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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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