< Back to the Blog

in Calabash Cove Chronicles, Culture, Life in Saint Lucia by | no comments

Chocolate Month- Some Chocolate history

A Short Chocolate History

Sitting in the Windsong restaurant overlooking Calabash Cove, I am sipping on my hot chocolate at breakfast. The rich thick texture of the locally made hot chocolate with a touch of cinnamon has a very distinctive taste. So very different from the rather bland, insipid  concoction often passed off as hot chocolate. Then I started thinking about Chocolate History. Where does chocolate come from?  As a child the answer would be; the market. After all that is where my parents bought the solid sticks of chocolate to make cocoa tea from market vendors. You grind it by hand, boil it in rich milk and then add honey and spices. Yum

But where does it really come from? Our chocolate history begins in Meso-America.

MESO-AMERICA & THE AZTECS

The region known as Meso-America lies between central Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and northern Costa Rica.

Fermented beverages made from chocolate already existed around 1900 BC.  The Aztecs believed that cacao seeds were the gift of Quetzalcoatl, the god of wisdom.

To Aztecs the seeds had so much value that they were once used as a form of currency. Originally prepared only as a drink, chocolate was served as a bitter, frothy liquid, mixed with spices or corn puree. It was believed to have aphrodisiac powers and to give the drinker strength. Still today, these drinks are known as “Chilate” and you still find them in rural areas of southern Mexico.

With the arrival of Europeans in the sixteenth century, adding sugar to the recipe popularised chocolate drinking throughout civilised society. Originally among the ruling elite, but gradually achieving wider popularity

In the 20th Century, chocolate was considered an essential component making up American soldiers rations during wartime.

The word “chocolate” comes from the Aztec Nahuatl word chocolātl, before finding its way into the English language.

THANK YOU THE MAYAN PEOPLE

The Mayan people, did leave some surviving writings about cacao which confirm the identification of the drink with the gods. Decorations on vases show these ideas visually.

Mayans would season their chocolate by mixing the roasted cacao seed paste into a drink with water, chili peppers and cornmeal, transferring the mixture repeatedly between pots creating a thick foam topping. Unlike the Mayans of Yucatán, the Aztecs drank chocolate cold, as an aphrodisiac or as a treat for men after banquets, and as part of the rations of Aztec soldiers.

Pueblo people, who lived in an area that is now the U.S. Southwest, imported cacao from Meso-American cultures in southern Mexico or Central America between 900 and 1400. They used it in a beverage consumed by everyone in their society.

Until the 16th century, this drink from the Central and South America was unknown to Europeans until 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 was laden with cacao beans.

After Columbus took these cacao beans with him back to Spain, it made no impact until Spanish friars introduced chocolate to the Spanish court.

FAMOUS NAMES IN CHOCOLATE HISTORY

New processing innovations introduced the modern era of chocolate. Joseph Fry learned to make chocolate moldable by adding back melted cacao butter.  In 1875 Daniel Peter invented milk chocolate by mixing a powdered milk developed by Henri Nestlé. By 1879, Rodolphe Lindt had invented the conching machine which further refines chocolate production.

Lindt, a Swiss-based concern with global reach, had its start in 1845.

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 Hershey’s chocolates with their famed chocolate-coated caramels was a household name in the USA.

West Africa produces most of the world’s cocoa. In recent years, the rejuvenation of abandoned cocoa plantations in Saint Lucia has re introduced an indigenous industry. Saint Lucian Chocolate is once again on the market.

My Calabash Cove hot chocolate meanwhile, has been joined by a fresh, warm and crisp pain au chocolat. The croissant, an Austrian invention later perfected by the French. I will just enjoy both and worry about the history of the croissant another time.