A Brief History of Chocolate
When most of us hear the word chocolate, we picture a bar, a box of bonbons, or a bunny. The verb that comes to mind is probably "eat," not "drink," and the most apt adjective would seem to be "sweet." But for about 90 percent of chocolate's long history, it was strictly a beverage, and sugar didn't have anything to do with it.
"I often call chocolate the best-known food that nobody knows anything about," said Alexandra Leaf, a self-described "chocolate educator" who runs a business called Chocolate Tours of New York City.
The terminology can be a little confusing, but most experts these days use the term "cacao" to refer to the plant or its beans before processing, while the term "chocolate" refers to anything made from the beans, she explained. "Cocoa" generally refers to chocolate in a powdered form, although it can also be a British form of "cacao."
Etymologists trace the origin of the word "chocolate" to the Aztec word "xocoatl," which referred to a bitter drink brewed from cacao beans. The Latin name for the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, means "food of the gods."
Many modern historians have estimated that chocolate has been around for about 2000 years, but recent research suggests that it may be even older.
How Chocolate Is Made
Chocolate is made from the fruit of cacao trees, which are native to Central and South America. The fruits are called pods and each pod contains around 40 cacao beans. The beans are dried and roasted to create cocoa beans.
It’s unclear exactly when cacao came on the scene or who invented it. According to Hayes Lavis, cultural arts curator for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, ancient Olmec pots and vessels from around 1500 B.C. were discovered with traces of theobromine, a stimulant compound found in chocolate and tea.
It’s thought the Olmecs used cacao to create a ceremonial drink. However, since they kept no written history, opinions differ on if they used cacao beans in their concoctions or just the pulp of the cacao pod.
Where does Chocolate come from?
From Latin America to the modern day, chocolate has come a long way to get to you. Intrigued?
It all started in Latin America
Chocolate’s 4,000-year history began in ancient Mesoamerica, present day Mexico. It’s here that the first cacao plants were found. The Olmec, one of the earliest civilizations in Latin America, were the first to turn the cacao plant into chocolate. They drank their chocolate during rituals and used it as medicine.
Centuries later, the Mayans praised chocolate as the drink of the gods. Mayan chocolate was a revered brew made of roasted and ground cacao seeds mixed with chillies, water and cornmeal. Mayans poured this mixture from one pot to another, creating a thick foamy beverage called “xocolatl”, meaning “bitter water.”
By the 15th century, the Aztecs used cocoa beans as currency. They believed that chocolate was a gift from the god Quetzalcoatl, and drank it as a refreshing beverage, an aphrodisiac, and even to prepare for war.
Chocolate reaches Spain
No one knows for sure when chocolate came to Spain. Legend has it that explorer Hernán Cortés brought chocolate to his homeland in 1528.
Cortés was believed to have discovered chocolate during an expedition to the Americas. In search of gold and riches, he instead found a cup of cocoa given to him by the Aztec emperor.
When Cortés returned home, he introduced cocoa seeds to the Spanish. Though still served as a drink, Spanish chocolate was mixed with sugar and honey to sweeten the naturally bitter taste.
Chocolate quickly became popular among the rich and wealthy. Even Catholic monks loved chocolate and drank it to aid religious practices.
Chocolate seduces Europe
The Spanish kept chocolate quiet for a very long time. It was nearly a century before the treat reached neighboring France, and then the rest of Europe.
In 1615, French King Louis XIII married Anne of Austria, daughter of Spanish King Phillip III. To celebrate the union, she brought samples of chocolate to the royal courts of France.
Following France’s lead, chocolate soon appeared in Britain at special “chocolate houses”. As the trend spread through Europe, many nations set up their own cacao plantations in countries along the equator.
A Chocolate Revolution
Chocolate remained immensely popular among European aristocracy. Royals and the upper classes consumed chocolate for its health benefits as well as its decadence.
Chocolate was still being produced by hand, which was a slow and laborious process. But with the Industrial Revolution around the corner, things were about to change.
In 1828, the invention of the chocolate press revolutionized chocolate making. This innovative device could squeeze cocoa butter from roasted cacao beans, leaving a fine cocoa powder behind.
The powder was then mixed with liquids and poured into a mold, where it solidified into an edible bar of chocolate.
And just like that, the modern era of chocolate was born.
Types of chocolate
Different forms and flavours of chocolate are produced by varying the quantities of the different ingredients. Other flavours can be obtained by varying the time and temperature when roasting the beans.
Milk chocolate is solid chocolate made with milk added in the form of powdered milk, liquid milk, or condensed milk. In 1875 a Swiss confectioner, Daniel Peter, developed the first solid milk-chocolate using condensed milk, which had been invented by Henri Nestlé, Peter's neighbour in Vevey. European Union regulations specify a minimum of 25% cocoa solids. However, an agreement was reached in 2000 that allowed an exception from these regulations in the UK, Ireland, and Malta, where "milk chocolate" can contain only 20% cocoa solids. Such chocolate is labelled as "family milk chocolate" elsewhere in the European Union. "Cadbury" is the leading brand of milk chocolate in the United Kingdom. The United States government requires a 10% concentration of chocolate liquor. The Hershey Company is the largest producer in the US. The actual Hershey process is a trade secret, but experts speculate that the milk is partially lipolyzed, producing butyric acid, and then the milk is pasteurized, stabilizing it for use. This process gives the product a particular taste, to which the US public has developed an affinity, to the extent that some rival manufacturers now add butyric acid to their milk chocolates
Dark chocolate, also known as "plain chocolate", is produced using a higher percentage of cocoa with all fat content coming from cocoa butter instead of milk, but there are also "dark milk" chocolates and many degrees of hybrids. Dark chocolate can be eaten as is, or used in cooking, for which thicker baking bars, usually with high cocoa percentages ranging from 70% to 100%, are sold. Baking chocolate containing no added sugar may be labeled "unsweetened chocolate".
- Semisweet and bittersweet are terms for dark chocolate traditionally used in the United States to indicate the amount of added sugar. Typically, bittersweet chocolate has less sugar than semisweet chocolate, but the two are interchangeable when baking. Both must contain a minimum of 35% cocoa solids; many brands now print on the package the percentage of cocoa in the chocolate.
- Couverture chocolate is a high-quality class of dark chocolate, containing a high percentage of cocoa solids and cocoa butter, and precisely tempered. Couverture chocolate is used by professionals for dipping, coating, molding and garnishing ('couverture' means 'covering' in French). Popular brands of couverture chocolate used by pastry chefs include: Valrhona, Lindt & Sprüngli, Scharffen Berger, Callebaut, and Guittard.
White chocolate is made of sugar, milk, and cocoa butter, without the cocoa solids. It is pale ivory colour, and lacks many of the compounds found in milk and dark chocolates. It remains solid at room temperature as that is below the melting point of cocoa butter.
Ruby chocolate is a type of chocolate created by Barry Callebaut. The variety was in development from 2004, and was released to the public in 2017. The chocolate type is made from the Ruby cocoa bean, resulting in a distinct red colour and a different flavour, described as "sweet yet sour".
Raw chocolate is chocolate that has not been processed, heated, or mixed with other ingredients. It is sold in chocolate-growing countries, and to a much lesser extent in other countries, often promoted as healthy
Compound chocolate is the name for a confection combining cocoa with other vegetable fat, usually tropical fats or hydrogenated fats, as a replacement for cocoa butter. It is often used for candy bar coatings. In many countries it may not legally be called "chocolate".
Modeling chocolate is a chocolate paste made by melting chocolate and combining it with corn syrup, glucose syrup, or golden syrup. It is primarily used by cakemakers and pâtisseries to add decoration to cakes and pastries.
Cocoa powder is the pulverized cocoa solids left after extracting almost all the cocoa butter. It is used to add chocolate flavour in baking, and for making chocolate drinks. There are two types of unsweetened cocoa powder: natural cocoa produced by the Broma process, with no additives, and Dutch process cocoa, which is additionally processed with alkali to neutralize its natural acidity. Natural cocoa is light in colour and somewhat, and is commonly used in recipes that also use baking soda; as baking soda is an alkali, combining it with natural cocoa creates a leavening action that allows the batter to rise during baking. Dutch cocoa is slightly milder in taste, with a darker colour. It is frequently used for chocolate drinks such as hot chocolate due to its ease in blending with liquids. However, Dutch processing destroys most of the flavonoids present in cocoa.