Yes, the chocolate that we know and love today actually came from an ancient civilization dating back to 1900 BC. As an integral part of our lives (don’t deny it), we have regular hankerings for this sugary, irresistible food that we call chocolate.
To the ones with a sweet tooth out there, you will be surprised to find that chocolate did not start out as a sweet confectionery. They weren’t originally the bars of chocolate that we break off and pop in our mouth, letting it melt smoothly on the tongue.
In actual fact, it started out as an awfully bitter beverage. Sugar in chocolates didn’t come into the picture until centuries later.
What’s even more amazing is that chocolate came from an ancient civilization which had faded in power eons ago.
The chocolate beginnings
The word “chocolate” can be traced from classical Nahuatl, a language from the Aztecs, “xocoatl”. This referred to a bitter drink brewed from cacao beans.
So, what’s the difference between cacao and cocoa? How did it become chocolate?
Experts use the term “cacao” to refer to the beans or the plants before they are processed. “Cocoa” mainly refers to chocolate in its powdered form, while “chocolate” is anything made from the cacao beans or plants.
The birth of chocolate came from the ancient civilizations of Mayans and the Aztecs. They believed that cacao beans were magical, infused with divine properties. Thus, chocolate was heavily used in the culture for sacred rituals of birth, marriage and even death.
Believe it or not, chocolate was given to Aztec sacrificial victims who felt too depressed to join in their own dancing ritual before their own deaths. They were facing death and all they got was a slab of chocolate in hopes of cheering themselves up. What’s even more intriguing is that these chocolates could also be tinged with the blood of previous victims!
How very reassuring for the sacrificial victims.
Sweetened chocolate drinks
As European adventurers discovered the Americas, an Aztec king handed a Spanish explorer, Hernando Cortes a chocolate beverage. It was too bitter for the European’s taste buds. One of the Spanish missionaries had even stated the drink to be having a very unpleasant taste, not fit for humans.
Once the Spanish returned to their country, chocolate was imported to Europe. It progressed to become a favourite for nobles and wealthy citizens only after they added sugar or honey to counteract the natural bitterness.
Once the chocolate drink became sweet, it became a huge trend not just in Spain, but in their neighbouring countries.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that a Dutch chemist, Coenraad van Houten had found a way to include alkaline salts to chocolate, cutting down the bitterness even further. He had also made a way to remove the cacao butter from the powdered chocolate liquor.
This lead to a modern era of chocolate known as “Dutch cocoa”, making its way into a machine-pressed transformation to solid chocolate.
The spread of chocolate flagship brands
The 19th century was a big deal for the chocolate that we all know today.
By the late 19th century, a small company called Cadbury began selling boxes of chocolate sweets in England. Mass-marketing had made chocolate available for everyone, which was a stark comparison to the earlier introduction of chocolates.
It was only a few years later after Cadbury began starting selling chocolate that another company decided to take it up a notch and add in powdered milk. Creating the ever-famous, presently well-known company, Nestlé pioneered the powdered milk in milk chocolate.
A Swiss inventor, named Rudolphe Lindt, invented the conching machine, which evenly distributes cocoa butter within chocolate. Starting his high-quality brand of chocolate, Lindt & Sprüngli AG became a global market spread of creating a velvety texture with superior taste.
Later on in 1893, an American confectioner by the name of Milton S. Hershey bought a chocolate processing equipment at a world fair in Chicago. Shortly after, he kicked off the career of Hershey’s chocolates with the invention of chocolate-coated caramels.
Who would have thought that the sacrificial, blood-tainted chocolate of the Mayans and the Aztecs would eventually undergo a journey to become the sweet goodness that people constantly crave for?