The history of chocolate

Dark homemade chocolate bars and cocoa pod on wooden

From start to finish…
Image source: Thinkstock

Every week is chocolate week here at Clifford James. Who doesn’t love that tasty treat with a cup of tea while you’re on a break? Or a nibble and a munch on your favourite bar during lunch? And you can’t forgo those sumptuous truffles in the evening when you’re settling down to watch a film…

Chocolate has become a staple for many over the centuries, whether you prefer it in its solid form or prefer to use a chocolate fondue set for a sweet treat of the more melty variety.

Every story has a beginning, and when it comes to chocolate, we begin our tale in a land we now know as Mexico!

The story begins…

Cocoa beans and cocoa pod with cocoa powder on a wooden surface.

The Aztecs used the cacao bean to make a traditional bitter drink.
Image source: Thinkstock

Chocolate as we know it derives from the humble cacao bean, which dates as far back as the 15th century to the time of the Aztecs. The cacao bean was harvested from fruit pods on the cacao trees that grew in Mesoamerica. These were then turned into a frothy drink which was believed to have aphrodisiac qualities; the drink tended to be mixed with spices or corn puree, but was rather bitter in taste.

Up until the 16th century, the cacao bean remained fairly unheard of over here in Europe, until the Spanish made it popular among their court. The Spanish weren’t fond of the bitter flavour to the drink they encountered, so added sugar or honey to sweeten the taste. As countries like Holland, Portugal and Britain began to spread their colonial wings, it didn’t take long for chocolate to be discovered by the rest of Europe, and then the world; eventually evolving into the sweet delicacy we know and love today.

That doesn’t sound like the chocolate I know…

Cacao fruit pods

Cacao beans are harvested from the fruit pods grown on the cacao tree.
Image source: Thinkstock

As the Spanish discovered, the cacao bean that chocolate comes from is much more bitter than its modified counterpart, cocoa. Cacao is the raw material that is harvested from the cacao tree, and holds more nutritional value than cocoa. Raw cacao powder is made by cold roasting the beans. This keeps the living enzymes intact, locking in the nutritious goodness. This process also removes the cacao butter, which is the fattier part of the bean. To create cocoa powder, the beans are roasted instead, which gets rid of the natural bitterness.

Once the beans have been roasted, they are peeled to retrieve the nib, and then ground and liquefied to produce a chocolate liquor. This then needs to be processed to produce either cocoa butter, or cocoa solids, which are used to produce chocolate as we know it today. Contrary to popular opinion, it is actually cream rather than milk that is added to give it that creamy taste.

Chocolate background. Many pieces of chocolate, candies, cookies, biscuits, cakes and other sweets. Milk chocolate and dark chocolate. coconut candy

Lots and lots of chocolatey goodness…
Image source: Thinkstock

The rest is history. Chocolate has evolved so much over the past centuries; from drinking chocolate, to solid chocolate and truffles – there’s something chocolatey out there for everyone. Chocolate week aims to celebrate the very best of fine chocolate flavours, as well as promoting the cocoa farmers who harvest this delicacy from around the equator.

What do you use chocolate for? Whether you eat it as it comes or use it in a delicious cake recipe, we’d love to know all about it on our Facebook page.