Who doesn’t love chocolate? Milk, white or dark, melting seductively on the tongue, bringing back happy memories of childhood. But where does chocolate originate from?
Chocolate has been around for a very long time, but it wasn’t always the bars of chocolate we know and love today. The history of chocolate is full of myths and mysteries and it can be hard to separate fact from fiction.
When Was Chocolate Discovered?
The earliest records of chocolate date back around 1500 – 2000 years. In the rainforests of Central America, the Cacao tree was discovered. The ancient Mayans worshipped this tree as a god and the seeds were even used as a form of currency.
The trees produced pods up to 20 inches (50.8 cm) in length, with tough, wrinkled skin. Inside the pods were 30 – 40 reddish-brown seeds, encased in a sticky, sweet pulp.
Chocolate as Currency?
According to Wikipedia, the seeds were used in marriage ceremonies, funeral rites, and to purchase goods or services. A rabbit could be bought for ten seeds and the services of a prostitute for around 8 – 10 seeds. A slave cost 100 seeds.
The Mayans would make a spicy, bittersweet drink by roasting and then grinding the cocoa beans and mixing them with maize and capsicum. This was left to ferment and then used in religious ceremonies. It was even hailed as an aphrodisiac, given to men to increase their strength and virility. It wasn’t given to women in case it gave them ‘ideas above their station.’
Chocolate was so valuable that it was kept a closely-guarded secret for almost a hundred years.
In 1519, Henri Cortes found some cocoa beans in Aztec treasure stores, realised that the beans had commercial value and took them to Spain. The drink was made more palatable for European tastes with the addition of sugar and vanilla.
Chocolate Comes to Europe
In 1520, chocolate arrived in England. It took off rapidly and became hugely popular, but still only as a drink.
In 1690, the first chocolate house opened in London. It was a novelty and people flocked there in droves. Soon there were numerous chocolate houses all over London and in Europe. They gained an unfortunate reputation for being hotbeds of rebellion and crime. According to The Museum of Hot Chocolate, two customers in the Bridges Street Chocolate House were conspiring to commit murder!
The First Chocolate Bars
But chocolate was still only known as a hot drink for many more years. It wasn’t until 1847 that the Fry and Sons factory in Bristol, England used a process invented by a Dutchman to create the first chocolate bar. They added sugar and cocoa powder to the cocoa butter extracted from the bean and produced the first chocolate bar fit for widespread consumption. In 1866 they launched Fry’s Chocolate Cream, a fondant centre enrobed in dark chocolate.
In 1875, a Swiss manufacturer called Daniel Peter went a step further by adding milk powder to the mixture, and the milk chocolate that we’re so fond of today was born. Earlier attempts to make milk chocolate using liquid milk had failed because the milk turned rancid. Daniel Peter used condensed milk (invented by his neighbour Henri Nestle) to make his milk chocolate and it was a success.
Cadbury’s Dairy Milk is perhaps Britain’s favourite milk chocolate bar. Launched in 1905, it continues to be a bestseller over 100 years later.
Nowadays, we have an enormous range of bars to choose from. You could say that we’re spoiled for choice.
We have a range of different chocolate treats to choose from; drinking chocolate is still popular but we have all kinds of bars, ranging from everyday milk chocolate to artisan chocolate, flavoured with things like cardamom, geranium and lavender.
Not only that but we have boxed chocolates with various fillings and flavours, truffles and fudge. Not to mention chocolate mousse, chocolate cake and chocolate ice cream. Who doesn’t love chocolate cake?
Our love of chocolate knows no bounds. In Britain, we consume an astonishing 660,900 tonnes of chocolate each year, which equates to 11 kg per person. That’s about 3 bars a week. Some of us eat more or less than this but that’s the average, according to Divine Chocolate.
Chocolate reminds me of being a child so it’s one of my go-to comfort foods. I used to save up my pocket money and buy several different bars, then take my time choosing which one to eat first. I would savour each square, letting it melt on my tongue. My favourite was Yorkie, a chunky bar of creamy milk chocolate in a shiny blue wrapper.
When we visited my grandparents, my nan would go to the cupboard as we were getting ready to leave and come out with a plate, with all different chocolate treats arranged on it; my brother and I would choose one each and we would eat it in the car on the way home, despite mum telling us not to eat it. She would be cooking dinner when we got home and if we couldn’t clear our plates, she would blame the chocolate.
Snacking between meals was discouraged in those days.
Our love affair with chocolate is here to stay. Personally, I’m never without my stash in the fridge and I love to cook with chocolate. The smell of chocolate melting is so delicious and a slice of chocolate cake with my cup of coffee is one of life’s pleasures. Long live chocolate.
If reading this has brought on a craving for a cup of hot chocolate, here’s my favourite recipe.
Hot Chocolate with Spices
This is pure luxury; rich, creamy, and very chocolatey with subtle hints of spice. Serves 4.
1 litre whole milk
225g dark chocolate, no more than 70% cocoa solids
125g good quality milk chocolate such as Lindt
100g double cream, whipped to soft peak stage
1 strip of orange zest
2 whole star anise
Grated chocolate and cinnamon sticks to serve
Pour the milk into a large, heavy-based pan and add the star anise and orange zest. Heat gently over a low heat to allow the flavours to infuse the milk. When the milk is hot remove the spices and discard them.
Break the chocolate into small pieces and add to the milk mixture. Allow to melt, stirring occasionally. It should thicken slightly as the chocolate melts.
Pour into pretty mugs, top each with a spoonful of whipped cream and some grated chocolate, then pop a cinnamon stick in on one side of the mug and serve immediately.
*This is even nicer with some double chocolate chip cookies to dunk into it…
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this article and found it educational. If you have any questions or comments please leave them below. And do try the hot chocolate recipe, it’s to die for!
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