The Grapevine

What Is The History Of Chocolate? From Chili Pepper To Honey And Vanilla, Chocolate Has Evolved A Lot

The health benefits of chocolate have been heavily touted. High in flavonoids, which are loaded with antioxidants and help protect our bodies against free radicals, the sweet treat wasn’t always in its current form.

ReadHealth Benefits Of Chocolate: Habitual Consumption 'Positively Associated' With Brain Function

Before the 16th century, chocolate only existed in Mesoamerica and was completely different than what it is now. Cacao beans were previously ground and mixed with cornmeal and chili pepper to make a bitter, frothy drink. These early Americans believed that cacao was a heavenly gift sent to humans by a feathered, serpent God. It was so treasured the Aztecs even used cacao beans as currency, giving it as a reward to soldiers in battle.

The year 1519 marked the first transatlantic chocolate encounter when colonists returned from the Count of Montezuma with large shipments of the strange bean. It quickly gained a reputation as being an aphrodisiac.

Chocolate was previously used for medicinal purposes and used for ailments like upset stomachs. However, it quickly became a treat when people began sweetening it with sugar, honey and vanilla. It soon became a delicacy in the Spanish court and was a staple in aristocratic homes.

However, the demand for chocolate came with consequences. Producing the cacao bean on a large scale was difficult and time consuming, involving large plantations and slave labor in the Caribbean. However, everything changed in 1828 when the cocoa press was invented by Coenraad Van Houten. The machine separated cocoa’s natural fat, leaving a powder behind that can be added to a liquid to make a drink or be combined with the cocoa butter to make the chocolate bar. Daniel Peter further evolved the creation by dehydrating milk then adding it to the mix, concocting the milk chocolate bar we enjoy today.

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In the 20th century, chocolate was no longer for the elite and was widely enjoyed. However, its popularity still has a dark side as slave and child labor is still utilized in some areas of the world to produce the cocoa beans.

To learn more about chocolate, check out the video about the history of chocolate from TED:

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