History of Chocolate - A Brief Overview
What do you think of when you hear the word “chocolate”? Many people probably think of something like a milk chocolate bar. You may think of a chocolate pecan turtle or maybe a chocolate covered almond or peanut. Most people probably don’t think of drinking a bitter liquid, but that is how the first chocolate was consumed. In fact, it remained that way through most of it’s history.
Chocolate originated in Mesoamerica and can be traced back as far as 1900 BC. The Maya and the Aztecs were some of the earliest known chocolate drinkers. They mixed ground cocoa seeds with water and made a bitter drink. Some Maya artifacts are painted with images of people drinking and enjoying chocolate.
Christopher Columbus is said to have been the first European to see cocoa beans, but it was Hernan Cortes who brought chocolate back to Spain. The Spanish added a variety of ingredients, including cinnamon and sugar, creating a sweet hot chocolate. Chocolate was Spain’s secret until about 1600 when other European countries caught on. Chocolate made its way to the United States around 1755.
The cocoa press was invented in 1828 by Dutch chocolate maker Conrad J. van Houten. Improving the quality of chocolate, the cocoa press reduced the amount of cocoa butter in the roasted cocoa beans. The result was a powdered cocoa which could be mixed more easily with water.
Others began experimenting with cocoa powder. British chocolate maker Joseph Fry is credited with creating the first modern chocolate bar in 1847. By adding sugar to the cocoa powder and then remixing it with the cocoa butter, a solid was created. By 1868, a small company named Cadbury was selling boxes in England.
A Swiss chocolate maker named Daniel Peter had the idea of mixing milk and chocolate to create milk chocolate. However, milk contains water and water made the chocolate shrink. Peter’s friend and neighbor, Henri Nestle, had perfected the process of manufacturing condensed milk. They added sweetened condensed milk to the chocolate and soon Peter started a company called Peter, Cailler, Kohler. They became the world’s leading producer of chocolate. In 1929, their company was purchased by Nestle.
Today, the chocolate industry tops over $50 billion a year in retail sales worldwide and continues to show a steady, healthy growth. It is one of the most popular holiday gifts and one of the most popular types of food in the world. Recently, there is a growing trend towards high-quality chocolates, artisan chocolates with natural flavors and chocolates with high cocoa content. Chocolate has taken quite a journey from it’s start as a bitter drink so many centuries ago.