Sometime, around 1900 BC, a Mayan was walking the trails on a typical hunting and foraging day. This Mayan came upon a tree with these pods that contained a bunch of seeds. Now, back then you could do with seeds the same things that you can do today. Plant them, eat them raw or grind them up and ferment them. It was the “grinding and fermenting” of those seeds that literally changed the course of human history. The tree was the cacao and the seeds were the cacao seed. You might know that as chocolate.
Archeologists tell us that the Mayans appear to be the first civilization to create a cacao concoction as a drink. Think of this as raw hot chocolate. It became such a hit that the cacao beans were used as currency. One hundred beans might get you a goat. All of this cacao drinking wasn’t enough to save the Mayans. They disappeared right after finishing up work on their calendar. Then along came the Aztecs who picked up the cacao drinking. Central and South America is where cacao stayed until Christopher Columbus rode over to see what was doing in the new Americas.
Chris was happy he didn’t fall off the edge of the world but probably happier once he got a taste of this chocolate drink. Naturally, he brought it back to the Spanish court. They tried to keep it a secret and began using it for medicinal purposes. Got a tummy ache? Drink some chocolate. Who can argue with that logic?
Along Comes Conrad
Chocolate pretty much stayed a drink until 1815 when a Dutch chemist by the name of Conrad van Houten decided to do a little experimenting. First thing he did was add salt to the chocolate to take away the bitterness. Big hit. Then in 1828 he created a press that squeezed out the cacao butter of the chocolate liquor. The result was called Dutch Cocoa and was the first taste of solid chocolate. It made it easy to produce chocolate for the masses and the masses were eternally grateful.
Oddly enough, the first moldable chocolate paste happened when Joseph Fry put the cacao butter back into the mix. Around 1868, this inspired a company called Cadbury to market chocolate in boxes. Then along comes another chocolate maker who thought, “Hey, what happens if I add milk to the chocolate?” Why, milk chocolate, of course. That guy was Nestle and we all know how that turned out.
Milton Hershey opened his first candy shop in Philly back in 1873. Back then, chocolate was popular but caramel was all the rage. However, when Milton got a look at some chocolate making machines at an expo, he sold his caramel company and put everything he had into chocolate. After much tinkering with the machines and chocolate making process, Hershey put out his first bars in 1900. This was followed in 1907 by the Hershey Kiss. Can you imagine getting through Christmas without at least one chocolate kiss?
Today, chocolate is everywhere and just about every food imaginable has at some point been dipped into chocolate. What is your favorite way to enjoy chocolate?