Written by Roar Elias
The history of chocolate is a topic that could fill volumes of books, and it is hard to give it justice in just one article. I have therefore provided links to further references at the bottom of this article, if you find that this is a topic you want to explore more deeply.
I'm sure you have heard one or two people say they don't like chocolate. I still find this strange. How can someone not like the taste of a white chocolate truffle that melts in your mouth? If we look at the history of chocolate, it will tell us that so much revolves around this fantastic ingredient in baking and even cooking today and how it has advanced over the ages.
I'm sure chocoholics have wondered from time to time about the history of chocolate. Have you ever thought about the process that it takes for a chocolate bar to be able to land up on the shelves of your supermarket? Transformation is an amazing thing. It's a whole process from people who have huge cocoa tree plantations, to the processing of the chocolate. There is a long history that goes behind this all the way back through the ages where cocoa beans were treated like gold.
If we start right at the beginning, we will find that the history of chocolate goes back fifteen hundred years ago way back in the Central American rain forests. This made for the perfect conditions for the plants to grow in. The Mayan civilisation saw the "cacao tree" as God food. When the Europeans invaded, the name changed to cocoa. What came out of the plant at this time, produce by the Maya was a spicy, bitter sweet drink. They did this by roasting and pounding the cocoa beans found on the trees along with maize and chilli peppers. This was fermented and left for special occasions.
Down in central Mexico, the Aztecs realized how valuable these beans were. However, Mexico was not the best place to plant these trees so they had to buy them and actually used them as a form of currency at times. For example a turkey could cost them 100 beans. The drink, which the Mayan invented, was known as Xocolatl, and later, Chocolat by the Spanish. This was a real treat for them and only reserved for special events. The English changed this to chocolate - the English change everything, don't they!
So, on we move to Europe, where the drink was transformed into something sweet and sensational, which appealed more to the taste buds of most people on the continent. Vanilla and sugar was added to make this more palatable.
Spain was the first to open proper factories where it started to roast and grind dried fermented beans. It wasn't soon before chocolate powder was born, which made a fantastic drink, enjoyed by people all over Europe. The powder came to England around 1520 and took off in a flash as one might expect with the first chocolate house opening up in London in 1657. These went along with coffee houses, which were like clubs, but not any old clubs.
If you were at a place like this, it meant that you were either very rich or very famous, but probably both. Can you imagine people coming to elite club, drinking hot chocolate as we know it today while talking business? Well, this is what a cup of this magic stuff meant to them.
Our next stop in the history of chocolate is the big old U.S of A where English colonists decided to take chocolate to different England colonies in America. We have to start off with the Quakers, who as we know are a pacifist religious sect. Names like Fry, Cadbury and Rowntree come from this group and there are few people whose eyes won't light up when you mention one of those names. The Quakers actually benefited because of their set of morals and values, which prohibited them from going into business and this is why they decided to stick to certain businesses which involved food. This is where chocolate came into the equation. Baking was huge for the Quakers because it was part of their belief system. They were the first bakers who started experimenting with chocolate in their baking, putting chocolate into cakes.
Out of the big names that come from the Quakers, Fry has disappeared after coming up with the first chocolate bar in 1728, whilst Rowntree merged with the Swiss owned company, Nestle, which we all know and love. Cadbury is the best known chocolate making company in the world and they keep on going from strength to strength.
You have probably seen the name Bournville on a slab of Cadbury chocolate and wondered, what on earth is that? Well, if you stay in Birmingham, England then you may have a clue because this is where all the employees used to live and work. There is no doubt, Quakers knew how to treat their employees - maybe this is why they have been such a success! Cadbury built an entire town, named Bournville for the employees. Not bad hey! This had everything in it from shops and schools to libraries.
So far we have just talked about the history of chocolate as a timeline from when it was discovered as a cocoa bean. This went on to various stages of transformation until we have something special developed from cocoa powder to a chocolate bar a little later down the line, but there is more to this. We all know that there is not just one type of chocolate. If you were to do a taste test, just like you go to a wine tasting, you will definitely notice different taste sensations according to the ingredients that the chocolate contains and this will tell you something about the quality.
Chocolate is always being improved, but once people found the basic product, they discovered there was so much more that needed to be done in order for the taste buds to be satisfied. Who better to do this than the Swiss!
This is where Rodolphe Lindt of Berne comes in to play in 1879 with the invention of conching. We have Jules Sechaud of Montreux in Switzerland to thank for introducing chocolates with fillings from scratch methods. This came about in 1913.
Now Switzerland are leaders of the pack and it looks like it is going to stay that way. The Swiss are the perfect people for making chocolate of the finest quality because they are perfectionists in the field and treat it like a work of art, combined with science. Belgians will argue that they are the finest producers of chocolate, but if you ask any pastry chef, they will tell you quite confidently that a certain Swiss chocolate is always a favourite in their kitchen.
A comprehensive list of reading and references can be found by going to the reference section of Wikipedia's History of Chocolate page.
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