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A History Of Chocolate
gourmet articlesarchivea history of chocolate

The early history of chocolate... The earliest record of chocolate was several thousand years ago in the South American rain forests, around the Amazon and Essequibo rivers, where the tropical mix of high rain fall combined with high year round temperatures and humidity provide the ideal climate for cultivation of the Cacao Tree.

The tree was worshipped by the Mayan civilisation who believed it to be of divine origin, hence it's generic Latin name meaning ‘Food of the Gods’. Cacao is a Mayan word corrupted into 'Cocoa' by Europeans meaning "God Food" The Maya brewed a drink by roasting and pounding cocoa beans with maize and Capsicum peppers and letting the mixture ferment, for use in ceremonies as well as for drinking by the wealthy and religious elite, they also ate a Cacao porridge.

The beans were also prized by the Aztecs who came after the Mayan's, they used them as currency, 100 beans could buy a slave or a Turkey. Tribute to the Aztec emperors was made in cocoa beans, but because their civilisation was further north and at higher altitudes, the climate was not suitable for cultivation of the tree, so they acquired the beans through trade and the spoils of war. Nor was it chocolate as we know it today, at that time it was enjoyed only as the beverage fermented - or otherwise - from the raw beans, drinks which featured prominently in both Mayan and Aztec ritual. The Aztecs Emperor, Montezuma - who is quoted as saying: "The divine drink, which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink permits a man to walk for a whole day without food" - regarded chocolate as an aphrodisiac and reputedly drank it fifty times a day from a golden goblet. In fact, because Taxes and Tribute was paid in them, huge quantities of cocoa beans (his Treasury) were found in his palace by the Spanish conquistadors after he was defeated by Cortez in 1519.

The history of chocolate in Europe...Chocolate was brought to Europe by Cortez in 1528, by this time the conquistadors had learned to make the drink more palatable to European tastes by mixing the ground roasted beans with sugar and vanilla.

The first chocolate factories soon opened in Spain and by the early 17th century chocolate powder - from which the drink was made - was being exported to other parts of Europe. The Spanish kept the source of the drink - the beans - a secret for many years, so successfully in fact, that when English pirates boarded what they thought was a Spanish 'Treasure Galleon' in 1579, only to find it loaded with what appeared to be 'dried sheep's droppings', they burned the whole ship in frustration. If only they had known, chocolate was so expensive at that time, it was worth it's weight in Silver, treasure indeed.

The Cocoa beverage made from the powder became popular, first in Italy then France, the Netherlands, Germany and finally - in about 1520 - it arrived in England. The first Chocolate House opened in London in 1657 followed rapidly by many others. Like the already well established coffee houses they were used as clubs where the wealthy and business community met to smoke a clay pipe of tobacco, conduct business and socialise over a cup of chocolate.

Back to America...Event's went full circle when, in the early 1700's English colonists carried chocolate (and coffee) with them to England's colonies in North America, destined to become the United States of America and Canada, they are now the worlds largest consumers - by far - of both Chocolate and Coffee.

Chocolate as we know it...Chocolate was first eaten in solid form when bakers in England began adding cocoa powder to cakes in the mid 1600's. In 1828 a Dutch chemist, Johannes Van Houten, invented a method of extracting the fat or "cocoa butter" from the roasted ground beans, his aim was to make the drink smoother and more palatable, however he unknowingly paved the way for chocolate as we know it.

Chocolate as we know it today first appeared in 1847 when Fry & Sons - founded 1728 in Bristol, England - mixed Sugar with Cocoa Powder and Cocoa Butter to produce the first solid chocolate bar then, in 1875 a Swiss manufacturer, Daniel Peters, found a way to combine (some would say improve) cocoa powder and cocoa butter with sugar and dried milk powder to produce the first milk chocolate - the rest, as they say, is history....

Written By: Janet Vine - Aphrodite Handmade Chocolates.

Visit the Aphrodite web site for handmade Chocolates, Truffles, Liqueur Marzipan, Liqueurs and Fine Coffee Gifts - Online

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