The History of Chocolate

As Belgium is famous for its high quality chocolate, after my visit in Belgium I was thinking to write about chocolate.

Belgium’s association with chocolate goes back as far as 16th century. Belgium was under Spanish rule for nearly two centuries – subsequently part of the Netherlands before finally obtaining national sovereignty in 1830. The Spanish brought cocoa from their colonies to the old world and the Dutch made its mass production possible. In the late 1800s King Leopold II harvested cocoa crops in the colonized African Congo obtaining an unlimited supply of African cocoa.

Belgium’s signature chocolate confection – the praline (a filled chocolate bonbon) were created by Jean Neuhaus, son of a Swiss pharmacist, in Brussels, in 1912.

Today, chocolate is very popular in Belgium, with 172,000 tonnes produced each year, and widely exported. Chocolate is of such importance that it deserves some museums. The two proeminent are Choco-Story in Bruges and the Museum of Cocoa & Chocolate (MUCC) in Brussels.

History of chocolate

The cacao tree is formally known as Theobroma Cacao and it means “food of the gods”. The cocoa beans that form the basis of chocolate are actually seeds from the fruit of the cacao tree, which grows near the Equator. The seeds grow inside a pod-like fruit and are covered with white pulp.

The history of chocolate begins in Mesoamerica. The Aztecs believed that cacao seeds were the gift of Quetzalcoatl, the God of wisdom. The seeds were used as money. For example, 100 cacao beans could buy a slave. Originally prepared only as a drink, chocolate was served as a bitter liquid believed to have aphrodisiac powers. The bitter drink made from cacao beans was also used to treat coughs and fever. The Aztecs added flowers, vanilla, and honey to the drink.

In 1502, Christopher Columbus was given his first drink of xocoatl (chocolate) on his fourth voyage to America. Although he did not like the drink, Columbus took cacao beans with him back to Spain. But  it made no impact until Spanish friars introduced chocolate to the Spanish court.

Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés may have been the first European to encounter chocolate when he observed it in the court of Montezuma in the 16th century. In 1528, Hernán Cortéz returned to Spain with some cacao beans. They were hidden in Spanish monasteries. The formula for making the chocolate drink was kept a secret. Only the very rich could afford to buy the drink.

After its arrival in Spain, sugar was added to it and it became popular through Europe, first among the ruling classes and then among the common people.

Anne of Austria, a Spanish princess, marries Louis XIII of France in 1615 and takes the Spanish custom of chocolate drinking to France.

The first chocolate house was opened in England in 1657, by a Frenchman and several years after, in 1674, a coffeehouse in London sold the first solid chocolate in a stick form.

The first chocolate made by machine was produced in Barcelona, Spain in 1780.

The first to market a chocolate bar was an English company, Joseph Fry & Sons, in 1847. To do so, they added to cocoa powder some melted cocoa butter and sugar.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a number of notable chocolate companies had their start, such as Nestle, Hershey, Cadbury.

Did you know?

– A farmer must wait four to five years for a cacao tree to produce its first beans.

– It takes 400 cocoa beans to make one pound of chocolate.

– Champagne and sparkling wines are too acidic to pair well with milk or dark chocolate. Try pairing bubbly with white chocolate and red wine with dark chocolate.

– Chocolate can make dogs and cats ill.

– The smell of chocolate increases theta brain waves which triggers relaxation.

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Yummy … tasty Belgian chocolate.

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