bitter drink. 
Preparing these beverages was an elaborate and labor-intensive process.The drinks played an important role in Mayan rituals, and were used in betrothal and marriage ceremonies. One menu served a Mayan ruler includes "green cacao pods, honeyed chocolate, flowered chocolate flavored with green vanilla, bright red chocolate, huitztecolli flower-flavored chocolate, flower-colored chocolate, black chocolate, and white chocolate." Modern chocolate lovers' options seem dull by comparison! 
Cacao beans also served as cash in Mesoamerica. Only once a bean was too worn to serve as currency was it used for making chocolate. A 16th-century chronicler, Francisco Oviedo y Valdés, recorded that a rabbit was worth about ten of these "almonds," a slave about a hundred, and the services of a prostitute between eight and ten, "according to how they agree."

Massive quantities of cacao beans were held in the royal storehouses, the cacao warehouses of the Aztec emperor Motecuhzoma (Americanized as the Montezuma of popular history) holding some 960 million beans. (All transactions in pre-conquest Mesoamerica, and long thereafter, were measured in terms of numbers rather than in weight or bulk.) Two thousand containers of chocolate beverage, with foam, went to Motecuhzoma's guard alone. In 1519, Cortez watched as the emperor Motecuhzoma was offered fifty golden bowls of chocolate. Chocolate was reserved as a beverage for the elite, served at the end of a meal, along with smoking tubes of tobacco, to royalty, nobility, long-distance merchants and warriors.

 The first European to encounter cacao was Columbus, who came across a great Mayan trading canoe loaded with beans on his fourth and final voyage. The Spaniards invaded the Yucatan beginning in 1517, and Mexico in 1519, and took little time to grasp the monetary value of the cacao beans, which served as small currency through the volonial period. They were slower to appreciate its gastronomic potential, finding the cold, bitter, unsweetened beverage fairly nasty. But gradually, as Aztec foods and customs became more familiar, the chocolate drink was adopted by the invaders. 
One story credits Dominican friars, who took a delegation of Mayan nobles to visit Prince Philip in Spain in 1544, with introducing chocolate to Europe.

 True or not, through the 16th century there was much trade and travel between Spain and its New World possessions, and chocolate was established in the Spanish court during the first half of the 17th century, where it was served hot, with honey and sugar. 
Chocolate was probably disseminated through the rest of Europe via the network of monasteries and convents that by then linked Europe with Latin America. Members of the Society of Jesuits, the powerful religious order, were avid chocolate drinkers and cacao traders as well. In France, the beverage was popularized by the powerful Cardinal Mazarin, and when Louis XIV married the chocolate-loving Infanta Maria Theresa of Spain in 1615, she established a custom that spread rapidly among the French aristocracy
The first Englishmen to encounter cacao were pirates who preyed on Spanish ships during the latter half of the 16th century. They found no use for it, even burning a few shipments. But a hundred years later the English took up all three of the great alkaloid-bearing drinks--tea, coffee, and chocolate. Cromwell, the Lord Protector of England, took the island of Jamaica from the Spaniards in 1655. Cacao was already flourishing there, and chocolate was soon offered for sale as "an excellent West India drink." Unlike in France, where chocolate was a state monopoly available only to the aristocracy, chocolate in England was available to anyone who could afford it. Served in coffeehouses, it cost more than coffee, but less than tea. 
The beverage probably made its way back to the New World soon afterward, carried by British officials to their colonies in North America.

Chocolate never really caught on in the Near East and Central Asia, the one exception being the Philippines, which had been conquered by the Spanish in 1543. As Europe's chocolate craze doubled demand, the Indian population of Mesoamerica, was being decimated by disease and mistreatment at the hands of the Spaniards. By the end of the 17th century, as Cosimo III de Medici sipped his perfumed chocolate, only 10 percent of the native Indian populace had survived. To meet the demand for plantation labor, slaves were imported from Africa to farm cacao, generally of a lower quality, in Ecuador, Venezuela, Paraguay, and Brazil. 
In theory, this profitable trade was controlled by the Spanish Crown, but the Dutch, English, and French were active contrabandistas (smugglers), with the willing cooperation of Venezuelan planters and merchants in particular.

The Dutch established a naval base on Curaçao, an island off the coast of Venezuela, and an estimated twenty thousand slaves a year--and sometimes as many as one hundred thousand--passed through that port each year between 1650 and 1750. Dependent on these hundreds of thousands of slaves, cultivation was very successful in the West Indies under French dominion. 
West Africa, the land of origin of most of those slaves, is now by far the world's largest producer of cacao. The dispersal of cacao farming in the second half of the 19th century reflects the global reach of European imperialism and the development of an embryonic system of world commerce. It also shows the value of cacao as pan-tropical cash crop. In 1824, the Portuguese planted cuttings from Brazil in the Gulf of Guinea, west of Gabon, and a little later in Equatorial Guinea.

From those colonies, Theobroma cacao traveled on through the Gold Coast (present day Ghana), Nigeria, and by 1905 to the Ivory Coast. The Germans planted it in Cameroon towards the end of the century. As of today, plantations in Africa are the source of 68 percent of the world's cacao, while Mexico produces only 1.5 percent. The British planted cacao in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), the Dutch in their East Indian colonies (Java and Sumatra), and the Spanish in the Philippines as noted. 
After twenty-eight centuries as a drink for the elite, chocolate was transformed by the French and the Industrial Revolution into a foodstuff for the masses. The first record of the use of power machinery in chocolate production can be traced to Massachusetts in the mid-18th century. In 1828 the Dutchman C. J. van Hooten invented cocoa powder by pressing all the cocoa butter out of chocolate.

He added alkali to counteract the acidity, giving the cocoa a smoother flavor. Easier to digest and to mix with other ingredients, cocoa made chocolate ready for mass production. And when the Victorian company J. S. Fry & Sons found a way to mix a blend of cocoa powder and sugar with melted cacao butter, the chocolate bar was born. It was two Swiss men, Henri Nestlé and Daniel Peter, who invented milk chocolate in 1879 by adding powdered milk. Milton Snavely Hershey, the aptly nicknamed "Henry Ford of Chocolate Makers," brought mass production to this venerable industry, drawing on eight thousand acres (32,376,000 square meters) of dairy farms, 227 liters (60,000 gallons) of "fresh, creamy milk from grass-fed Holsteins," according to a 1926 company pamphlet, and Hershey's own sugar mill operation in Cuba


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