You are standing in the shade under the beautiful cacao tree in hopes that a foot long pod will drop off the tree and into your hands. When it does you run, skip, and leap to your parents. You say, ‘let’s make chocolate!’ Chocolate tastes amazing but how is it made and what is it’s history?
Chocolate comes from cacao trees. These trees grow in tropical rainforests full of exotic birds, animals and flowers. They grow under the shade or canopy of the other trees around them. The beautiful cacao tree grows clusters of flowers and football sized pods. Inside these pods is white pulp. If you dig deeper down you will find dozens of rows of chocolate seeds! Once the chocolate seeds are gathered they are fermented, dried, roasted, shelled, and crushed into a smooth paste from which that sweet and melty chocolate bar is made.
The Maya Indians of Central America might have begun using cacao seeds as early as 600 BC. The Maya built a great civilization that included huge temples, hieroglyphics, and a passion for chocolate. From remains of hieroglyphics, we know that the Maya loved chocolate very, very much. During their religious holidays, they offered chocolate to their Gods. The Maya did not eat chocolate, they drank the sweet sensation out of carved pots. The Maya flavored their chocolate with chilly, flower petals, and vanilla. The Aztecs, who lived around 1500 AD used many of the same chocolate making strategies as the Maya. Just as the Maya had offered chocolate to their Gods, the Aztecs did the same.
Spanish explorers came to Central America in the late 1400s in search of gold. That is when they were first introduced to chocolate. Spanish Conquistadors adored chocolate. One Spanish Conquistador named Hernando Cortes, called chocolate the divine drink. The Conquistadors drank the sugary sweetness both hot and chilled. Chocolate first arrived in Europe in the mid 1500’s. But it is not known who brought it there. At first the Europeans gave chocolate mixed reviews. For 2,000 years chocolate was a drink only served to the upper classes. Hundreds of thousands of African American people were kidnapped and forced to work on sugar and cacao plantations.
Around the late 1800’s there were many advances in chocolate making. First came Daniel Peter who invented milk chocolate. He added evaporated milk to a mixture of liquor, cocoa butter, and sugar which created milk chocolate. He got this recipe from Henry Nestle. In the 1920’s Milton Hershey began to bring chocolate to the public in a grand way. He sold hundreds of thousands of chocolate bars at prices most people could afford. In the 1920’s many candy shops made their own chocolate. World war one gave chocolate a boost. American troops were given chocolate as an energy boost.
From cacao trees to delicious candy bars and from its beginnings in Central America through Europe and to the United States, chocolate has come a long, long way. According to the Farmers Almanac more than 58 million pounds of chocolate candy is sold during Valentines week. But Halloween takes the top spot as the number one chocolate candy holiday. 90 million pounds of chocolate candy is sold during Valentines week and Americans consume on average over 12 pounds of chocolate each year. What’s your favorite kind?