The History of Cocoa

The Maya have cultivated COCOA since ca. 600 A.D.; when the Spaniards conquered the Aztec Empire, they observed the Aztecs drinking XOCOLATL, a very bitter drink prepared from dried and processed cocoa powder.
What made the Spanish grow cocoa beans on plantations was the fact that the Aztecs used them as currency - Montezuma had treasury houses full of cocoa beans. Over time, the Spanish experimented with the bean and became fond of the cocoa drink. In the early 17th century chocolate (the drink) became popular in Europe; it was believed to have the qualities of an aphrodisiac. It's cultivation extended, as cocoa plantations were established in regions such as Ecuador and Venezuela. Other colonial powers established their own cocoa plantations, challenging the Spanish monopoly. Later, cocoa found it's way to western Africa, which today is the main supplier of cocoa.

In it's original state, cocoa is very bitter. Originally, it was consumed exclusively in form of the chocolate drink, to which large amounts of sugar were added. Import duties on cocoa for a long time were heavy; chocolate was regarded a luxury product, to be consumed only by the wealthy. Only when these duties were significantly reduced could chocolate be turned into a product affordable for everyone. It was the Swiss manufacturer LINDT who in 1879 by adding cocoa butter invented solidified chocolate, as we know it today. SWITZERLAND and BELGIUM are famous for their chocolate industry products; Switzerland has the highest per capita chocolate consumption in the world.
Chocolate has an extremely high energy content. During World Wars I and II, U.S. soldiers were given chocolate bars before they were sent out. As it was unclear when they would get their next regular meal, the chocolate bar was to provide them with the calories they needed. This contributed much to making chocolate popular.

Article Cocoa, from the Cook's Thesaurus; Article Chocolate, from Pastrywiz
ICCO : Historical Background, from ICCO
Chocolate : The History and the Heroes, from SimplyFood; The Story of Chocolate, from Vineswinger ; Chocolate History, from The Shopping Place

This page is part of World History at KMLA
Last revised on February 16th 2002

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