Three thousand years ago, only the elite were able to get hold of chocolates. Back then this was a luxury item that only kings and queens could avail and it only came in the form of a chocolate drink. Today’s society still cannot get enough of it. It remains popular than ever and now comes in many forms like blocks, paste, liquid and powder.
An Aztec woman preparing the cacao drink. The liquid was poured from a height to create a froth or foam on top. Public Domain
History of Cacao
Chocolate comes from the cacao tree, it is sourced from Central and South America. Chocolate was first consumed in 1400 BC, and during that time only the pulp fruit was used. The sweet pulp was fermented to create alcoholic beverage and this is when they first began to have an idea of the chocolate tasting properties. The Aztecs were known for cultivating the use of chocolates and back then it was considered as the food of the gods. The Aztecs created the cacao drink and called it ” bitter water’ , we now call it Chocolate. However, it is also believed that an earlier civilization discovered chocolate, some believe that Mesoamerican civilizations like the Mayans and Olmecs already used chocolate in the past.
Some of the first chocolate treats were in fact created in honor of Cesar the ruler of the Roman Empire, and the chocolate treats were gifted by the natives to the ladies and gents of the Roman court.
It was said that the very first types of treats like these were made in honor of Cesar the ruler of the Roman Empire and were gifted to the ladies and gentleman of the Roman court. Of course these chocolate coins bore the face of none other than Cesar himself. Chocolates during the Roman empire were wrapped in very fine sheets of gold and was seen as valuable treasure.
The Roman elite were usually given these gifts treasure as a token for special dates and rites of passages. The higher the house the more intricate and special the design of the chocolates. Chocolates were very costly back then and today even if there are cheap ones that could easily be purchased in supermarkets- there are still types of chocolates that are only served and prepared for the elites or the 1%. The chocolate coins at times portrayed the face of the ruling Emperor, while the other side of the coins contain great events or to promote the status of the Emperor.
This large chocolate coin features the Roman emperor Augustus on the front. It is filled with quality Belgian chocolate containing a minimum 30% cocoa solids.
The cacao seeds that were presented to the Roman leaders and elite families were fermented, roasted and grounded carefully into a paste. It would then be mixed with either water or expensive wine, ground maize and added with flavorings that were available back then like chili pepper, vanilla, and honey.
Chocolates were very precious back then, not everyone could buy them even if they had the means to do so. This was because cacao was limited and is of great value. It was largely symbolical and were used for important trades. Only nobles and warriors can gain access to it, and at times it was used for rituals with Spiritual purpose in the temples. It was believed by the Aztecs that the plant came from the gods. In the Mayan civilization it was believed that chocolates was used in special ancient Mayan ceremonies like weddings, funerals, and religious rituals, it was even added as part of dowries of rich families. At one point, it was even used as a form of money by ancient people. During the 8th century chocolates were used for barter, there are many murals that were found by archaeologist depicting natives using chocolates during important economic events. The roasted cacao beans were used as tribute.
Due to the various travels of explorers, the cacao seeds eventually arrived in Europe by the Spanish travelers. The drink was then transformed by an ingredient that was not available tom Aztecs and this was sugar. This started the taste of the chocolate drink that we know today. The Spanish nobility couldn’t get enough of chocolates and this became a part of the Spanish nobility rituals and the Roman Catholic Church.
The popularity was immense, it eventually entered the European courts- for a time the Spanish wanted to keep the secret of the chocolate to themselves but the world was destined to get hold of the precious seeds. One of the first nobility in France who valued chocolate was Anne of Austria to Louis XIII in 1615. They were among the first rulers who drank and shared the knowledge of chocolate among the French aristocracy.
The Queen eventually came to love chocolate, in the past a lot of people associated chocolate with pompous lifestyle and idleness due to the rich taste, but eventually the craze for chocolate hit the streets of London and it led to a lot of chocolate houses springing up in London- the elite couldn’t get enough of chocolates and wanted to indulge in it. Chocolates became the symbol of decadence and luxury, together with wine it was the perfect combination.
We have been consuming Chocolate for over 3,000 years now and there seems no sign of stopping. The Craving for chocolate has increased, we have even developed different flavors that didn’t exist before like sea salt chocolate and even added berries and vanilla.
Today we see so many Chocolate brands and chocolate houses all over the world. Every country including the Philippines now has its own version of chocolates like the Malagos Davao chocolate. In the UK, there are thousands of events related to chocolate including the creation of delectable confectionery, chocolate-baking, chocolatiers, and chocolate sculpting. We have even found a way to add it into bread. During the 19th century our obsession with chocolates was at an all time high. We started consuming more chocolates and this lead to the hydraulic and steam chocolate mills in France. These inventions made the creation of chocolate faster and easier, this is why we can now avail of more chocolates in cheaper quantities. Chocolates spawned our love for other sweets like candy.
After a big surge in Europe, other countries in the Middle East followed suit, and they developed their own sugarcane and implemented different ways to prepare chocolate and candies. By 950 A.D. man invented caramel. At first these candies were considered as lozenges or medicine like Coca-cola drinks, but after many reinventions of the sugar paste we have come to see candies and sweets as daily treats.
During the Crusades, despite the popularity of chocolates and sweets it was still a rare treat that only the nobility could eat when they want to. Sugar and chocolates are still considered as luxury and for the wealthy and only royal parties served banquets of rich cocoa drinks and candies. It was only in the 1400’s, where sugar became mainstream after the cultivation of many sugar factories. In the New World, both the Spanish and Portuguese planted more sugarcane in the West Indies and Brazil and this made the sugar very popular in daily life.
The Spanish Conquistador Hernando Cortés was thrilled to taste the first chocolate, he boldly called it a divine drink that could fight fatigue. Chocolate has energy giving properties that do not make use of caffeine, it makes use of another stimulant called the Theobromine. The last emperor of the Aztecs Montezuma stored so much cacao seeds, according to history the Spanish conquerors discovered over 960 million cacao seeds in the coffers of the Emperor. This can create over 25 million chocolate bars, this is who obsessed the ancient people are with chocolate.
From time to time they served him [Montezuma] in cups of pure gold a certain drink made from cacao. It was said that it gave one power over women, but this I never saw. I did see them bring in more than fifty large pitchers of cacao with froth in it, and he drank some of it, the women serving with great reverence
One of the most famous nobility who used chocolate in an important engagement is Spanish Princess Maria Theresa. When she was to be married to King Louis XIV of France, she offered chocolate as an engagement gift. The love for chocolate drinks spread all over Europe, and people became bolder with their experiment and added in new flavors like nutmeg and cinnamon to make the flavors more interesting.
Eventually the chocolate frenzy found its way to the American colonies. It first arrived in a Spanish ship in 1641. The first official chocolate house opened in Boston in 1682. By 1773, cocoa beans were already added as a top American colony import and became available to all classes rich or poor.
Today, the finest chocolates in the world are priced according to the complexity of the process they are made. Our present chocolates now include other ingredients like whip cream, butterfat, milk solids, evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk to thicken and make the chocolate taste interesting.
Chocolate and Seduction
Part of the thrill and reason why chocolate retained its popularity is due to the fact that this is a food used for seduction. The Spanish elites and the French nobility used chocolate as part of their sensual craftsmanship, it was not only used a treats and gifts for special events, it was also used as an enticing substance for sexual activities by the elite. Casanova, a notorious womanizer is known for drinking chocolate before seducing women. Even today we still see the gifting of chocolates during Valentine’s Day as a way to the heart or pants of the person we like.
Chocolates for the Health
Overtime we were also able to realize the properties and components of chocolate and began to recognized it as a healthy food. Dark chocolate contains flavonoids similar with tea and red wine as well as fruits and vegetables. It is rich in antioxidants and is good for improving blood sugar and insulin sensitivity reducing the risk of diabetes if eaten in moderate levels.
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