A Unique History of one of the World's Most Beloved Products: Chocolate

The History of Chocolate

The history of Chocolate begins in Central and South American where the Theobroma Cacao plant which produces cocoa beans is native. The cocoa seeds were used widely amongst native peoples with the earliest direct evidence being traced back to 1900 BC and the pre-Olmec peoples.

Differing considerably to what we see as chocolate today the ancient native South Americans prepared the cocoa beans as a cool drink. It was a bitter liquid often mixed with various spices for taste. The drink was highly prized and used in many rituals throughout South America. Once consumed the beverage was believed to have aphrodisiac properties and give sustained strength to the drinker.

Arrival in Europe

The cocoa beverage arrived in Europe during the 16th century by the Spanish. Sugar and honey were added to the drink to counteract the natural bitterness of the cocoa beans. It soon become very popular, first amongst the wealthy and ruling elite then eventually among the common peoples. However the cocoa beverage was still far from the modern chocolate that we recognize today.

It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that new cocoa processing techniques reformed the texture and flavor of the refined beans. Two innovations by a Dutch chemist named Coenraad Van Houten first markedly reduced the natural bitterness of chocolate and secondly enabled the removal of half the natural fat which increased the consistency and made chocolate much cheaper to produce. These innovations welcomed the modern era of chocolate and enabled the production of a product that we would recognize today as chocolate.

Joshua Brownlow