A Brief History of Chocolate
The history of cacao dates back to ancient Mesoamerica, now modern-day Mexico and Central America. The Olmec civilization, which existed from 1200 BC to 400 BC, is believed to have been the first to cultivate cocoa beans. The Mayan and Aztec civilizations that followed also highly valued cocoa beans, using them for both food and drink.
The Aztecs, in particular, had a special reverence for chocolate, believing that it was a gift from their god Quetzalcoatl. Chocolate was even used as a form of currency or given as gifts to high-ranking officials. And it was consumed during important ceremonies, such as weddings and religious rituals. Unlike present day, in that time the beans were ground into a paste and mixed with water, spices, and sometimes honey or chili peppers to make a bitter, frothy beverage called xocolātl, (bitter drink).
The cacao tree, also known as Theobroma cacao, is a small evergreen tree native to the tropical regions of Central and South America. The tree grows to a height of around 32-48 feet or (10-15 meters) and has large, glossy leaves that can measure up to about 12 inches (30cm) in length. It produces fruit in the form of large pods that can grow up to 12 inches (30cm) long and 6 inches (15cm) wide (shaped like football ball). When they are ripe they have bright yellow, orange and red colors. These pods contain seeds, or cocoa beans, which are used to make chocolate and other cocoa products. Each pod contains around 30-40 cocoa beans, which are embedded in a white, pulpy substance.
Cacao trees are delicate and require specific growing conditions to thrive, including warm temperatures between 64-89°F, high humidity, and well-draining soil. They also require plenty of water and do not tolerate drought conditions. Because of these requirements, cacao is primarily grown in tropical regions, between 10 to 20 degrees north or south of equator, such as West Africa, Indonesia, Vietnam, Caribbean, Central and South America. They are often grown on small family farms and harvested by
hand. The cultivation of cocoa is an important source of income for many communities around the world.
When Spanish conquistadores arrived in Mesoamerica in the 16th century, they adopted the word xocolātl. But, because it was difficult for them to say, they changed the name to chocolate. They brought cocoa beans back to Europe, where the drink became popular among the wealthy and elite. Sugar was eventually added to the drink to make it more palatable, and this paved the way for the creation of modern chocolate as we know it today.
The first solid chocolate bar was created in 1847 by Joseph Fry, a British chocolatier. The invention of the conching machine in 1879 by Swiss chocolatier Rodolphe Lindt allowed for the production of smoother, creamier chocolate with a longer shelf life. This led to the mass production of chocolate bars and the growth of the modern chocolate industry.
Today, chocolate is enjoyed all over the world in a variety of forms - candy bars, truffles, hot chocolate, cakes, ice creams and more. We are honored at Chocotenango to continue this long tradition and history today!