Chocolate as we know it today — creamy, sweet, smooth, and refined — is a relatively modern concoction. For most of its thousands of years, the seeds of the cacao tree were used by the Maya and Aztecs to make a spicy, oily drink they called xocoatl. Xocoatl was made by grinding roasted cacao beans together with chilis and cornmeal then mixing in water and whipping it up. Adding sugar to make sweet chocolate was an invention to come much later.
The ancient mesoamerican natives revered xocoatl. The Mayans drank xocoatl regularly but when cacao beans were later demanded as tribute by the warrior Aztecs as a kind of tax, the drink itself was only available to the wealthy rulers, priests, and soldiers. It also played a symbolic role in their rituals of human sacrifice. To turn the xocoatl red for ceremonies, the Aztecs added achiote which is still used in mexican cooking today.
The Spanish conquerer of Mexico, Herman Cortes, brought the beans back to Europe in 1521. They became an instant hit. Unfortunately for the general public they remained expensive and were still only available to the very wealthy.
Over the next 100 years, the Spanish then the French discovered the most amazing thing: adding sugar produced a whole new taste and milk softened the spicy flavors! No longer was chocolate a bitter drink but could now be enjoyed hot and sweet much like the cocoa we still drink today.
In England, special "Chocolate Houses" opened in the mid-1600s so anyone with money could drink chocolate. These were popular places to socialize, discuss intellectual topics, and gamble, much like coffeehouses would be later.
The next innovation was solid chocolate candy, first created in 1830. Then during the Industrial Revolution came the invention of complex machinery that could grind and process the beans. The heavy labor of the past was no more. And in 1910, the United States banned any cocao beans derived by slave labor. This greatly improved the quality of life for the millions of people involved in production. Chocolate was becoming affordable for everyone and cacao plantations spread around the world to keep up with demand.
During the 1800s and early 1900s, Stephen Whitman, Henri Nestlé, Milton Hershey, William Cadbury, Harry Burnett Reese, Forrest Mars, and Theodore Tobler invented candies that still bear their names and are loved by millions today.
The rest is history so go grab a piece of chocolate and enjoy it while thinking back on the thousands of years of heritage behind your candy. May we suggest a Wild Berry Jelly Center for instance?
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