A Brief History of Chocolate

Ancient Mayan Ruins

The history of chocolate begins with the ancient Mayans of Mexico, where the cacao tree and its pods were first discovered in the rainforest around 2000 years ago. The Mayans created a beverage made from ground cacao seeds mixed with spices that was frothy and bitter in taste, not sweet like the hot cocoa that the world is now familiar with.

cacao pods and seeds

The cacao tree produces large pods, which contain seeds surrounded by a sweet pulp. The seeds are harvested and then fermented, dried, roasted, and ground into a paste. The ancient drink, called xocolatl (bitter water), was generally made by adding water, chili peppers, cornmeal and other ingredients to the ground cacao seeds. Sugar was not available to the ancient Mayans or Aztecs, although the Aztecs also added vanilla beans and black pepper to the beverage.

The Aztecs traded with the Mayan people to obtain cacao; it was so highly prized by them that they used it as a form of money. The Mayans grew cacao trees in their backyard gardens, and even planted cacao in their homes!

Cacao was also important in both Mayan and Aztec religious practices. The cacao seeds were used as offerings to the gods and chocolate beverages were used during religious ceremonies. In fact, its scientific name, Theobroma, means “food of the gods”.

The History of Chocolate Travels to Europe

When the Spanish Conquistadors invaded Mexico and South America, they brought chocolate back to Europe with them and were the first to sweeten the drink with sugar. It became a very popular beverage among the rich and noble people of Europe around the 17th century.

Milk chocolate was first introduced in Jamaica by a man named Hans Sloan, as our history of chocolate takes a brief journey back to the tropics. Sloan created a drink out of milk and cocoa which initially was meant for apothecary use. Later, the drink was sold to the now famous Cadbury Brothers.

The Industrial Revolution saw the development of machines that could extract the cocoa butter from chocolate, creating a harder consistency of chocolate that was the forerunner of the candy that we are familiar with today. With these machines, chocolate became more widely available and consumed throughout the world.

Yet it wasn’t until after the Industrial Revolution that solid chocolate bars were produced for the first time in 1847 by Fry and Sons. It seems that the world has been in love with chocolate ever since!

mixtec nobles enjoying a cup of xocolatl

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