What comes to mind when you hear the word chocolate? For me it is happiness. To others it is temptation or the ruination of their diet. This word association exercise often leads to the milk chocolate versus dark chocolate debate. I happen to prefer dark chocolate. I also like the idea that I have justification for eating it by means of scientific proof. With every bite I am turbo boosting my brain in the areas of attention span, reaction time, problem solving (ie., how can I get more chocolate?), vision, and blood pressure (http://facts.randomhistory.com/chocolate-facts.html). I rarely hear of anyone that does not like chocolate with the exception of the young son of my mother’s friend, a self-proclaimed chocoholic. After having had too much exposure to chocolate, he pronounced his preference for… (gasp) Vanilla!
The first to discover the wonders of chocolate were the early Mesoamericans dating back to 1900 BC. The Mokoya (pre-Olmec), Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs all made chocolate an integral part of their cultures as the cocoa plant can only thrive within 20 degrees of the Equator. The Aztecs attributed the cocoa plant as being a gift from the feathered serpent god, Quetzalcoatl. People were quite literally offering up their lives as sacrificial victims to ensure a good crop. Well, I really don’t know how many people went willingly to their death. I believe that many of may have been captured in war or offered up as tribute.
Cocoa beans were considered a valuable currency of its time as well as being a source of a tasty savory drinkable treat. Beans were first picked, fermented and dried. The beans were then fire roasted and de-shelled and ground to a fine powder using a metate or grinding stone. The cocoa powder would also have ground corn or seeds incorporated into it. Cold water would be added to this mix and stirred until foamy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_chocolate). Imagine the fury when someone encountered counterfeit ceramic beans!
In the 1500s, the Spanish Conquistadors appreciated the monetary value of the bean, but did not appreciate the taste of the indigenous concoction. It is said that Hernán Cortés came up with the idea of adding sugar to the cocoa drink. I can see it now, Hernán Cortés competing on Iron Chef! It was the Spaniards that came up with the sugar, vanilla, nutmeg, clove, allspice and cinnamon remix of chocolate to be served warm or hot. There is a debate whether it was the Dominican or Benedictine monks had the leg up on chocolate transmission from the New World and remastering the concoction to Old World tastes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_chocolate_in_Spain).
Chocolate was not preferred by all. Pope Pius V in 1569 declared that one could partake of a chocolate drink on a Friday and not break the fast (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_chocolate). It is similar to beer getting the same papal seal of approval during the Lenten season in Germany. However, the ladies of the Spanish court knew a good thing when they tasted it. Thus the very first chocoholics would come into being. They loved their chocolate drink so much that they were not content to drink chocolate several times a day, but insisted on drinking it during church services as well. This did not go over well with the bishops who ended up banning it during long sermons (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_chocolate_in_Spain).
Needless to say, chocolate fever spread throughout Europe between the 1600-1700s. With the invention of the steam engine in 1730, chocolate grinding was mechanized and prices fell, making chocolate more affordable and chocolate drinking houses start popping up. In 1755 chocolate make its appearance back across the Atlantic Ocean to the 13 colonies which later would become the United States (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_chocolate).
Mars, Incorporated (the manufacturer of M&Ms and other chocolate goodies) has recreated and markets the early colonial chocolate drinking mix at http://www.americanheritage.com. So if you are as intrigued as I am, your homework assignment is to give this stuff a try and give thanks to the ladies of the Spanish court that made all of this possible.
My apologies to those of you who want to know all about the invention of solid chocolate and the marketing of candy bars via Mr. Cadbury, Mr. Lindt, or Mr. Hershey. I encourage you to investigate further on your own. — Jenny