From celebratory gift items to comforting hot drinks, chocolate has been known as a valued confectionery whether it is wrapped in colourful foil or liquefied and poured, liberally, onto items ranging from strawberries to marshmallows to various vegetables. From spread to solid, chocolate has been known to release endorphins into the blood, by enabling the secretion of the neurotransmitter dopamine in between nerve synapses, giving the regions of the brain a warm feeling that the human brain associates as a reward circuit. And this process within the human body has been occurring since 300 BC when the Olmec Indians grew cacao trees which produced the cocoa bean. Refreshingly bitter and earthy, as well as rich in nutrients such as magnesium and antioxidants chocolate has since spread from ancient to modern civilisation, proliferating in popularity and covertly strolling into many diets over the years.
Mayans initially discovered what is now known as chocolate, however, back then referred to as ‘kakawa’. Using the beans as currency, religious substitutes for blood and even baptisms, weddings and deities. The idea that the elite could afford chocolate embedded its roots within the Mayan culture; the rich would use decorated chocolate vessels to drink out of. As the Aztecs continued on this culture, Hernan Cortez, the Spanish conqueror invaded the Aztecs and discovered the elusive cacao. Thus, chocolate was introduced into Europe. With the addition of sugar to the acidic fluid in the early 1500s, a small stick known as a mollinillo to froth up the liquid into an appetising, cloudy mixture and Louis XIV discovering the beverage and snatching the concept of the liquefied, saccharine drink, inevitably the first chocolate house was hastily opened in London in 1657.
During the 16th century, Christopher Columbus was said to have tasted Mayan cocoa in the form of a drink laden with vanilla and cinnamon, however his efforts to bring the beverage back to England waned, allowing more than a thousand years to pass before Britain was able to savour the drink. As chocolate became a frenzied craze in Europe, such as within countries including England, France and Denmark, slave labour in cacao production increased between the 1700s to 1800s. Seen as a sign of decadence and luxury, chocolate was a favoured drink of the ton, especially the conservative party and other elite members of society who visited chocolate houses often.
Quakers soon used chocolate to their advantage, selling the liquid in order to reinforce their aims of limiting alcohol consumption, manifest within the Temperance Movement. Soon becoming a privatised business, the competitors, William Cadbury and Joseph Fry used chocolate as a means of profit, selling tons of chocolate to the army, navy and Queen Victoria.
Up until 1847, chocolate remained a beverage enjoyed more often by the upper and middle class. However, promptly after that Joseph Fry, transformed chocolate from a humble drink to a solid food item by using back melted cacao butter and in 1875, milk chocolate was invented by mixing chocolate with powdered milk. Conching, invented by Rudolphe Lindt in 1879, improved the texture and taste of chocolate by using frictional heat, the release of volatiles and acids and oxidation to the cocoa butter within the chocolate. The treat became more widespread; more popular than ever, leading to the present day rapture.
Now, producing over 3 billion tonnes of cacao a year, chocolate has developed, adapted and moulded itself into its own 35 billion dollar industry. Back to when the Mayans and Aztecs believed that chocolate was the food of the gods to the present, where it has become an ingredient within wide range of foods, the evidence points towards chocolate remaining a timeless and classic commodity.
How has chocolate evolved over the decades?