The story of chocolate
The tradition of cocoa as a tasty food goes back over two thousand years. According to present-day knowledge it is suspected that the oldest proof of cocoa can be found on clay containers from Honduras. Traces of theobromine, a material which only occurs in cocoa in Central America, have been found on shards of clay from the time around 1150 BC.
It is certain that the Olmeken people in the valleys of Mexico enjoyed chocolate as early as ca. 1000 BC – mostly, it is presumed, in liquid form. Unfortunately there are no sources to tell us how it was prepared for consumption. Cocoa plants per se were discovered around 1500 BC, also in Mexico.
Mexicans recognised the value of cocoa relatively quickly. People considered it as holy. This is why only noble men, priests and warriors were allowed to consume cocoa beans. According to one legend the beans were brought into the world by the feathered God of the Wind, Quetzacoatl. The cocoa was drunk from special containers. These were later even used as grave goods to demonstrate the high status of the drink.
The value of cocoa lay not only in its taste and stimulating effects, but also in the bean itself. The Maya used it as a means of payment, as did the Aztecs at a later time. Both regarded large, reddish cocoa beans as particularly valuable. This led to a tradition of “fake money“ (the beans were painted and swollen) Cocoa beans were mostly deposited in sacks in treasure chambers. One imperial store was said to hold up to 960 tons of the prized ware, but this has yet to be found.
Cocoa comes to Europe
The discovery of America also marked the discovery of cocoa. Christopher Columbus himself, however, never got to enjoy the exotic drink. The Spanish explorer Hernan Cortez was the first person to bring cocoa beans to Europe in the 16th century, where he introduced them to the Spanish court. First reactions were somewhat lukewarm because cocoa in itself is not sweet. When people at the royal court finally began to experiment with honey and cane sugar the taste gradually took on. That said, at the time cocoa beans were so rare and expensive that they could only be afforded by the nobility. Ordinary people had to wait for the time being.
What is cocoa?
The Latin name for the cocoa tree, which belongs to the family of Sterculiacea, is "Theobroma cacao L". Translated this means the food of the Gods. Trees grow to a height of 15 metres in tropical areas, preferably in the shade of larger trees. Every years up to 100,000 pods grow directly on the trunk. Those which are pollinated turn into long, thick, cucumber-like fruit which becomes yellower and darker as it grows. Inside there are up to 50 seeds embedded in a thick, white fleshy mass. This is the cocoa. Only after they have been processed by drying, fermenting and roasting, do the seeds develop their characteristic aroma.
From drinking chocolate to hard chocolate
It was not until the start of the 19th century that a completely new method of processing developed. A Dutchman by the name of Van Houten pressed and crushed the cocoa beans, thereby separating the cocoa butter from the cocoa. As a result of this new method cocoa increasingly spread throughout Europe. It was even regarded as a tonic and sold in apothecaries. At the same time the first chocolate factories were set up in Germany and the Netherlands.
The first proper eating chocolate was made in 1847 and sold by the English company „J.S. Fry & Sons“. That said, one of today’s favourite flavours – pure dairy milk chocolate – was only created in 1875 by a Swiss citizen called Daniel Peter. He was the first person to mix milk powder into the cocoa mass. This symbiosis led to the flavour becoming a classic in the confectionary trade. Further inventions – like special rolling methods to refine the chocolate, and the process of conching – led to chocolate becoming increasingly smoother, flavoursome and quicker to melt in the mouth.
Nowadays chocolate is more popular than ever. Every year every person in Germany consumes almost 9.3 kilograms of chocolate – the equivalent of around two whole bars of chocolate a week. For some years now organic and fair trade chocolate have also taken their place in the world of chocolate. Under the motto “Enjoyment with a Good Conscience” environmentally friendly consumers swear to the quality of non-chemically treated raw materials, thereby demonstrating their responsibility to people and the environment alike.
You can find more information on the theme of chocolate on the homepage of the Chocolate Information Centre: