CHOCOLATE

June 9, 2007 – 4:00 pm

CHOCOLATE

The Origin Of Chocolate

Chocolate, that mouthwatering treat that sends our senses swimming in ecstasy as it melts in our mouth, has often been touted as food for the gods.  In its early beginnings in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, chocolate was indeed food of the gods, consumed in religious rituals and closely associated with the Aztec goddess of fertility, Xochiquetzal.Archeologists studying ancient Mesoamerican culture suggest that the Mayans have been drinking chocolate as far back as 2,600 years ago.  This suggestion was prompted by the chocolate residue found in an ancient Mayan pot dating around the same time.  Compared to the chocolate we know now, however, the pre-Columbian Mesoamerican chocolate is drunk, not eaten, and it was spicy and bitter.  This ancient chocolate drink is made from cacao and mixed with vanilla, chili pepper and achiote.  Sometimes, this chocolate drink was taken in with maize and honey.

Another thing about ancient chocolate, aside from its bitter and spicy taste, is that it is a very precious commodity, consumed only by the nobles of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.  It was even said that cacao beans served as a form of currency during their heyday.  Chocolate was also drunk mostly during religious festivals and was said to relieve fatigue among its drinkers.

European knowledge of the existence of chocolate, among many other things, came to be when Christopher Columbus landed in the New World.  He brought with him cacao beans when he returned to Spain, and these he presented to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella upon his return.  Afterwards, chocolate became popular in Europe through the efforts of Hernando Cortes Pizarro.  To suit European tastes, the original recipe for the chocolate drink was modified.  The spicy taste was removed by taking chili pepper from the recipe and was replaced by milk and sugar to sweeten it.  By the 1600s, the chocolate drink became a luxury drink enjoyed largely by the nobility and the wealthy.

In the late 1700s, the method of making chocolate into a solid form for eating as candy was developed in Turin, Italy.  In 1819, F. L. Cailler opened the first factory to mass-produce chocolate candy in Switzerland.

A significant development in the production of chocolate drinks and candies occurred with the Dutchman Coenraad Johannes van Houten discovered in 1828 a process for removing fat from cocoa beans.  This enabled the production of cocoa butter and powdered cocoa for use in various recipes using chocolate.  Van Houten also discovered a process of treating chocolate with alkali, which made the chocolate taste sweeter and less bitter.

In 1867, Swiss candlemaker and chocolatier Daniel Peter found a way to produce candies made of milk chocolate, which he started selling by 1875.  Soon his friend Henri Nestle helped him find a way to remove water from the milk and thus reduce the risk of chocolate developing mildew.  The two friends soon formed the Nestle Company in 1879.  Nestle, S.A. is now one of the largest multinational companies in Switzerland.

Chocolate has a very long history, and to date it remains to be one of the world’s favorite treats.  It was once the food of the gods, and the food of the gods it will always be.

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