The history of chocolate


Chocolate came originally from Central and South America. The word itself is derived from the Aztec xocolatl (x was pronounced 'sh'). This meant 'bitter water' –  for the Aztecs treasured it as an unsweetened drink. Indeed, they treasured it so much, that they used the beans as currency (100 beans could buy a slave).

The Spanish conquistadors were bemused by the drink, but realised that if they planted cacao seeds in their territories in the tropics they could literally grow money.

Chocolate drink

Hernán Cortez, conqueror of Mexico, also took some beans back to Spain in 1528, but it was another fifty years before chocolate caught on as a drink, now sweetened with cane sugar or honey. The habit spread slowly in Europe: Pepys drank some 'jocolatte' in a London coffee house in 1664, and pronounced it 'very good'.

Eating chocolate

In 1828 the Dutch chemist and chocolate manufacturer Coenraad van Houten patented a method of removing the cocoa butter from cocoa beans to produce cocoa powder. Twenty years later, the chocolate makers J.S. Fry & Sons, of Bristol, mixed cocoa butter with cocoa powder, along with sugar, and 'eating chocolate' was born.

In 1867 the Swiss manufacturer Daniel Peter, of Vevey, found a way of adding milk to make the first milk chocolate –  a task assisted by the milk powder produced by a local baby-food manufacturer called Henri Nestlé. In 1879 the Swiss confectioner Rodolphe Lindt invented the process of conching –  essential for making smooth chocolate.

The first filled chocolates, known as pralines, were made by the Belgian chocolatier Jean Neuhaus in 1912.

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