CHOCOLATE :: history

history : the plant : tempering : chocolate truffles

Early cacao use

Somewhere around 13000 – 3000 BCE humans started to use the fruits and seeds of the cacao plant.

The first architectural evidence of cacao use is in 2000 BCE where in a village, in present-day Honduras, pieces of pottery was found.

Early cacao cultivation

Probably the first civilization to cultivate the cacao tree would be the Olmecs (1200 – 400 BCE). Apart from the giant heads they also left the word “cacao” (Kakawa) for humanity.

olmec head
giant 3 meter Olmec head

The first culture that is said to use the actual beans (or seeds) of the cacao fruit was the Maya culture and then the Aztecs. It was so widely used as currency that con men started to fill empty shells with dirt and use these “counterfeits” as currency. Cacao beans were still being used as currency as late as 1887 in Mexico. One of my favorite quotes is by a man called Peter Martyr, a 13th century Dominican preacher and Grand Inquisitor in Italy, who called cacao beans “Blessed money, as it exempts its possessors from avarice, since it cannot be hoarded or hidden underground”.

a newly picked avocado 3 beans
a ripe avocado 1 bean
5 green chilies 1 bean
1 large or 2 small sapole fruits    1 bean
a handmade cotton cloak 65 - 300 beans
a canoe or a slave 100 beans

Cacao as a drink

Even though I am unable to find the exact quantities of the ingredients, I was able to find the method of making an old recipe from the Aztec civilization. This gave a deluxe chocolate drink that is said to contain aphrodisiac properties. The Aztec Emperor, Montezuma, was a confirmed chocoholic that, according to rumor, was said to consume 50 cups of this drink before visiting his harem.

1)   Roast cacao beans in a pot, then crush them between stones to form a paste.
2) Add annatto, anise or chili peppers and cinnamon to the paste.
3) Stir mixture over a low fire until it becomes a foamy, bubbling liquid.
4) Serve immediately, preferably in a cup of solid gold.
  mayan drinking vessel
Cacao and the Europeans

In 1502 Columbus discovered the cacao beans in Nicaragua and sent some back to Spain. Without the method of preparing the beans the Spaniards were indifferent about them as they couldn't get over the bitterness. This changed in 1519 when Hernando Cortez discovered how the Aztecs prepare their cacao drinks and sent this information back to a Spanish monastery. The monastery mixes another exotic ingredient, sugar, to the drink and it becomes a huge success. The Spanish tried to keep this knowledge a secret but eventually the French acquires this knowledge but considered the drink to be at best barbarous and at worst a noxious drug.

By 1550 a number of chocolate factories had opened up all over Europe.

Some of the text and the images were extracted from Wikipedia. All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.