Chocolate is commonly remembered for its sweet, luscious taste. Many also relate chocolate to happy moments and use it to celebrate good times as well. However, not many think about the origins of chocolate and who invented such a great invention. Who invented chocolate? And when?
The earliest consumers of chocolate could be traced back to the Olmecs, an ancient civilization in Mesoamerica. They were found to be consuming a very early, bitter version of chocolate as early as 1900 BC. Sweet chocolate could be traced back to the Spanish, who added sugar to the Olomec version to sweeten the bitter taste.
Who Invented Chocolate?
Chocolate’s origin may not come from a single person, and that chocolate may come in many versions and types. This means the answer for who invented chocolate may vary depending on your definition of chocolate.
The First Consumers Of Chocolate
Chocolate originated from the cocoa fruit, which grows naturally in central and southern America. This means the first people to discover and consume the fruit would be the civilizations from that area.
Suppose your definition of the inventors of chocolate is the first person who learns to break the cocoa shells, dry the fruits, and turn them into a drink. In this case, the inventors of chocolate are the Olmec people, the oldest civilization in central America.
The Olmec civilization is based on the eastern coast of central Mexico, around the region of Veracruz today. They were the earliest people documented to have turned cocoa fruits into drinks and consumed them.
The cocoa is usually turned into a drink and does not contain any sugar or milk. In fact, these civilizations do not have them. The drink is bitter and rich.
Historians believe the Olmecs learned to cultivate, harvest, and make chocolate drinks as early as 1900 BC. It was discovered that the Olmec people drank cocoa for religious rituals and medicine.
This was proven by discovering chocolate vessels at an Olmec archeological site in Veracruz, Mexico. The vessel discovered was as old as 1750 BC. Another discovery on the Pacific coast of Chiapas, Mexico, dated chocolate making, could be as early as 1900 BC.
The practice of cultivating, producing, and consuming cocoa was passed down to the later Mesoamerican civilizations, such as the Mayans and Aztecs. Cocoa drinking was also passed down to the Incas, based further south in coastal Colombia and Peru.
Within these Mesoamerican civilizations, cocoa is related to their deity, and chocolate is seen as the ‘drink of the gods.’
In fact, the word chocolate actually originated from Nahuatl, a language spoken by the Aztecs. Chocolate is called xocolātl in the language, and then it entered the Spanish vocabulary before finally being spelled by the English as Chocolate.
The First Makers Of Sweetened Chocolate
Suppose your definition of chocolate is the sweet kind. In that case, you may consider that the inventor of chocolate is the Spanish. They were the first to add sweeteners to the cocoa drink to make it sweet.
The secret and magic of chocolate remained with the Mesoamericans until the Spanish explorers and Conquistadors arrived. The first European to have encountered cocoa beans may have been Christopher Colombus in 1502 when his crew took possession of a canoe with it.
Conquistador Hernan Cortes noticed how the Aztecs revered the drink during his visits to the court of Montezuma in 1519. He tries the drink himself but does not understand why it is so loved when it is so bitter.
As more and more Spanish arrived in Mexico, some of these cocoa beans eventually ended up back in Spain. At first, people tried to recreate the bitter taste of the Aztecs by mixing it with chili, cornmeal, and water, but it was not popular.
It was until later that they learned to improve the taste by adding cane sugar or honey, to make the drink taste better. Chocolate stayed in Spain first and remained with the royalty until it spread to the French and eventually the whole of Europe in the 17th to 19th centuries.
How Was Chocolate Invented?
Chocolate’s invention was likely an accident. The Olmec people made their earlier cocoa drink from the fruit’s pulp. The discovery of chocolate may have been a by-product of the pulp fermentation process. The seeds get fermented as well, producing the first chocolate.
Like tea or coffee, the invention of chocolate may have also been an accident. However, instead of stories like leaves falling into hot water (that leads to tea), chocolate’s invention may have been likely a by-product.
The earlier cacao drink consumed by the Olmecs used only the pulp. The pulps are fermented together with the beans to form flavor. The drink is later mixed with chili, vanilla, and water, before being pulled to form foams.
It was likely that during the fermentation process, someone discovered that the fermented beans tasted great. They decided to process the fermented pulp and beans together, forming a drink closer to today’s chocolate.
How Has Chocolate Consumption Evolved Throughout History?
The consumption of chocolate has changed a lot since its invention. The Mesoamerican civilizations drank cocoa mixed with chili, cornmeal, and water. The Spanish later learned to add sugar and honey to sweeten it, but they still enjoyed it as a drink. It took the English to later add milk to form milk chocolate and make chocolate bars.
Since the earliest discovery of chocolate by the Olmecs, chocolate has spread worldwide. The way to consume chocolate has also changed drastically through the centuries.
It could be said that many cultures added their own input to the fruit to make it taste better for the population. This resulted in a wide array of ways to consume chocolate today.
The original people who discovered chocolate were the Olmecs. They then passed down the practice to the subsequent Mesoamerican civilizations, such as the Aztec, Maya, or Inca people further south.
The pulps and beans were taken out and then fermented to produce flavor. They were milled into powder and mixed with chili, cornmeal, and water to produce the drink.
Traditionally, women will spend time pouring the drink between cups to produce foam. It was believed that Aztec civilization judged a woman’s worth by how much foam she could make from the drink.
Cocoa beans were commonly associated with the deities of these civilizations. They also see chocolate as the ‘drink of the gods. In fact, the foams on top of these drinks were believed to nourish the drinker’s soul.
Cocoa was considered something so precious. It was even traded as a form of currency. The Spanish conquistadors left a record that mentioned 100 cocoa beans could purchase a canoe full of fresh water or a turkey hen.
The cocoa drink was also consumed for many reasons, including celebrations, energy boosters, and aphrodisiacs. The Aztec empire also gives chocolate drinks as part of the rations for Aztec soldiers.
When the Spanish arrived, they discovered how these Mesoamerican civilizations loved and revered their cocoa beans. They also observed how the Aztecs, Mayans, and Inca people consumed chocolate.
The Spanish tried to replicate the same taste at home by mixing fermented cocoa bean powder with cornmeal, water, and chili. However, the taste was rather acquired and did not appeal to many.
This is because the chocolate drink was made with ingredients alien to the Spanish, even the Europeans. Cocoa, corn, and chili were not native to Europe and were introduced by the Spanish trading ships and conquistadors In the 16th century.
It survived during its early years in Spanish society as a medication for stomach aches since the bitterness was believed to be good for the digestive system. It was also a drink for the royalties and nobilities at this time.
The beans were first entrusted to the Cistercian monks, who then turned them into hot chocolate for the nobilities. The recipe stayed with them and was kept away from the rest of Europe for almost 100 years.
Later, the Spanish learned to mix sugar and honey into the drink to make it more palatable and enjoyable. The drink becomes a mixture of sweetness with a hint of bitterness, which appeals to many.
However, unlike the Mesoamericans, that drink their cocoa cold or warm, the Spanish like their cocoa drink hot. This means they mixed it with hot water. This is also to help melt the sugar and honey added to the drink.
Chocolate remains a popular drink in Spain today. Spaniards are also recognized for preferring chocolate over coffee or tea, compared to the rest of Europe.
Spreads To Europe
Chocolate as a drink likely stayed as a Spanish and Portuguese drink until later, when it first made it to France. The Jesuit monks were the first to bring it to France, and the drink was later promoted by French queens of Spanish origin.
Anne of Austria, the daughter of Phillip III and queen to Louis XIII of France started the work. Maria Theresa of Spain, daughter of Phillip IV of Spain and wife of Louis XIV of France, continued it from 1660 onwards.
By the 17th century, chocolate became a popular drink with the nobilities, upper-class society, and the intelligentsia. It even made it into the works of Voltaire, who quoted the drink in his 18th-century work.
The Spanish tried to protect but lost their monopoly on cocoa beans by the mid-17th century. This means cocoa beans became an openly traded commodity, resulting in many European countries seeing and tasting chocolate for the first time.
Soon, many of these countries discovered their own way of enjoying chocolate. Swiss Chocolatier Daniel Peter added milk powder to create milk chocolate. The Germans mixed it with warm milk, sugar, and spices.
The English later figured out how to make chocolate bars. The Italians learned to add chocolate to their Sorbetto, essentially making the first chocolate ice cream.
Increasing demand for cocoa beans meant that many European powers established cocoa plantations in their newly conquered Caribbean territories. They then imported enslaved Africans to work the fields in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Spreads To The World
Chocolate then spreads worldwide, with massive plantations making cocoa beans to serve the world market. Most cocoa today is produced mainly in Ghana, Ivory Coast, Ecuador, and Indonesia.
Chocolate is used in many ways and is a popular flavoring for many types of food. It is common to see chocolate ice cream, cookies, bread, pastries, and cakes.
Chocolate is also used to flavor traditional food that does not use chocolate, such as Chinese Moon Cakes, Japanese Mochi, and many more.
What Are The Important Inventions Of Chocolate?
Some of the more important inventions of chocolate may be the chocolate ice cream, cocoa press, chocolate bar, milk chocolate, the conching machine, and mass-produced chocolates. These inventions have changed how we consume chocolate and make it versatile as food or flavorings.
With the change in how chocolates were consumed, many inventions came about. The inventions may be about new tools to make chocolate and new ways to consume it.
Chocolate Ice Cream
Many of us love chocolate ice cream, and you have the Italians to thank for such a wonderful invention. Italians were credited to have created the modern ice cream we know today. Naturally, they also became the first to come out with chocolate ice cream.
The earliest frozen chocolate recipe was published by Antonio Latini in his book The Modern Steward. The book was published in Napoli (Naples), Italy, in 1693. The book is about how to prepare banquets well and extensively describes recipes, setting tables, and many more.
In fact, it was widely accepted that chocolate ice cream was one of the first ice cream flavors created, even before vanilla ice cream came about. The earliest ice cream flavors come from drinks such as coffee, and tea.
One of the earlier problems with chocolate was the inconsistency in taste and quality. This was solved by a Dutch chemist named Coenraad Van Houten in 1828, whose name may remind you of a popular brand of chocolate bars today.
Van Houten figured out that by using alkaline salts, he was able to reduce the bitterness of chocolate. He later invented the chocolate press, which helped him to separate the natural cocoa fat from the solids. The cocoa fat is the cocoa butter, and the solids are ground down to make cocoa powder, known as Dutch cocoa.
With cocoa powder now available and promising a more stable and consistent taste, the English took the innovation further. In 1847, Joseph Fry discovered they could blend cocoa butter and Dutch cocoa. He added melted cacao butter back into the cocoa powder.
He later pressed the paste into a bar and let the mix cool down. Once cool, the chocolate hardens, forming the first chocolate bar. The recipe was further improved by John Cadbury, who introduced his chocolate bar in 1849. In fact, you can still buy Cadbury’s chocolate bars worldwide.
If you love milk chocolate, you must thank the Swiss for this. In fact, milk chocolate gave rise to one of the world’s largest food companies, Nestle.
In 1876, Swiss Chocolatier Daniel Peter added dried milk powder to chocolate to create the world’s first milk chocolate. He later worked with Henri Nestle to perfect the recipe and created a milk chocolate bar.
To promote and sell their product, they created the Nestle Company, which has since evolved into a multinational food company, producing many foods beyond chocolate.
Chocolate Conching Machine
Conching is a process where chocolate is made smoother and more aromatic. Conched chocolate also melts in the mouth.
This process was, surprisingly, invented by accident by Rodolphe Lindt in 1879. You may also recognize the name used as a brand of chocolate products. The story was that Lindt was working in his lab, trying to improve his chocolate recipe, but failed. He left his lab Friday night, forgetting to turn off his mixing machine.
When he returned Monday morning, he discovered that the chocolate was not burnt, to his surprise. Instead, he found smooth, velvety, and shiny chocolate inside. He concluded that the longer stirring improved the consistency and flavor of the chocolate.
First Mass Produced Chocolate Bars
Chocolate was an artisanal, hand-made, and expensive food for only the wealthy until the Americans came into the picture in 1894.
American food company Hershey was able to automate the production of chocolate, resulting in the first mass-produced Hershey’s chocolate bar. With mass production, prices go down, and chocolate has since become an affordable product mass consumers could enjoy.