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The history of chocolate

A Short History Of Chocolate Making

The history of chocolate is an epic saga full of romance, mystery, and adventure!

Chocolate, as we know and adore it today, is a far cry from its original form. It has been on quite the journey to become the beloved treat it is now.

With International Chocolate Day just around the corner (on July 7th), it is the perfect time to pay homage to our favourite indulgence by learning just how it went from an ancient Aztec elixir to a mass-produced product.

Let’s dive into the deep and rich history of chocolate!

A Bitter Yet Holy Brew

Although the specifics are a little hazy, historians have been able to narrow down the period when chocolate was first consumed, and the region it came from.

The cacao tree was domesticated by a Mesoamerican culture sometime around 450 BC – more than 2,500 years ago! That means, chocolate’s very roots began in the Central American and Mexico region. The Aztecs believed that cacao seeds were gifted to them by the god of wisdom, Quetzalcoatl. They were used as a form of currency and more valuable than gold!

The Mayans also revered chocolate and enjoyed it mixed with chilli peppers, honey or water.

Cacao was also imbibed as a bitter drink that supposedly had many health benefits. Those benefits included being an aphrodisiac, as well as giving energy and virility to any who could afford to drink it.

The First OE

Cacao first made its way to Europe in the 16th century, but it’s not clear exactly what route it took.

Some say that Christopher Columbus imported it in 1502. Others surmise that Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes was gifted chocolate by the Aztecs. And another theory states that Spanish friars brought the good stuff to the Spanish court.

What we do know is that chocolate wasn’t especially popular until someone decided to sweeten it with sugar or honey. It began to spread from Spain and become famous throughout Europe, and later, worldwide. But during all these travels, it was still only known as a drink.

The Revolution Begins

The big game changer for chocolate happened during the Industrial Revolution. Back in 1815, a gifted chemist named Coenraad van Houten found a way to decrease the bitterness of chocolate by adding alkaline salts.

He changed the game again in 1828 by inventing a specialised press to remove half the cacao butter from the liquor. This gave the chocolate a better consistency and had the added bonus of making it much more affordable for the masses.

The Transformation Continues

The first ever chocolate bar was created in 1847. It was made from sugar, chocolate liquor, and cocoa butter by J.S. Fry and Sons.

The next notable leap forward was in 1875, when Daniel Peter invented milk chocolate. He did this by mixing powdered milk with chocolate liquor, teaming up with Henri Nestle. That period (the late 19th, early 20th centuries) also saw some other big names get their start. Cadbury began making boxed chocolates in England in 1868, and Milton S. Hershey picked up some special equipment to start making Hershey’s chocolates.

The final stroke of genius came courtesy of Rudolf Lindt in 1879. His invention – the conch machine – mixed chocolate in such a way to create that smooth, melt-in-your-mouth feel we enjoy today.

Across The Ages

So there you have it, the millennia-long history of chocolate. From elixir for the wealthy, to snacks for the masses. Throughout history – and still today – chocolatiers have strived to create the most delectable, exquisite chocolates possible. So, next time you sample the fruits of their labour, take a minute to appreciate just how far chocolate has come!

And if you would love to sample some of New Zealand’s best artisan chocolate every month, then why not check out our subscription offers. A selection of small batch chocolate made by some very talented chocolatiers, delivered to your door every month, 2 months or quarter. Shop the range of subscriptions now.

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