Chocolate! It’s a delightful sweet taste as we know of it today. It comes in a variety of colors, and flavors that range from sweet to unsweetened and in a powdered form. However, chocolate did not come in the form that we are most familiar with today.
Before chocolate covered strawberries, had salt sprinkled on top, or was a sticky topping on ice cream it was a crop that is believe to have been originated in the New World particularly the central and southern part of the Americas. The cacao, was not given the name cacao until European settlers arrived. Although, Mayan scripts have reference to such substance as kawkaw. The genus name for the plant was not given until an European scientist had named it. However, the actual word “chocolate” is very similar to the Aztect word xocolatl and may have been pronounced very close to the way we pronounce chocolate today.
Upon Columbus’ arrival in 1492, he is credited with the first to have encountered the cocoa bean within a few years into his stay. Between the years of 1502 and 1504 during Columbus’ fourth voyage from the Americas’, Columbus is also credited with the one to have brought Cacao beans back with him to Europe. It is thought that he has stumbled onto a canoe full of a variety of foods and upon his findings, the cacao seeds were one of many things that he brought back to Europe.
The indigenous people of the American land mass had used the cacao bean for hundreds of years prior. Depending on the region of the Americas, certain indigenous groups have documented their use of the cacao between 1500 and 300 BC and 1351 AD. It is thought to believe that the Olmec tribe was growing trees from the cacao beans. However, the Mayans were possibly the only tribe of the Americas to conduct a cacao plantation as early as 600 BC. Other researchers note that the cacao trees were growing thousands of years before its production from humans.
The cacao bean held great importance within the community of the indigenous people. The beans were commonly used as a form of currency to buy other man made products, animals, and plants. Often times, when a woman was to be wed, the admirer would offer the woman’s family cacao beans in exchange for her hand in marriage.
Chocolate was a great treat to both Europeans and people of the Americas. Europeans and the indigenous people of the Americas are known to use the cacao to flavor their water. The word itself is transcribed to as “bitter water”.
In the 1500s, Cortes is also noted to have brought cacao beans from Mexico back to the king of the court in Europe. He, and other conquerors help spread the cacao to other places in the world.
A time line to put things into perspective:
- Thousands of years before its use by humans, the cacao tree grew on the lands of the Americas
- 1500 BC natives using cacao beans
- Aproximately 1502 Columbus stumbles upon cacao
- 1519, Cortes begins to build a cacao plantatation with plans to extend it to Spain
- 1527/1528 Cortes introduces cacao to king Charles V
- 1590 Mexican nuns are credited with sweetening chocolate with surgar cane and honey
- 1606, Italian explorer discovers chocolate in a neighboring country, Spain and takes it back to his home country, Italy.
- 1615 French princess give chocolate as a gift to fiance
- 1631 first published recipee. Although decades earlier handwritten notes was found on a base of an army camp
- 1641 German scientist introduced chocholate to Germany from gaining a supply from Italy
- Other countries began publishing their own recipees
- 1697 a mayor brings it to Switzerland
- 1700s, ships reintroduced chocolate to the Americas but this time Northern America