How much do you really know about chocolate? It is one of the most well-loved and consumed products on the planet, but many people probably don’t think much about how it came to be.
The history of chocolate is long and storied. It has roots in ancient ceremony, was a staple through world wars, and has taken many turns in different forms to end up as we know it today. And now, it’s hard to imagine a world without it!
So let’s take a look at the history of chocolate —where it came from and make some predictions about where it’s going.
Chocolate’s Early Beginnings
The origins of chocolate itself can be traced back literally thousands of years. It first shows up in Southern Mexico and Central America around 450 BC. Some sources even claim that chocolate use being created and consumed centuries earlier, around 1,200 BC.
Back then, chocolate didn’t resemble what we think of chocolate as today. In these cultures, chocolate was consumed in a ceremony setting (cacao ceremonies still exist to this day). To drink the cacoa, beans were turned into a liquid and mixed with spices and corn puree.
Etymologists trace the origin of the word “chocolate” to the Aztec word “xocoatl,” which refers to this bitter drink brewed from cacao beans. The Latin name for the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, means “food of the gods.”According to both archeologists and Mayan spiritual elders, the Cacao Spirit was one of the most powerful deities in ancient Mayan cosmology.
Time went on and the world and society as we are familiar with continued to develop, with colonization and globalization happening all over the place. Legend has it that the Aztec king Montezuma welcomed the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes with a banquet that included drinking chocolate, having mistaken him for a reincarnated deity instead of a conquering invader.
Dark history aside, goods from one part of the world started reaching other parts, and cacao from the Americas began to show up in places like Europe, some time in the 1500s.
Europeans were also beginning to get a taste for sugar, and combined the two, since cacao beans are very bitter. Back then, both sugar and cacao beans were reserved for wealthy. By the 1600s, chocolate had become a fashionable drink throughout Europe. It was thought to have nutritious, medicinal, and even aphrodisiac properties. The story goes that Casanova was especially fond of hard-to-get delicacy.
By the 1800s, the Industrial Revolution was changing the world very, very quickly. Mass production and mechanization was being applied to every industry, including food production and distribution. This period gave birth to many things — and the world is introduced to the first chocolate bar, thanks to a British man named Joseph Fry who combined cocoa powder and sugar into the shape of a bar.
A man named John Cadbury liked the invention and refined the idea. The Cadbury chocolate bar hit the market soon after. The two men partnered up and began a venture that grew into the empire we all know today.
Chocolate began to really take a hold around this time. The next notable leap in chocolate was when chocolatiers Henry Nestle and a Swiss man named Daniel Peter created something fantastic called milk chocolate, which took the Europe by storm.
Then World War I happened. The US government began handing out chocolate bars to soldiers fighting the war. Seems like a bit of a raw deal, but that was what was happening in the world. When the war was finally over, Americans took their taste for chocolate home with them and demand went through the roof. Today, chocolate manufacturing is a more than $4 billion industry in the United States, and the average American eats at least half a pound of the sweet stuff per month.
That’s really what spurred the next leap forward with chocolate, and the variety of chocolate like we see today began to appear.
Now chocolate reaches every facet of life. From high end desserts to fast grab and go snacks from a gas station. It is an essential part of almost every single holiday, event, and celebration.
Of course, chocolate has finished evolving, it is still being experimented with and used in creative new ways.
For example, customized chocolate has become popular in the last few years. Personalized chocolates are an excellent gift because you can get a chocolate laser engraved with a message on it. Something like: “I love you,” or “Congratulations!” or a different message that is more meaningful.
Other ways that companies are using personalized chocolates are to hand them out with their logos engraved on them — sort of a guerrilla-style marketing technique. Or they are used at weddings or as party favors at weddings and showers.
Another way that chocolate is changing is that modern chocolatiers are using new and exciting flavor combinations. There is everything from chocolate covered bacon, to spicy chocolate, to lavender and floral-infused chocolate.
This brief timeline of chocolate really lacks some of the detail and nuance of the true history of chocolate, and how it has taken over the world. There are whole books written on the topic — a lot of them!
It really is a special treat, one that is enjoyed by people across the globe, of all ages and stripes. It’s no wonder that this humble delicacy, that was once called “the food of the gods” has become a mainstay in modern culture, and in kitchens and pantries everywhere. It’s only up to our imagination to think about where chocolate will go next.
If you are looking to buy chocolate, please get it now!