With so many holidays traditionally celebrated with gifts of chocolate, one must wonder, ‘When and how did this love for chocolate begin’? Our research has uncovered several conflicting stories, so Roy has presented his take, however improbable, on the history of chocolate. And I have documented six of the most interesting and important facts associated with his presentation.
Fact 1: People have been enjoying a form of chocolate for about 3500 years
The Olmecs. About 3500 years ago, in what is now Southern Mexico, there was a people called Olmecs. We know very little about the Olmec peoples. What seems to be most remembered about the Olmec civilization is that they populated San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán, the largest city in Mesoamerica at that time, and they left gigantic stone heads in and around that city. We also know that these people loved cocoa as much as we do, but they didn’t eat and drink it like we do. They would pick pods from the cocao trees, cut them open, and eat the pulp from the inside of the pods. Each pod contained about 40 cocoa beans. 
Today, many researchers believe that the Olmecs were the first to ferment, roast, and grind cacao beans for drinks and gruels.  Some suggest that the ideas of fermenting, roasting, and grinding of cocoa beans may have begun by accident with an Olmec spitting cocoa beans from the cocoa pod he/she was eating into a nearby fire. Note: Gruel is a food with the consistency of oatmeal.
We know about the Olmecs’ love for cocoa because Olmec pots and vessels from about 1500 B.C. were discovered with traces of something called theobromine, a compound found in chocolate and tea. There is no written record because the Olmecs had no written language. 
The Mayans. Apparently, the Olmecs passed along their knowledge of cocao to the Mayan people of Central America because the Mayan people also loved chocolate. Some historians believe that Mayan chocolate was reserved for rulers, warriors, priests and nobles.  Other historians believe that Mayan chocolate was not just for an elite group of the wealthy and powerful. They think that many Mayan families consumed chocolate drinks at every meal.  Either way, the Mayans worshipped a god of cocao. The Maya, who had a written language, recorded that chocolate drinks were used in celebrations like weddings and to finalize other important events.  But still, their chocolate didn’t taste like anything close to what we enjoy today. The Maya would mix their cocao with a variety of herbs, and honey or water, and even chili peppers. Umm, doesn’t that sound good.
Fact 2: Cocoa beans were so valued by the Aztecs that they were often used as currency
The Aztecs. Aztecs began to dominate Mesoamerica in the 14th century. And they, like the Olmecs and Mayans, loved chocolate. They believed that cocao was given to them by their gods. But chocolate did not grow well in the area of central Mexico that was the center of the Aztec civilization. So, the Aztecs traded with the Maya for cocoa beans. These beans were so valuable that they not only consumed the caffeinated hot and cold chocolate drinks, but the beans were also used as currency. A popular legend(?) has it that the 16th century Aztec emperor Montezuma drank three gallons of chocolate a day to increase his libido. That is a lot of cocoa.
Fact 3: Columbus introduced cocoa beans to Spain
Cocoa Arrives in Europe. No one is exactly sure how and when cocoa arrived in Europe. Some believe that cocoa beans were brought to Spain in 1502 by Christopher Columbus. The story is that Columbus discovered the beans when he intercepted a trade ship on its way to America. But cocoa did not catch on in Europe until the late 1500s. Spain managed to keep chocolate a savory secret from everyone except the Spanish royalty for almost a century. 
Fact 4: Cocoa was introduced to the rest of Europe by Anne of Austria, the daughter of King Phillip III of Spain, when she married French King Louis XIII
In 1615, the daughter of Spanish King Philip III wed French King Louis XIII, and she brought her love of chocolate with her to France. The popularity of chocolate quickly spread throughout Europe. Once the chocolate cat was “out of the bag,” the aristocratic demand for cocoa became so great that European powers began to establish colonial plantations in equatorial regions around the world to grow cocoa and sugar.
Fact 5: In the 17th century, European powers began importing African slaves to work the cocoa plantations
The European explorers brought disease to the Mesoamerican region, and the once vast cocoa planation labor pool was soon depleted. In a shameful move to maintain the production of chocolate, European powers imported African slaves to work the plantations. Sadly, using slave labor to work the cocoa plantations remains common practice in many parts of the world. 
At The Go To Chocolate Store, we will NEVER sell chocolates made with ingredients grown or farmed with slave labor!
And how do we know that our chocolates are made with slave-free ingredients? We know this because all our chocolates are certified as Fairtrade, UTZ, B Corporation, or any of several other certifying bodies that monitor and prohibit child and slave labor. You can find out more about these certifications by viewing or reading my seven-part series explaining important terms or certifications associated with cocoa farming and sourcing. You can read/view the first of this series here.
Fact 6: In the early 19th century, chocolate becomes available to the masses
The Cocoa Press. Chocolate remained a favorite drink of only the aristocracy until Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes van Houten invented the cocoa press in 1828. The cocoa press revolutionized chocolate-making. Production costs were so reduced that chocolate soon became available to the masses for the first time in European history.
Well, things began to snowball from here. In 1847, British chocolatier J.S. Fry and Sons created the first chocolate bar from cocoa butter and sugar.  In 1879, Rodolphe Lindt invented the conching machine, which produced chocolate with a velvety texture and superior taste. 
In the second half of the 1800s, after taking over their father’s failing tea business, John and Richard Cadbury came up with a “brilliant” idea. They would sell “fancy chocolate” in decorative little boxes.  These boxes soon became collectables for family mementos.
Chocolate as an Industry. During that same period, other familiar family chocolate companies began mass-producing a variety of chocolates to meet the ever-growing demand for chocolate.  The demand for chocolate has continued to grow to this day. Unfortunately, most of these large, well-known, family-run chocolate companies are not doing enough to prevent the human-rights abuses within their own cocoa supply chains.
What to Remember. This post and the accompanying video were intended to be entertaining, and Roy’s elaborations may be less than completely accurate. However, there is a very serious and important takeaway from this video post.
Chocolate has a long and remarkable history with a popularity that has lasted from early civilizations into modern-day society. But this history is scarred by the many human-rights violations taking place in the cocoa industry. I’m talking about forced child labor and slave trafficking to work the cocoa plantations. Many of today’s chocolate companies are well-aware of the human-rights abuses taking place in their own cocoa supply chains. Some companies have taken steps to stop these violations; others have not. These inhumane practices will only stop when consumers demand ethically sourced chocolates. Sadly, sales numbers usually speak louder than good intentions when trying to influence corporate change. Please stand with us against these human-rights abuses by only purchasing chocolates that are organically grown and ethically sourced.
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- “History of Chocolate”. History, 2018
- “What We Know About the Earliest History of Chocolate”. Smithsonian.com, 2018
- “The Sweet History of Chocolate”. History, 2014
- “Ah, Valentine’s Day”. CandyFavorites.com, 2018
- “The Ancient Olmec Civilization”. aztec-history.com, 2019