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Chocolate – The History

It is a strange fact of chocolate that for centuries of its consumption, sugar was completely absent from its ingredients. This highlights how little we know about this most food that we all treasure so much. The history of chocolate is long and vibrant and recent research indicates that it may have been around for as long as 3,500 years, dating back to the ancient Southern and Latin American cultures, such as the Mayans and Aztecs. However, it wasn’t used as it is today.

The source of the chocolate was the cacao tree, and this provided the pods and beans which were highly sought after by these civilisations. The pods could be pulped and fermented into a sort of alcoholic drink. The beans were so precious from the cacao tree, that they were used as Aztec currency during the period. They were even used in ritualistic practices and events, such as weddings and funerals. At this point, chocolate wasn’t sweetened at all and was more closely related to a drink than a solidified substance. It wasn’t until the Americas were visited by Spanish and Portuguese explorers, that sweet material like sugar cane was added.

It was then brought back to Spain in the eighteenth century, where the chocolate quickly became a very popular drink and spread through the European nations. Being exotic and expensive, it was thought to contain many exciting, almost magical properties and was a must-have accompaniment for any member of the upper classes.

It wasn’t until the early nineteenth century, that chemists found ways of turning chocolate into the solid form that we recognise today. This technique originated in Holland, and eliminated a lot of the old chocolates bitter after-taste too. However, the production of the first bar of chocolate belongs to Joseph Fry, who used a unique blend of original cacao material and the Dutch version of chocolate to create moulds of solid bars.

Cadbury formed in 1868, a little over twenty years after Fry’s discovery and began to produce chocolates to the masses. Not long after, milk chocolate was integrated into Cadbury’s forte and they became the forerunner of mass chocolate production. Little has changed from then to now, other than an increased use of additives and sugars to the chocolate making process, but the fundamentals remain.

Chocolate nowadays is a huge multi-billion pound industry that has grown exponentially year on year. It is amazingly versatile and because of this, it continues to fill a growing marketplace and purchased by all age groups.

Andy Wignall