Have you ever imagined using chocolate as a currency? Or drinking chocolate rather than eating it? Have your parents ever given you chocolate when you were sick?
Well, believe it or not, all of this was true for our ancestors. In ancient times, people drank chocolate, used it as currency and recognized it for its medicinal properties.
Chocolate has taken its sweet time to reach where it is today. The journey was long, but definitely worth it. The origins of today’s sweet treat dates back to the time of the ancient Mayans, and even earlier to the ancient Olmecs of southern Mexico.
Cacao trees, which are primarily found in Central and South America are the parents of chocolates. The fruits are known as pods and each pod has around 40 cacao beans. They are then dried and roasted, which makes cocoa beans.
To eat or to drink?
At the outset, chocolate was a beverage and was not available in a solid, edible form as it is most commonly seen today. We think of chocolates and we visualize bars and candies, but we don’t see them in glasses served as a drink. While the former has been prevalent since the 19th century, the latter has been around long before that. The Mayans considered chocolate to be the drink of the gods. Mayan chocolate was a revered brew made of roasted and ground cacao seeds mixed with chilies, water and cornmeal. Mayans poured this mixture from one pot to another, creating a thick foamy beverage called “xocolatl”, which meant “bitter water.” The Aztecs believed that chocolate was a gift from the god Quetzalcoatl, and drank it as a refreshing beverage, an aphrodisiac, and even to prepare for war, while chocolate is seen as the equivalent of happiness and celebration in today’s day and age.
The history of candy bars actually began back in 1847. The first chocolate bar was made in Britain by Joseph Fry and his son, who pressed a paste made of cocoa powder and sugar into a bar shape. The chocolate bar was further developed in 1849 when John Cadbury introduced his brand of the chocolate bar.
In the 16th century, legend claims that explorer Hernán Cortés brought chocolate to Spain. Furthermore, it reached France and other countries of Europe in the following century with reasons and means unknown.
Swiss chocolatier Daniel Peter is generally credited for adding dried milk powder to chocolate to create milk chocolate in 1876. But it wasn’t until several years later that he worked with his friend Henri Nestle and they created the Nestle Company and brought milk chocolate to the mass market.
Chocolate had come a long way during the 19th century, but it was still hard and difficult to chew. In 1879, another Swiss chocolatier, Rudolf Lindt, invented the conch machine which mixed and aerated chocolate giving it a smooth, melt-in-your-mouth consistency that blended well with other ingredients.
Chocolate or gold?
We understand how chocolate can be the greatest thing in the world for people with a sweet tooth. But today’s hype will never match the Aztecs’ love for chocolates. They thought it was a gift to them from the Gods and they also used it as currency to buy other goods. In Aztec culture, cacao beans were considered more valuable than gold.
Whatever the form or value might be, chocolates are constantly seen as a source of happiness. They are believed to uplift spirits when one is upset. Children and adults alike are fans of chocolates. Chocolates are also considered to be thoughtful gifts as well. No wonder people thought it was a gift from the gods themselves.