When you walk into any store, just about anywhere in the world you are likely to find chocolate on the shelves. What we know today as chocolate is vastly different from its original form though.
What is chocolate?
Chocolate as we know it is a sweet and enjoyable sugary treat. It has a distinct flavor that originates from the cacao bean. These beans are actually seeds found in a pod that grow on the trunk of the Theobroma Cacao tree and, believe it or not, the pod is considered to be a fruit.
Where does chocolate come from?
The Theobroma Cacao tree itself is native to America, but as production needs have spread, it’s been imported into other areas. A very large quantity of the world’s cacao is actually grown in Africa with Côte d’Ivoire sporting the largest percentage of cacao growth in the world. Ghana comes in at a close second. Other countries that grow the cacao tree are Indonesia, Cameroon, Nigeria, Brazil, Ecuador, and Malaysia. The tree grows at its best across the equatorial belt throughout the world.
So what’s the deal? What’s the story behind chocolate?
Chocolate in its earliest form was prepared as a drink by the Olmecs using the white pulp found surrounding the beans in the pod. It can be dated back as early as the late 1700’s and is thought to have been prepared by the Mayans as far back as 400AD. Even the Aztecs took part in this guilty pleasure. However, the Aztec homeland was an unfavorable environment for the Cacao tree to grow in, so chocolate was imported as a luxury item.
The cocoa bean made its way into Spain when Cortes returned to Europe after his conquests. Chocolate quickly became very popular among the Spanish elite. Both the cocoa bean and sugar were extremely costly and thus it was not something that was available to the general populace. The magic of these beans remained a secret for over a century before it filtered into the rest of Europe. Chocolate remained a treat best enjoyed as a drink well into the 1800’s when the first chocolate candies were invented.
Some interesting points about the history of Chocolate
• The chocolate bean was so highly revered that the Aztecs used it as currency.
• The Aztecs drank extremely high amounts of chocolate. They however didn’t drink it the way we drink it today, with sugar and milk, they drank it straight up as a cold and bitter drink.
• Sugar was first added to chocolate after it had been introduced into Spain.
• Chocolate from the cacao bean is actually considered to be healthy for you. But, as with anything, too much of it can be harmful.
• The chocolate we buy in the shops today is actually a knock-off of the real thing. There are not a lot of people who have an acquired taste for the original bitter chocolate. The stuff that sells really well is filled with sugar and various other ingredients.