The History Of Chocolate

Learn the history of chocolate! Aztecs made a bitter drink from cocoa beans. Cortez introduced chocolate to Spain in 1519 and today it's the world's favourite confection and mood enhancer.

Chocolate - dark chocolate, milk chocolate, chocolate chock full of nuts, raisins or honey crisps,chocolate cream pies, chocolate sprinkles, chocolate drops,chocolate dipped ice-cream cones, chocolate swirls and peppermint stick twirls - chocolate! The world's favorite treat comes in many shapes, forms, consistencies and flavours. It shouldn't take long now before someone, probably a woman, lobbies to have chocolate proclaimed a major food group. Chocolate does, after all, work a tiny miracle on those annoying PMS days. It's also a delicious way to celebrate Valentines and Mother's Day. And in those busy times leading up to any major holiday, chocolate displays seems to ambush harried shoppers wherever they go. Special celebrations always include a myriad of chocolate treats - Santas and angels, bunnies and candy covered chocolate eggs, Halloween witches, warlocks and pumpkins all made out of chocolate! What in the world would we do without it? And where in the world did chocolate come from in the first place?

The Mayans and Aztecs harvested cocoa pods from cacao trees 3000 years ago, fermented them, then prepared a bitter, chocolatety drink called xocoatl, meaning "bitter water". Sometimes they added vanilla or maize to dilute the strong flavour. They also sipped the drink during religious ceremonies and used the beans as a source of currency. Christopher Columbus brought cocoa beans back to Spain in 1502. But it wasn't until 1519 that anyone took any real notice of chocolate. Spanish conquistador, Hernan Cortez, who had sampled the bitter Aztec drink in the New World, brought the recipe back to Spain. Most Spaniards found the drink much too bitter and added sugar to make it more palatable. When princess Maria Therese married Loius XIV of France, she took her fondness for the xocoatl beverage with her to Paris and by 1657 a London shop was selling solid chocolate. Soon chocolate houses were flourishing all over Europe, catering mostly to the rich, since they were the only people who could afford to enjoy the treat.

Over the next few decades more and more refinements occurred like mixing chocolate with milk instead of water and patenting a process where most of the cocoa butter was pressed from the bean, producing a cocoa powder. Dorchester, Massachusetts was the location of the first North American chocolate manufacturer in 1765. In 1847 Fry and Sons of England took cocoa butter and mixed it with chocolate liquor and sugar and produced the first eating chocolate. By 1876 a Swiss process added dry milk to the normally dark chocolate to create milk chocolate, a treat that became immensely popular. Continuing manufacturing innovations soon helped the price of chocolate to drop. By the end of the 1800's chocolate was available to everyone, not just the rich.

Cacao trees grow best in a warm, moist climate. The trees produce a fruit that's about the size of a pineapple and inside it are the cacao tree's seeds, or cocoa beans. Once ripe these beans are harvested, fermented for about seven days, sun-dried and then shipped to chocolate processors. Nations like Ghana, Nigeria and Indonesia are the largest producers of the cocoa bean and world wide consumption is between 6-700,000 tons a year. Like coffee beans, cocoa beans carry the distinctive flavour of their growing region. They are also mixed with beans from other areas to create various chocolate blends.

On average, every North American with a sweet tooth consumes about 12 pounds of chocolate per year. Danish citizens, however, top the consumption market, eating close to 30 pounds a year. There are 1000 calories in a kilogram of chocolate as well as carbohydrates, fat, protein and minerals. Chocolate contains many chemicals, most notably the compounds, theobromine and methylxanthine (related to caffeine). These two chemicals are responsible for giving chocolate nibblers a short, mild high. Another compound, phenylethyamine, effects the brain like a natural shot of adrenaline, causing pulse and sugar levels to rise and producing a sense of happiness and well being. No wonder chocolate is such a popular mid-afternoon snack and Valentine's Day gift!

There are five types of chocolate: liquor - the liquid produced from grinding the cocoa bean, semi-sweet or dark chocolate, milk chocolate or eating chocolate, sweet chocolate which is used mainly for decorating, and white chocolate which is mostly cocoa butter and milk solids.

Other chocolate facts and fallacies:

1)chocolate does not cause acne.

2)a 1.5 ounce serving of milk chocolate contains about as much caffeine as a cup of decaffeinated coffee - - and only around 200 calories.

3) chocolate does not promote tooth decay. Studies conclude that the proteins and minerals may actually protect tooth enamel.

4)chocolate milk is loaded with zinc, potassium, niacin and riboflavin.

5)there is little evidence that chocolate causes migraines.

6)the stearic acid contained in cocoa butter may lower cholesterol.

7)NEVER feed chocolate to your pets - theobromine is a potentially lethal stimulant for small animals!

Chocolate! Where, indeed, would the millions of chocolate lovers of the world be without it? New research has shattered many of the old chocolate myths that proclaimed it isn't good for us. So enjoy - in moderation, of course! Chocolate lifts us up out of our bad moods, if only for a short time, and it enhances our love lives. No matter how it's prepared or presented, many people would agree that chocolate may well be the most delicious and alluring treat ever invented.

© High Speed Ventures 2011