A Brief History Of Chocolate
With Easter just around the corner, it is clearer than ever that chocolate is big business. But how much do you know about where it came from?
Chocolate can be traced back to the Aztecs in 1300BC. They called it “xocoatl” (pronounced ‘sho-co-lat-ul’) which translates as ‘bitter drink’. The beans from the cacao fruit were fermented in alcohol, leading experts to believe that chocolate was originally made to be drunk, rather than eaten.
In pre-modern Latin America, cacao beans were used as currency, while the Aztecs believed the beans held magical powers. There are texts stating that cacao beans were given to human sacrifices to ‘cheer them up’ before their death – with the added bonus that they were dipped in the previous victims’ blood. Yum.
The Mayans used cacao in everything from rituals and ceremonies to funerals and medicine. They crushed the seeds into a paste and mixed them with water, corn, and chilli to create a drink.
It was the Mayans who started farming cocoa trees around 600AD, and then began trading with Central and South America.
A Medical Marvel
The medicinal qualities of chocolate were widely known at this time. Spanish explorer Cortes described it as a way to build resistance and fight fatigue.
In fact, when the drink first came to England it was sold as a medicine by Sir Hans Sloane. He had come across the drink in Jamaica but found it bitter, and is the first recorded person to add milk and sugar to the mix.
British company J.S. Fry & Son created the first enjoyable chocolate bar in 1947, but it was a Swiss chocolatier who invented the milk chocolate we know today.
White chocolate was created in the 1930s, completely by accident. Nestle was manufacturing a mineral and vitamin enriched milk powder, and wanted to produce it in a solid bar.
In the experiment process, they added cocoa butter, which was quickly realised to be delicious and made into the first Milky Bar in 1936.
The Chocolate-Making Process
Chocolate is made from the fruit of the Cacao trees known as pods. Each pod contains around 40 beans.
The cacao beans are harvested and then stored in banana leaves for 6 days in a process known as ‘heap’. This drains away any pulp before the beans are sun-dried, then sent to factories across the world.
Beans are toasted on a conveyor belt until roasted. The time taken depends on the strength required for the chocolate. Their shells are then removed leaving the ‘nibs’; the meaty centre which is the essential ingredient needed.
The ‘nibs’ are then ground into ‘cocoa liquor’; a thick brown liquid that is then mixed with various quantities of milk and sugar.
The mixture is then dried into a chocolate ‘crumb’ before being compressed, and then ground again until smooth. This is known as ‘conching’ and it can last for up to a week.
Finally, the mixture is repeatedly heated and cooled, tempering the chocolate until it reaches the correct consistency.
This is then the chocolate which can be moulded and sent out to consumers.
The Different Types Of Chocolate
If you’ve ever walked into a chocolatier, or even just fancy a quick chocolate fix from your local supermarket, you’ve likely been spoilt for choice!
Some people prefer the sweeter white chocolate, whilst others would rather the bitterness of dark. Below is a list of the 4 chocolatey options available to you.
Milk chocolate is made with low levels of cocoa, high levels of sugar, and a milk-based product. These include milk powder, boiled milk, or condensed milk.
It is lighter and sweeter than dark chocolate and is the most easily available to buy, which is part of the reason why this type of chocolate is the most common variety used for sweets and treats such as envio de desayunos.
Milk chocolate draws on the medicinal properties of the past, creating a ‘mood boost’. This is due to the feel-good chemicals added in the manufacturing process, such as caffeine.
When choosing your milk chocolate, look for the shiniest option and make sure it makes a good ‘snap’ when it’s broken. The better the snap, the better the quality.
Dark chocolate is dry and bitter due to the lack of milk, however 35% of people globally prefer it to the sweeter options.
Because of the higher quantity of cacao beans, it has a deep colour and a higher nutritional value. Dark chocolate is full of nutrients such as fibre, iron, and zinc. It is rich in antioxidants and has been proven to help the heart and blood flow.
During the ‘chocolate liquor’ stage of the manufacturing process, the mixture is put under intense pressure, which splits the liquid into cocoa solids and cocoa butter.
Whilst the solids are used to make milk and dark chocolate, the butter is mixed with milk and sugar to create a sweet, creamy chocolate without the bitterness and richness.
A relatively new discovery, ruby chocolate was officially revealed in 2017 and is considered the fourth type of chocolate.
Pink chocolate has been seen in shops for a long time, but whilst these contain food colourings, ruby chocolate occurs naturally.
Ruby cocoa beans are grown in Brazil, Ecuador, and the Ivory Coast, and tastes nothing like conventional chocolate.
Instead of a sweet or bitter flavour, ruby chocolate has a fruity sourness that has been widely embraced and enjoyed!
Article by Caterquip