In honor of the new movie, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I thought I’d write about the history of chocolate. Truth be told, I’ll come up with any excuse to write about chocolate. It’s hard for us to imagine a world without chocolate, but most of the world didn’t know it existed until Columbus went to the Americas and took the cacao bean with him back to Spain. However, it wasn’t until Fernando Cortez and the Conquistadors conquered Mexico that the Spaniards began to see the possibilities of cacao.
The Aztecs and Mayans worshipped the cacao bean and believed it to be a food of the Gods. The Aztecs used as both nourishment and currency. A slave could be bought with 100 cacao beans. (Whenever somebody tells you that money doesn’t grow on trees, you can say, “Well, actually, it did for the Aztecs!”) The Aztecs also believed that consuming the fruit of the cacao tree imparted wisdom and they made a special drink with it called xocolatl (“bitter water”), of which the Aztec emperor Montezuma is said to have consumed more than fifty goblets per day. Given the stimulant properties of raw cacao, this probably gave him extra energy for visits to his harem.
Cortez and his comrades thought the xocolatl drink was too bitter, so they had the brilliant idea of adding cane sugar to it and drinking it hot, thus creating the first hot chocolate.
The Spanish tried to keep their new discovery a secret from the rest of Europe and they managed to do so for about 100 years. Their secret was not discovered until 1606:
With the decline of Spain as a power, the secret of cacao leaked out at last, and the
Spanish Crown’s monopoly of the chocolate trade came to an end. In a few years the
knowledge of it had spread through France, Italy, Germany, and England.
(from “The History of Chocolate and Cocoa” published by The Nestle Company)
In 1847 the first solid chocolate bar was created by Fry & Sons in Bristol, England. They mixed cocoa powder, cocoa butter extracted from the roasted cacao beans, and sugar. The first milk chocolate bar was created in 1875 in Switzerland by Daniel Peters. Fast forward to the present day and we have chocolate bars, chocolate sauce, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate Easter eggs, chocolate-dipped strawberries, chocolate-covered ants, chocolate fondue, chocolate truffles, and just about anything else imaginable.
Finally, the first chocolate factory in the United States was founded in 1765 in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Something tells me it wasn’t as colorful and exciting as Willie Wonka’s factory!