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A Brief History of Chocolate
Today, chocolate is a favourite sweet around the world over, but that wasn’t always the case.
Chocolate was a New World discovery. The returning crew of Columbus’s fourth voyage in 1502 brought the first cocoa beans from the New World to Europe.
The Spanish eventually combined them with vanilla, and other flavourings, sugar, and milk to arrive at a concoction that, as one writer noted at the time, people “would die for”; Aztec Emperor Montezuma described it as a “divine drink, which builds up resistance and fights fatigue.”
For the first couple of centuries, chocolate was served only as a beverage. A solid form—probably more like marzipan than the chocolate we know—was touted as an instant breakfast in 18th-century France.
The stimulant effects of chocolate are due to its caffeine content and were thought to make it a particularly useful food for soldiers standing watch during the night.
For the Troops
The chocolate bar, first marketed in about 1910, captured the public’s imagination when it was issued to the U.S. armed forces as a “fighting food” during World War II.
The Source of Chocolate
Chocolate is made from the beans found in the pods that grow on the cocoa tree, an evergreen that originated in the river valleys of South America.
Native Central and South Americans valued cocoa so highly that they used cocoa beans as currency. Today about three-fourths of the world’s chocolate is grown in West Africa and most of the rest in Brazil.
After cocoa beans are harvested, an initial phase of fermentation and drying is followed by low-temperature roasting to bring out the flavour. Various manufacturing processes follow, depending on whether the product is to be solid as chocolate or cocoa powder.
In 1828 the Van Houten family of Amsterdam, seeking to make a better drinking chocolate, invented a screw press to remove most of the cocoa butter from the beans.
Not only did it make a better drink, but they also found that by mixing the extracted cocoa butter back into ground cocoa beans, they could make a smoother, fatter solid paste that would absorb sugar; this led to “eating chocolate.”
And the rest, as they say, is history.