December 17, 2017



Celebrating the Human Family

Chocolate is important to us. Our founding Executive Director, Marianne Lawless would call for someone to “break out the chocolate!” when faced with a challenge. All challenges can be faced when one has taken care of themselves. And chocolate does that for many of us…helps us take care of our inner self.

But chocolate is important for other reasons as well.

The History of Chocolate*

The tasty secret of the cacao (kah KOW) tree was discovered 2,000 years ago in the tropical rainforests of the Americas. The pods of this tree contain seeds that can be processed into chocolate.

The story of how chocolate grew from a local Mesoamerican beverage into a global sweet encompasses many cultures and continents.

The first people known to have made chocolate were the ancient cultures of Mexico and Central America. These people, including the Maya and Aztec, mixed ground cacao seeds with various seasonings to make a spicy, frothy drink.

Christopher Columbus first brought chocolate to Europe, except he didn’t know what it was. Cocoa beans were presented to him by an Aztec chieftain in 1502. Columbus discovered the beans were used to make a strong native beverage and as a medium of monetary exchange by the Aztecs. Since Columbus didn’t know what to do with the beans, chocolate remained a Central American specialty until the time of Cortes.

In 1519, Cortes and his 600 soldiers undertook the conquest of Mexico. To his amazement he was welcomed by the Aztec emperor and his subjects, who believed Cortes to be the reincarnation of Quetzalcoatl. It didn’t take long to show the Aztecs they had made a mistake. But not before the emperor had heaped riches upon the Spanish in the form of cacao-tree plantations.

During the time of Cortes the beans of the cacao tree were still used for currency by the Aztecs. One hundred beans could buy a slave and twelve a rabbit. Cortes exchanged his beans for gold, to which the natives were indifferent. And because there was not any Spanish wine available, Cortes’ men learned to drink the local beverage made from cacao or cocoa.

Later, the Spanish conquistadors brought the seeds back home to Spain, where new recipes were created. Eventually, and the drink’s popularity spread throughout Europe. Since then, new technologies and innovations have changed the texture and taste of chocolate, but it still remains one of the world’s favorite flavors.

In Spain chocolate became popular — so much so that the government taxed it heavily, keeping chocolate a beverage of the privileged classes. Over time, chocolate spread to France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and England.

It was not until about 1755 that chocolate made its way to North America, at that time still a British colony. Americans have since caught up and are now among the world’s largest consumers of chocolate.

The military introduced many people to chocolate. Surprisingly, the armed forces helped spread the love of chocolate worldwide. The trend first began in the late 19th century, when Queen Victoria got her soldiers hooked on chocolate by sending them gifts of this nourishing and delicious candy for Christmas.

But the popularity of candy bars really skyrocketed after World War I, when chocolate was part of every United State’s soldier’s rations. By 1930, there were nearly 40,000 different kinds of chocolate.

Although it’s now more affordable, not everyone chooses to eat chocolate. Many Asian cultures have never really developed a taste for the sweet. In fact, the Chinese eat only one bar of chocolate for every 1,000 consumed by the British.

And in countries like Ghana and Ivory Coast, people rarely eat chocolate because it is worth more to them as a trade product than as a food.

Chocolate is still associated with many religious holidays. Chocolate still plays a part in festive celebrations that are associated with many religious holidays. Most of us expect to eat chocolate in some form near events like Hanukkah, Christmas, and Easter.

In Mexico in particular, chocolate is used to make offerings during the Day of the Dead festival, a time for remembering loved ones who have died.

The production of chocolate is tied to the struggle worldwide of workers to be recognized for their worth and their right to live a decent life.

And don’t forget, in addition to the socio-economic aspects of ‘chocolate’. Chocolate does contain caffeine and other stimulants.

*Taken from: The History of Chocolate, Whetstone Chocolates, St. Augustine Fl. And All About Chocolate, The Field Museum