The Bittersweet Story of Chocolate
The plant was found to have hard pods with each pod containing brown beans that later became the main ingredient in the making of chocolate. Cacao was a very important plant even then as it was actually used as money by the Mayans and later by the Aztecs.
Cacao made its way into Europe when Columbus returned to Spain and displayed a treasure trove of many strange and wonderful things from his travels before King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Among these were a few dark brown beans that looked like almonds and seemed most unpromising. These were the cacao beans, the source of all chocolate and cocoa.
The King and Queen never dreamed how important these cacao beans could be. It remained for Hernan Cortez, the great Spanish explorer, to popularize this drink commercially.
During his conquest of Mexico, Cortez found the Aztec Indians serving a drink made of these beans to Montezuma, the Aztec ruler. This drink was called "chocolatl" by the Indians, meaning warm liquid. In 1519, Montezuma served this drink chocolatl to his Spanish guests in great golden goblets, treating it like a food for the gods.
For all its regal importance, however, Montezuma's chocolatl was very bitter, and the Spaniards did not like its bitterness. To make the mixture more agreeable, Cortez sweetened it with sugarcane.
When they took this drink back to Spain, the idea found favour and the drink underwent several more changes with newly discovered spices, such as cinnamon and vanilla. Ultimately, someone decided the drink would taste better if served hot.
The new drink soon won favour, especially among the Spanish aristocracy. Spain proceeded to plant cacao in its overseas colonies, which gave birth to a very profitable business. Remarkably enough, the Spanish succeeded in keeping the art of the cocoa industry a secret from the rest of Europe for nearly a hundred years.
Spanish monks, who had been consigned to process the cacao beans, finally let the secret out. It did not take long before chocolate was acclaimed throughout Europe as a delicious, health-giving food.
Drinking chocolate or what was called cocoa, was made possible with the invention of the cocoa press. The press helped to improve the quality of the beverage by squeezing out part of the cocoa butter, the fat that occurs naturally in these beans. From then on, drinking chocolate had more of the smooth consistency and the pleasing aroma it has today.
The 19th century marked two more revolutionary developments in the history of chocolate. In 1847, an English company called Fry and Sons introduced solid "eating chocolate" through the development of fondant chocolate. This was a smooth and velvety variety that has almost completely replaced the old coarse-grained chocolate that formerly dominated the world market.
The second development occurred in 1875 in Vevey, Switzerland, when Daniel Peter devised a way of adding milk to the chocolate, creating the product we enjoy today known as milk chocolate.
The Bittersweet Story of Chocolate [Features for kids]
By Sonali Pota; Illustration by Sudheer Nath
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