Chocolate is our first love. Chocolate is the answer to every problem!
But what is chocolate, really?
According to Wikipedia, “chocolate is a preparation of roasted and ground cacao seeds that is made in the form of a liquid, paste, or in a block, which may also be used as a flavouring ingredient in other foods”.
Chocolate is made from the fruit of cacao trees, native to Central and South America; what is unclear is when cacao came to the scene or who invented it. And while the word chocolate may conjure up images of sweet candy bars, the chocolate of today does not resemble the chocolate of the past. Chocolate was a revered but bitter beverage throughout much of history, not a sweet, edible treat.
Chocolate’s history starts in ancient Mesoamerica (present-day Mexico), where the first cacao plants were found. The Olmec (one of the earliest civilisations in Latin America) were the first to turn the cacao plant into chocolate. They drank their chocolate during rituals and used it as medicine.
Centuries later, the Mayans praised chocolate as the drink of the gods. Mayan chocolate was a revered brew made of roasted and ground cacao seeds mixed with chillies, water and cornmeal. Mayans poured this mixture from one pot to another, creating a thick foamy beverage called “xocoatl”, meaning “bitter water”.
By the 15th century, the Aztecs used cocoa beans as currency. They believed that chocolate was a gift from the god Quetzalcoatl and drank it as a refreshing beverage, an aphrodisiac, and even to prepare for war.
No one knows for sure when chocolate came to Spain. Legend has it that explorer Hernán Cortés brought chocolate to his homeland in 1528. Apparently, he discovered chocolate during an expedition to the Americas while searching for gold and riches.
When Cortés returned home, he introduced cocoa seeds to the Spanish. Though still served as a drink, Spanish chocolate was mixed with sugar and honey to sweeten the naturally bitter taste.
Chocolate quickly became popular among the rich and wealthy. Even Catholic monks loved chocolate and drank it to aid religious practices.
The Spanish didn’t share this discovery for a very long time. It was nearly a century before the treat reached neighbouring France and then the rest of Europe.
In 1615, French King Louis XIII married Anne of Austria, daughter of Spanish King Phillip III. To celebrate the union, she brought samples of chocolate to the royal courts of France.
Following France’s lead, chocolate soon appeared in Britain at special “chocolate houses”. As the trend spread through Europe, many nations set up their own cacao plantations in countries along the equator.
Chocolate remained immensely popular among the European aristocracy who consumed chocolate for its health benefits as well as its decadence.
Chocolate was still being produced by hand, which was a slow and laborious process. But with the Industrial Revolution around the corner, things were about to change.
In 1828, the invention of the chocolate press revolutionised chocolate making. This innovative device could squeeze cocoa butter from roasted cacao beans, leaving a fine cocoa powder behind.
The powder was then mixed with liquids and poured into a mould, where it solidified into an edible bar of chocolate.
And just like that, the modern era of chocolate was born!
So, going back to our initial question: What is Chocolate?
There is only one true answer:
Chocolate is a state of mind!
A place of perfect peace and happiness, like heaven (Nirvana)
Some fun facts about chocolate:
- 7th July is World Chocolate Day, the day allegedly marks when chocolate was first brought to Europe
- The Fry and Sons shop concocted what they called “eating chocolate” in 1847 by combining cocoa, butter, sugar and chocolate liquor
- The first chocolate bar was made in England in 1842 by the Cadbury company
- The blood in the film Psycho’s famous shower scene was actually chocolate syrup
- Daniel Peter spent 8 years trying to figure out a recipe for milk chocolate that would work; it wasn’t until 1875 that he realised that condensed milk was the answer to all of his troubles!
- The largest chocolate bar weighed over 12,770 lbs (5,792 kg) and was created in the UK to celebrate Thornton’s 100th birthday
- Chocolate chip cookies were a complete accident caused when a housewife thought that adding chocolate chunks to her cookie batter would result in chocolate cookies. She eventually sold the recipe to Nestle in exchange for a lifetime supply of chocolate!
- There are five different types of chocolate: Dark, Milk, White, Ruby and Blond. Blond chocolate, named after its striking colour, was actually made by accident by pastry chef Frédéric Bau, according to the chocolate’s founding company, Valrhona
- Chocolate Milk was invented in Jamaica in early 1700 when natives of the land gave Irish botanist Sir Hans Sloane straight cocoa to drink, and he could only stomach it when he mixed it with milk
- Brussels Airport is the biggest chocolate seller in the world; with sales of about 800 tons of Belgian chocolate per year
- M&Ms have been taken to space over 130 times. Apparently, M&Ms are a common treat for astronauts to pack during their space endeavours, mainly because they are small and edible but also fun for the astronauts to use as entertainment in zero gravity
- Winston Churchill was at one point in danger of a Nazi assassination by an exploding bar of chocolate
- The Aztec emperor Montezuma II drank over 50 cups of chocolate per day
- The world’s most valuable chocolate bar is a 100-year-old Cadbury’s bar which sold for $687 at auction in 2001; it was taken on Captain Robert Scott’s first expedition to the Antarctic
- If all the Toblerone bars sold each year were to be laid end-to-end, they would stretch 62,000km (38,525 miles) which is longer than the Earth’s circumference
- Recipes exist for chocolate and calamari soup; apparently, there has been only one person brave enough to try it, but they gave it 4 stars
- Chocolate actually inspired the microwave. A scientist working on WWII radar, Percy Spence, loved chocolate. While working near a magnetron, he noticed a chocolate bar in his pocket had melted, and realised magnetrons could be used to heat food quickly. And so, by chance, he discovered the microwave oven!
- It has been proven that it is impossible to satisfy chocolate cravings by anything else other than chocolate itself!
So when your'e buying your next bar of chocolate think about where it has come from and how it has changed over the centuries!