How did chocolate become so popular?

28th February 2017

 

Did you know that chocolate wasn’t always the sweet and tasty treat it is now? For the longest time, chocolate has been a staple in many dessert recipes, much so that you wouldn’t see any wedding catering services not offering chocolate in any of their menus. It is also has a huge influence on culture – chocolate has been one of the basic options if you’re looking to give someone a gift, whether for valentines, a birthday, anniversary, or just for the heck of it. However, it took a lot of development for chocolate to develop into being the food behemoth it is today.

 

Mayan and Aztec Culture

Chocolate originated from cocoa beans, but it wasn’t always eaten in delicious chocolate bar form. That came much later. It was first consumed as a bitter drink; the beans were grinded into paste and mixed with a number of ingredients including vanilla, honey, water and spices like pepper.

These variations of chocolate drinks were well known in the Mayan and Aztec communities as a mystical drink that was spiritual in nature. This was because of the unique effects they had on those who consumed it: they were more invigorated and had better moods. At times it was even considered as an aphrodisiac. This is why the right to consume chocolate was saved for nobles, spiritual leaders and rulers, and for sacred events.

Sailing Across the Atlantic

In the early 1500’s Hernan Cortez invaded and conquered a part of Mexico in the name of Spain and was introduced to these special beans. He was fascinated by how the local cultures valued it and treated it as a form of currency. Cortez put up a plantation for the cocoa beans and started importing them into Spain. Because it was an imported product it was still saved for the royal and noble, and they tweaked the recipe a bit by sweetening it with cinnamon and cane sugar.

Spain Couldn’t Keep It a Secret Any Longer

When King Louis XIII of France married the daughter of King Philip II of Spain, her addiction to the drink migrated to France and from there the spread began. The aristocrats loved the sweet drink and the numerous health benefits they believed it brought. The social status it implied was another reason for its popularity. Chocolate was still a premium product, after all! In order to appease the growing demand these same European influencers set up plantations for the beans in different regions near the equator around the world.

The Real Chocolate Revolution Begins

Chocolate found its way in many stores not just in Europe. In America, they were incorporated in many recipes. Rather than being just a drink, chocolate became sweet treats and were included in pastries. The true revolution began with the invention of the cocoa press by Van Houten in the 1800s. This made the processing of cocoa beans into fine powder much easier and more affordable. Thanks to this innovation chocolate wasn’t just made for the rich and powerful, it paved the way for chocolate to be enjoyed by the masses.

The rest as they say is history. Many other players took advantage of the growing popularity of chocolate and created their own variations. Now we are exposed to a market with so many variations of this sweet and sometimes bitter treat. Next time you take a sip of hot chocolate, take a moment to appreciate its journey to where it is now.

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