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History of chocolate invention (2009-12-23)

2011-6-19 15:12:18

Chocolate through the Years
The story of chocolate, as far back as we know it, begins with the discovery of America. Until 1492, the Old World knew nothing at all about the delicious and stimulating flavour that was to become the favourite of millions.

The Court of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella got its first look at the principal ingredient of chocolate when Columbus returned in triumph from America and laid before the Spanish throne a treasure trove of many strange and wonderful things. Among these were a few dark brown beans that looked like almonds and seemed most unpromising. There were cocoa beans, today's source of all our  chocolate and cocoa.

The King and Queen never dreamed how important cocoa beans could be, and it remained for Hernando Cortez, the great Spanish explorer, to grasp the commercial possibilities of the New World offerings.

Food of the Gods
During his conquest of Mexico, Cortez found the Aztec Indians using cocoa beans in the preparation of the royal drink of the realm, "chocolatl", meaning warm liquid. In 1519, Emperor Montezuma, who reportedly drank 50 or more portions daily, served chocolatl to his Spanish guests in great golden goblets, treating it like a food for the gods.

For all its regal importance, however, Montezuma's chocolatl was very bitter, and the Spaniards did not find it to their taste. To make the concoction more agreeable to Europeans, Cortez and his countrymen conceived of the idea of sweetening it with cane sugar.

While they took chocolatl back to Spain, the idea found favour and the drink underwent several more changes with newly discovered spices, such as cinnamon and vanilla. Ultimately, someone decided the drink would taste better if served hot.

The new drink won friends, especially among the Spanish aristocracy. Spain wisely proceeded to plant cocoa in its overseas colonies, which gave birth to a very profitable business. Remarkably enough, the Spanish succeeded in keeping the art of the cocoa industry a secret from the rest of Europe for nearly a hundred years.

Chocolate Spreads to Europe
Spanish monks, who had been consigned to process the cocoa beans, finally let the secret out. It did not take long before chocolate was acclaimed throughout Europe as a elicious, health-giving food. For a while it reigned as the drink at the fashionable Court of France. Chocolate drinking spread across the Channel to Great Britain, and in 1657 the first of many famous English Chocolate Houses appeared.

The hand methods of manufacture used by small shops gave way in time to the mass production of chocolate. The transition was hastened by the advent of a perfected steam engine which mechanized the cocoa grinding process. By 1730, chocolate had dropped in price from three dollars or more per pound to within the financial reach of all. The invention of the cocoa press in 1828 reduced the prices even further and helped to improve the quality of the beverage by squeezing out part of the cocoa butter, the fat that occurs naturally in cocoa beans. From then on, drinking chocolate had more of the smooth consistency and the pleasing flavour it has today.

The 19th Century marked two more revolutionary developments in the history of chocolate. In 1847, an English company introduced solid "eating chocolate" through the development of fondant chocolate, a smooth and velvety variety that has almost completely replaced the old coarse grained chocolate which formerly dominated the world market. The second development occurred in 1876 in Vevey, Switzerland, when Daniel Peter devised a way of adding milk to the chocolate, creating the product we enjoy today known as milk chocolate.

Chocolate as a Food
We tend to think of chocolate as a rich, creamy food-a favourite ingredient in many dishes and a luscious indulgence in its own right. But until recently in fact, (for 90% of its history), people drank chocolate; they didn't eat it.Peoples of Mesoamerica liked their chocolate drink frothy and spicy.

The Classic Period Maya (250-900 C.E. [A.D.]) and Aztecs (1250-1521) were early connoisseurs of chocolate's flavourful properties. They made chocolate by mixing crushed cacao seeds with water. The result was a tepid, foamy, and quite bitter beverage.

The Aztec people spiced their drink with chilli peppers, thickened it with cornmeal, or flavoured it with honey, vanilla, or flower petals. Sugar wasn't yet available as a sweetener in the Americas.

Europeans liked their chocolate drink sweet and hot.

When the Spanish conquered the Aztecs, they found the native chocolate drink too bitter for their tastes. To sweeten and flavour it, the Spanish added sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, and other spices.

The Spanish managed to keep their delicious drink a secret from others for almost 100 years. But eventually versions of the brew spread like wildfire throughout Europe, becoming the popular drink of the continent's rich and elite.

Today, people worldwide love sweetened chocolate as a drink and as a food.
During the mid-1800s, new machines made it possible to inexpensively mass-produce solid chocolate candy. No longer a rich person's treat, chocolate became affordable to a much wider audience.
Today, chefs in many countries have incorporated chocolate into specialty dishes, desserts, and drinks so that this sweet can now be found in some form on most menus around the world.