Chocolate as we love and know it today originated as a bitter drink in Mesoamerica with the Mayans and the Aztec peoples. The cacao beans were made into a drink that was thought to have come from the gods. The history of chocolate can be found dating back as far as 1900 BC in Pre-Columbian Mexico. The drink known as Xocoatl was made from beans of the Cacao tree. Seeds of the tree were so coveted that they were also used as a currency. When served as a drink, it was bitter and frothy with spices added to give it more flavour. It was thought to give the drinker added strength and was only known among the wealthy of the period, as the common people could never have afforded to buy or trade the beans.
It was not until the bean made its way to Europe in the 16th Century that sugar was added to the bitter drink to make it more palatable. Christopher Columbus first encountered chocolate in 1502 when he was on his fourth trip to the Americas. He had captured a canoe full of beans used for trade and took them back to Spain, where it was still served as a drink. It made its way to France by 1615 and to Great Britain by 1662. The spelling has changed over the years from chocalatall and jacolatte until we arrived at chocolate.
Once the cacao bean arrived in Europe, sugar was added to make a sweeter product that became popular among the richest members of society before it filtered down into the lower classes. It took less than one hundred years for chocolate to reach all of Europe.
The Industrial Revolution saw mechanisation of chocolate making and it became a much more widespread product. In 1815, an alkaline salt was added to counteract the bitter quality by a Dutch chemist. The same chemist later removed half of the cacao fat, making it cheaper to make and the quality a lot more consistent. The end product was known as Dutch Cocoa and was a machine-pressed, solid product.
Milk had occasionally been added to the drink over the years, but not in any consistent way. It was still bitter and did not attract a lot of customers. The first chocolate for eating was introduced in 1847 by an English company called Fry and Sons.
It was not until a Swiss chocolate maker called Daniel Peter added larger quantities of milk and sugar to balance the bitterness that chocolate became popular to the masses. It was after this that chocolate companies sprung up in several parts of Europe. By the late 19th and 20th centuries, there was Nestle in Switzerland, Cadbury in England and, in 1893, Hershey Chocolates started making caramels covered in chocolate in the USA.
Types of chocolate
The different types of chocolate are classified by the amount of cocoa that is present. A good quality dark chocolate can contain as much as 70% cocoa, while milk chocolate can have as little as 10%.
This contains at least 10% cocoa and 12% milk solids mixed with sugar, vanilla, and cocoa butter. It can also be classified as Sweet or Semi-sweet with 15% to 35% cocoa. Chocolate manufacturers now show the amount of cocoa on the packets as way of advertising their chocolate. The more cocoa added, the better the quality of the chocolate is thought to be.
Dark, Bittersweet, Bitter chocolate
This is classified as having more than 50% cocoa and tends to be slightly sharp and bitter. It is more commonly used in baking where the extra cocoa in the chocolate is tempered by sugar and flavours in the cake, biscuits, or desserts.
Though called chocolate, it is not strictly chocolate as it does not contain any cocoa, the dark brown powder of the cacao bean, Instead, it contains cocoa butter (the fat of the cacao bean) and is mixed with milk solids and sugar.