Chocolate is one of, if not the most, popular food type in the world. As a snack, you can see it in its various forms, particularly desserts such as candy bars, cakes and pastries. It is easily recognizable by people especially children but not many people are aware how this food superstar was discovered and how it’s made.
The Cacao Tree
Chocolate comes from the seeds of the cacao tree, an evergreen tree, which means it has green leaves all year round. The word “cocoa” comes from the Spanish word cacao, which is derived from the Nahuatl word “cacahuatl”. Cultivation, consumption, and cultural use of cacao were extensive in Mesoamerica (modern day Mexico and its neighboring countries), where the cacao tree is native.
According to the book “The True History of Chocolate” by Sophie and Michael Coe, the earliest evidence of cacao consumption goes back as far as three to four millennia ago by the pre-Columbian cultures of Mesoamerica such as the Olmecs, Aztecs and Mayans. They use cacao in religious rituals, feasts, tributes and for medicinal purposes. Mixing ground cacao seeds with various seasonings to make a spicy, frothy drink, it was the favored drink of royalties.
The Spaniards and Cacao
After the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, cacao seeds were brought back to Europe. To counter the natural bitter taste of these seeds, they decided to add honey or cane sugar and make it more palatable. It then quickly became a hit and spread throughout the continent.
According to the Smithsonian, in 1828, Dutch chemist Coenraad van Houten found a way to make powdered chocolate by removing about half the natural fat (cacao butter) from chocolate liquor, pulverizing what remained and treating the mixture with alkaline salts to cut the bitter taste. His product became known as “Dutch cocoa,” and it soon led to the creation of solid chocolate.
The creation of the first modern chocolate bar is credited to Joseph Fry, who in 1847 discovered that he could make a moldable chocolate paste by adding melted cacao butter back into Dutch cocoa.
Due to the technological advancements and improvements in machines brought by the Industrial Revolution, production of cacao-based products was sped up, paving the way for the transformation of chocolate from a beverage to the food we love today.
So, the next time that you’ll be eating this delicious treat, you can thank the Mesoamerican cultures for discovering and cultivating the cacao tree, and the Spaniards for bringing some to Europe.
At Good Harvest, we aim to provide the best cacao in the country and in the region, by ensuring productivity and involving the community with respect to the environment.