The History of Chocolate

Cocao beans and chocolate

The History of Chocolate

The history of chocolate brings us back to the term cocoa.

The term “cocoa” is actually a corruption of the word “cacaoa” that is taken directly from Mayan and Aztec languages. Chocolate is derived from cocoa beans, central to the fruit of cocoa tree, Theobroma cacao, indigenous to South America, is believed to have originated from the Amazon and Orinoco valleys.

The History of Chocolate Begins with the Cacao Tree

Cocoa beans play big role in history of chocolate

The history of chocolate involves the cocoa beans. Use of cocoa beans dates back at least 1400 years (Rossner, 1997). Aztecs and Incas used the beans as currency for trading or to produce the so-called chocolatl. Chocolatl was a drink made by roasting and grinding cocoa nibs, mashing with water, often adding other ingredients such as vanilla, spices or honey.

In the 1520s, the drink was introduced into Spain. Coe and Coe (1996) emphasized that the European arrivals in the new world, including Christopher Columbus and Herman Cortes, were unimpressed with the Mayan beverage. They proceeded to sweeten it with honey.

Nevertheless, the conquistadors familiarized the chocolate beverage throughout Europe. It was expensive, so it was initially reserved for consumption by the highest social classes. As we move forward in the history of chocolate, we see in the 17th century the consumption of chocolate spread through Europe.

The consumption of chocolate became more widespread during the 18th century. The Spanish monopoly on the production of cocoa soon became untenable. Plantations were soon established by the Italians, Dutch and Portuguese.

At this point in the history of chocolate, chocolate was still consumed in liquid form. It was mainly sold as pressed blocks of a grainy mass. These blocks had to be dissolved in water or milk to form a foamy chocolate drink. Mass production of chocolate blocks began in the 18th century when the British Fry family founded the first chocolate factory in 1728. They used hydraulic equipment to grind the cocoa beans. In 1847, the Fry’s chocolate factory, located in Bristol, England, molded the first ever chocolate bar suitable for widespread consumption. Learn more about the Fry Family on Digplanet.

The first US factory was built by Dr James Baker outside Boston a few decades later. In 1778 the Frenchman Doret built the first automated machine for grinding cocoa beans. This history of chocolate is making serious progress!

The production of cocoa and chocolate was truly revolutionized by Coenraad Van Houten in 1828 by the invention of a cocoa press. This press succeeded in separating cocoa solids from cocoa butter. The resulting de-fatted cocoa powder was much easier to dissolve in water and other liquids and paved the way.  In 1848, the invention of the first real eating chocolate was produced from the addition of cocoa butter and sugar to cocoa liquor.

Cocoa Powder

In 1847, in the UK, Joseph Fry was the first to produce a plain eating chocolate bar. This was made possible by introduction of cocoa butter as an ingredient. Demand for cocoa then sharply increased. Chocolate processing became mechanized with development of cocoa presses for production of cocoa butter and cocoa powder by Van Houten in 1828. Milk chocolate arrived in 1876 by Daniel Peters, who had the idea of adding milk powder, The milk powder was an invention of Henri Nestle a decade earlier.

This was followed by the invention of the conching machine in 1880 by Rudolphe Lindt. Chocolate came to take on the fine taste and creamy texture we now associate with good-quality chocolate. It was still very much an exclusive product, however. It was not until 1900 when the price of chocolate’s two main ingredients, cocoa and sugar, dropped considerably that chocolate became accessible to the middle class.

By the 1930s and 1940s, new and cheaper supplies of raw materials and more efficient production processes had emerged at the cutting-edge of innovation with fast-manufacturing technologies and new marketing techniques through research and development by many companies in Europe and the United States, making chocolate affordable for the wider populace.

Chocolate Squares

Best of all, we now know that chocolate is healthy! See: The Nutrients in Chocolate.

Resource: Science of Chocolate

Author: Jeni

Certified by the Professional School of Fitness and Nutrition in March, 1995; honored for exemplary grades. Practicing fitness and nutrition for over 20 years. Featured in the Feb. 1994 issue of "Shape" magazine. Featured in Collage in the spring issue of 1995 Low fat recipe's published in Taste of Home, Quick Cooking, and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, among others. September, 2001: Featured in "Winning The War on Cholesterol" By Rodale Publishing