History of chocolate
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The history of chocolate begins in Mesoamerica. Fermented beverages made from chocolate date back to 1900 BC. The Aztecs believed that cacao seeds were the gift of Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom, and the seeds once had so much value that they were used as a form of currency. Originally prepared only as a drink, chocolate was served as a bitter, frothy liquid, mixed with spices, wine, or corn puree. It was believed to have aphrodisiac powers and to give the drinker strength. Today, such drinks are also known as "Chilate" and are made by locals in the South of Mexico.
After its arrival to Europe in the sixteenth century, sugar was added to it and it became popular throughout society, first among the ruling classes and then among the common people. In the 20th century, chocolate was considered a staple, essential in the rations of United States soldiers at war.
Cultivation, use, and cultural elaboration of cacao were early and extensive in Mesoamerica, to which the cacao tree is native. When pollinated, the seed of the cacao tree eventually forms a kind of sheath, or ear, 20" long, hanging from the branches. Within the sheath are 30 to 40 brownish-red almond-shaped beans embedded in a sweet viscous pulp. While the beans themselves are bitter due to the alkaloids within them, the sweet pulp may have been the first element consumed by humans. Evidence suggests that it may have been fermented and served as an alcoholic beverage as early as 1400 BC.
While researchers do not agree which Mesoamerican culture first domesticated the cacao tree, the use of the fermented bean in a drink seems to have arisen in North America (México). Scientists have been able to confirm its presence in vessels around the world by evaluating the "chemical footprint" detectable in the microsamples of contents that remain. Ceramic vessel with residues from the preparation of chocolate beverages have been found at archaeological sites dating back to the Early Formative (1900-900 BC) period. For example, one such vessel found at an Olmec archaeological site on the Gulf Coast of Veracruz, Mexico dates chocolate's preparation by pre-Olmec peoples as early as 1750 BC. On the Pacific coast of Chiapas, Mexico, a Mokayanan archaeological site provides evidence of cacao beverages dating even earlier, to 1900 BC.
Earliest evidence of domestication of the cacao plant dates to the Olmec culture from the Preclassic period. The Olmecs used it for religious rituals or as a medicinal drink, with no recipes for personal use. Little evidence remains of how the beverage was processed.
The Mayan people, by contrast, do leave some surviving writings about cacao which confirm the identification of the drink with the gods. The Dresden Codex specifies that it is the food of the rain deity Kon, the Madrid Codex that gods shed their blood on the cacao pods as part of its production. The consumption of the chocolate drink is also depicted on pre-Hispanic vases. The Mayans seasoned their chocolate by mixing the roasted cacao seed paste into a drink with water, chile peppers and cornmeal, transferring the mixture repeatedly between pots until the top was covered with a thick foam.
By 1400, the Aztec empire took over a sizable part of Mesoamerica. They were not able to grow cacao themselves, but were forced to import it. All of the areas that were conquered by the Aztecs that grew cacao beans were ordered to pay them as a tax, or as the Aztecs called it, a "tribute". The cacao bean became a form of currency. The Spanish conquistadors left records of the value of the cacao bean, noting for instance that 100 beans could purchase a canoe filled with fresh water or a turkey hen. The Aztecs associated cacao with the god Quetzacoatl, whom they believed had been condemned by the other gods for sharing chocolate with humans. Unlike the Maya of Yucatán, the Aztecs drank chocolate cold. It was consumed for a variety of purposes, as an aphrodisiac or as a treat for men after banquets, and it was also included in the rations of Aztec soldiers.
Pueblo people, who lived in an area that is now the U.S. Southwest, imported cacao from Mesoamerican cultures in southern Mexico or Central America between 900 and 1400. They used it in a common beverage consumed by everyone in their society.
History in Europe
Christopher Columbus encountered the cacao bean on his fourth mission to the Americas on August 15, 1502, when he and his crew seized a large native canoe that proved to contain among other goods for trade, cacao beans. His son Ferdinand commented that the natives greatly valued the beans, which he termed almonds, "for when they were brought on board ship together with their goods, I observed that when any of these almonds fell, they all stooped to pick it up, as if an eye had fallen." But while Columbus took cacao beans with him back to Spain, it made no impact until Spanish friars introduced chocolate to the Spanish court.
Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés may have been the first European to encounter chocolate when he observed it in the court of Montezuma in 1519. In 1568, Bernal Diaz, who accompanied Cortés in the conquest of Mexico, wrote of this encounter which he witnessed:
From time to time they served him [Montezuma] in cups of pure gold a certain drink made from cacao. It was said that it gave one power over women, but this I never saw. I did see them bring in more than fifty large pitchers of cacao with froth in it, and he drank some of it, the women serving with great reverence.
Loathsome to such as are not acquainted with it, having a scum or froth that is very unpleasant taste. Yet it is a drink very much esteemed among the Indians, where with they feast noble men who pass through their country. The Spaniards, both men and women that are accustomed to the country are very greedy of this Chocolate. They say they make diverse sorts of it, some hot, some cold, and some temperate, and put therein much of that "chili"; yea, they make paste thereof, the which they say is good for the stomach and against the catarrh.
After the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, chocolate was imported to Europe. There, it quickly became a court favorite. It was still served as a beverage, but the Spanish added sugar or honey to counteract the natural bitterness. Within about a hundred years, chocolate established a foothold throughout Europe.
How the word "chocolate" came into Spanish is not certain. The authority on the Spanish language, the Royal Spanish Academy, derives it from the Nahuatl word "xocolatl" (pronounced [ ʃoˈkolaːtɬ]) made up from the words "xococ" meaning sour or bitter, and "atl" meaning water or drink. However, as William Bright noted the word "chocolatl" doesn't occur in central Mexican colonial sources making this an unlikely derivation. Santamaria gives a derivation from the Yucatec Maya word "chokol" meaning hot, and the Nahuatl "atl" meaning water. More recently Dakin and Wichman derive it from another Nahuatl term, "chicolatl" from Eastern Nahuatl meaning "beaten drink". They derive this term from the word for the frothing stick, "chicoli". The word xocoatl means beverage of maize. The words "cacaua atl" mean drink of cacao. The word "xocolatl" does not appear in Molina's dictionary.
The new craze for chocolate brought with it a thriving slave market, as between the early 17th and late 19th centuries the laborious and slow processing of the cacao bean was manual. Cacao plantations spread, as the English, Dutch, and French colonized and planted. With the depletion of Mesoamerican workers, largely to disease, cacao production was often the work of poor wage laborers and African slaves. Wind-powered and horse-drawn mills were used to speed production, augmenting human labor. Heating the working areas of the table-mill, an innovation that emerged in France in 1732, also assisted in extraction.
New processes that speed the production of chocolate emerged early in the Industrial Revolution. In 1815, Dutch chemist Coenraad van Houten introduced alkaline salts to chocolate, which reduced its bitterness. A few years thereafter, in 1828, he created a press to remove about half the natural fat (cacao butter) from chocolate liquor, which made chocolate both cheaper to produce and more consistent in quality. This innovation introduced the modern era of chocolate. Known as "Dutch cocoa", this machine-pressed chocolate was instrumental in the transformation of chocolate to its solid form when in 1847 Joseph Fry learned to make chocolate moldable by adding back melted cacao butter. Milk had sometimes been used as an addition to chocolate beverages since the mid-17th century, but in 1875 Daniel Peter invented milk chocolate by mixing a powdered milk developed by Henri Nestlé with the liquor. In 1879, the texture and taste of chocolate was further improved when Rodolphe Lindt invented the conching machine.
Lindt & Sprüngli AG, a Swiss-based concern with global reach, had its start in 1845 as the Sprüngli family confectionery shop in Zurich that added a solid-chocolate factory the same year the process for making solid chocolate was developed and later bought Lindt's factory. Besides Nestlé, several chocolate companies had their start in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Cadbury was manufacturing boxed chocolates in England by 1868. In 1893, Milton S. Hershey purchased chocolate processing equipment at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago and soon began the career of Hershey's chocolates with chocolate-coated caramels.
Roughly two-thirds of the world's cocoa is produced in Western Africa, with close to half of the total sourced from Côte d'Ivoire. Like many food industry producers, individual cocoa farmers are at the mercy of volatile world markets. The price can vary from between £500 ($945) and £3,000 ($5,672) per ton in the space of just a few years. While investors trading in cocoa can dump shares at will, individual cocoa farmers can not ramp up production and abandon trees at anywhere near that pace.
Only three to four per cent of "cocoa futures" contracts traded in the cocoa markets ever end up in the physical delivery of cocoa. Every year seven to nine times more cocoa is bought and sold on the exchange than exists.
It has been alleged that an estimated 90% of cocoa farms in Côte d'Ivoire have used some form of slave labor in order to remain viable. When cocoa prices drop, farmers in West Africa sometimes cut costs by resorting to slave labour.
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- Food history
- History of yerba mate
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Alex the Besserwisse