The first thing which comes to our mind when we hear the word chocolate is a candy or a dessert which tastes sweet. At present, Chocolate is one of the most famous food items in the world. It is consumed worldwide in different forms and is loved by foodies. At first thought we think of it as something to eat and not drink. Chocolate has a very different history and the story behind its popularity is quite an interesting one. The history of Chocolate dates back to about 450 B.C. when it was originally consumed as a bitter drink mixed with spices or corn puree. It originated in Mesoamerica where the Aztecs believed that the cocoa or cacao seeds were the gifts of the God of wisdom. It was used as an aphrodisiac which gave the drinker strength. The sweet pulp of the cacao fruit surrounding the beans, was also fermented into an alcoholic beverage at that time. Today local folks of South Mexico are still known to make such drinks.
The word chocolate came from the Aztec word “xocoatl” meaning a bitter drink brewed from cacao beans. The cacao tree has a Latin name “Theobroma cacao” meaning Food of the Gods. In pre-modern Latin America, the cacao seeds were considered so valuable that it was used as a currency. It was one of the essential items in rations of the United States soldiers during war. According to a 16th century Aztec document 100 cacao beans could be exchanged for a good turkey hen.
The cacao tree is native to Mesoamerica where its cultivation, consumption and cultural use began. When pollinated, the seeds of the cacao tree form a sheath, within which 30 to 40 brownish-red almond shaped beans are embedded in a sweet viscous pulp. The beans are bitter but the pulp is sweet which may have been consumed by humans at first. The cacao pods grow in a wide range of colors, like pale yellow, bright green, purple and crimson. The texture may vary from sculpted to completely smooth. The plantation of the cocoa trees is a tough process. When in natural environment, the trees can grow up to 60 feet tall but in plantations they grow only up to 20 feet.
Chocolate was prepared as a sweet by the European people when it arrived there. It got popularized among the rich people and eventually among the common. Christopher Columbus first came across cacao on his fourth mission to America, when he and his crew seized a canoe full of native goods for trade. He took the beans back to Spain. After it got imported to Europe, it was used as a medicine for treating abdominal diseases because of its bitter taste. After getting sweetened with the addition of sugar or honey, it became a court favorite and chocolate established a foothold in Europe within hundred years.
In 1828, a Dutch chemist found a way to make powdered chocolate and this product became known as the Dutch cocoa. This led to the creation of solid chocolate. The first modern chocolate bar was made by Joseph Fry in 1847 by making a moldable chocolate paste. By 1868, a small company called Cadbury was making chocolate candies in England. A few years later milk chocolate was made by Nestle. In the 20th century the word chocolate includes a variety of sweet treats. Modern day chocolate is made from the hardiest but least flavorful cocoa beans and it is often said that it has more sugar and additives than actual cocoa.
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