If you are curious enough to find out who made dark chocolate, this post is for you as it gives you the answer to who made it.
Chocolate, as we know today, brings up the images of sweet, luscious truffles but the dark chocolate of the past is nothing like the chocolate of today. The dark chocolate that served as the beginning of the feast from the cacao tree was a bitter beverage that was revered in society.
The history of dark chocolate is believed to start in Latin America, where the Olmec, one of the earliest Latin American civilizations, first turned cacao plants into chocolate. The tradition continued as the Mayans and Aztecs used the cacao drink for various purposes.
The history of chocolate can be traced to the ancient Olmecs of Southern Mexico who are considered to be one of the earliest Latin American civilizations around 3,000 years ago. Other Pre-Columbian societies, including the Mayans and the Aztecs, continued to use the bitter, dark chocolate drink for medicinal and ceremonial purposes.
After conducting thorough research and getting in touch with curators and history recorders on who made dark chocolate, we are in a position to share an insight into the history of dark chocolate.
How It All Started?
Dark Chocolate comes from the fruit of cacao trees, a tree that is native to South and Central America. The cacao tree's fruit are known as pods, and each pod contains cacao beans. The beans from the cacao tree fruit are first dried and then roasted to create cocoa beans.
The Olmec Cacao Drink
While it is unclear who invented this process and where the first cacao trees were identified, there is enough evidence that suggests that it all started in Latin America. The Olmecs, which is one of the most ancient Latin American civilizations, first converted the beans from the cacao tree into chocolate. However, the chocolate of the past was nothing like we know it today. It used to be a bitter drink that was a delicacy for the elite. Most people drank their chocolate as part of rituals, while others used it as medicine.
According to a cultural arts curator for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, the ancient Olmec vessels and pots which were discovered from around 1500 B.C. showed traces of theobromine. Theobromine is a stimulant compound found in tea and chocolate, which is why it is believed that the Olmec used cacao to create a ceremonial drink.
However, since there are no written records, opinions about how it all started vary, and some people believe that the Mayans and not the Olmec made the first dark chocolate.
The Mayan Chocolate
Much later, the knowledge of cacao processing was acquired by the Central American Mayans. It is believed that the Olmecs passed their cacao knowledge on to the Mayans, and they consumed chocolate. In fact, they revered it. There is written evidence throughout history suggesting that the Mayans used chocolate as part of the festivities and celebrations and used it to finalize important transactions.
However, the drink was not reserved for the elite and powerful and was readily available to almost everyone. There is evidence that many Mayan households enjoyed chocolate with most meals. The Mayan chocolate drink was a frothy and thick liquid that was combined with honey, chili peppers, or water.
The Use of Cacao Beans as Currency
While Cacao was used to make chocolate by the Olmecs and Mayans, it was not until the Aztecs took its admiration to another level that cacao gained popularity. The Aztecs believed that cacao was given to them by their gods so while they enjoyed the caffeinated chocolate drink, they also used cacao beans to trade and buy food and other goods.
In Aztec culture, cacao beans were deemed more precious than gold, which is why chocolate soon became an upper-class extravagance that lower classes occasionally enjoyed at ceremonies and celebrations. The Aztecs were the first to call the cacao drink xocolatl, which is the root word for chocolate.
Xocolatl further gained popularity in the Aztec civilization because one of the mighty Aztec rulers Montezuma IIdrank gallons of chocolate drink every day as it was believed to be a source of energy and a stimulant. It is also believed that the ruler reserved some of his cacao beans for his military so they could turn out to be strong competitors.
Chocolate Found Its Way to Europe
There are conflicting reports about how and when chocolate found its way from Central America to Europe, but it is widely agreed that the dark chocolate from the Olmecs, Mayans, and Aztecs first arrived in Spain.
One story suggests that the Aztecs introduced chocolate to the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes in Montezuma’s court. Other legends believe that Christopher Columbus found cacao beans when he impeded a ship carrying trade goods on a journey to America and brought the cacao beans to Spain with him. And there is also a third story of how cocoa beans reached Spain. According to this legend, the religious men who visited Spain to meet the king brought cacao beans along as a present from Central America in 1544.
Regardless of how chocolate reached Europe, it was a much-loved beverage in Spain by the late 1500s. Asthe love for chocolate drink spread throughout Europe, there was a high demand for chocolate that forced into cacao plantations where thousands of slaves worked. However, given the rising demand and the increasing popularity of chocolate, Spain started importing chocolate in 1585. Moreover, other European countries such as Italy and France also brought Cacao from Central America to their respective countries.
As chocolate continued to gain popularity, it reached England, and the first chocolate house was opened in London in 1657. The idea was quite similar to today's coffee houses, and it was a place reserved for men who would meet over a dark chocolate drink.
However, it is important to note that as chocolate found its way from Central America to Europe, how it was brewed into a drink changed. The European taste buds were not well-acquainted with the conventional Aztec chocolate drink recipe, so they created their own recipes of chocolate drink, also known as hot chocolate, where they seasoned the beverage with cinnamon and sugar cane and other common flavorings and spices.
The Industrial Revolution and Dark Chocolate
The industrial revolution in the 1700s had a significant impact on all aspects of life, and chocolate was not an exception. With changing norms of how industries operated and with the invention of machines and grinding engines, it was now easier to grind cacao beans which also helped reduce the prices of the cacao bean powder and also increased its availability.
Years later as technology improved, a Dutch chemist invented the cocoa press in 1829. The cocoa butter was squeezed out of the bean during this process, leaving a powder behind. The residual powder was what we know today as the cocoa powder was full of flavor and was soluble in water and milk. Due to this cocoa press, separating the two integral components of the cacao pod was possible. The machine's popularity increased and spread across Europe. In the 1830s, Cadbury in England decided to buy one of the cocoa presses to be used in his factory.
A few years later, in 1847, a British Quaker, came up with the idea of mixing cocoa butter and sugar with cocoa powder to create solid chocolate, and that's the invention of the very first chocolate bar. Many years later, Henri Nestle tried to add milk to the cocoa powder, cocoa butter, and sugar mix to give it a completely different taste that we now know and enjoy as milk chocolate.
So, over a period of several centuries, the ancient bitter drink transformed into dark and milk chocolates as we know them today.
Where Does Dark Chocolate Come From?
Now that you already know who made dark chocolate and how it evolved over the years and on different continents, let's look at where dark chocolate as we know it today comes from.
The dark chocolate is extracted from the beans of the pods. The beans which are extracted from the pod are fermented, followed by drying and roasting. Following the roasting process, the outer part or shell of the beans is separated from the meat, which is then grinded into a liquid substance known as chocolate liquor, which is then separated from the cocoa butter or the fatty portion of the cacao beans.
Remember, if you buy quality dark chocolate with a high cocoa content, it is actually quite nutritious and loaded with minerals, antioxidants, and soluble fiber.
About THE AUTHOR
Lori has been a Culinary Arts instructor for twenty years. She has taught in the public school setting, at the collegiate level and through adult continuing education as well as running several cooking and baking camps for children. She has participated in several cooking, cake & chocolate contests and has been well recognized. She has raised thousands of dollars for charities using the byline “Saving the World one Cupcake at a Time”. Additionally, she has had several articles regarding food published in various magazines.Read More About Lori Gilmore