The history of chocolate
The history of chocolate is older than you might think. It goes back 3500 years and has its origin in South America.
At the present time it is assumed that the Olmecs have been using the fruit of the Theobroma Cacao (cacao tree, see image) since 1500 BC. The Olmecs are considered to have been the vehicle for the mesoamerican culture. They lived in the lowlands near the Gulf of Mexico. They are also attributed to be the origin for script, calendrical calculations and ball games in America. The first cultivation of the Theobroma Cacao however is attributed to another mesoamerican culture - the Mayas.
At a pre-classical time, dated from 900 - 400 BC, the Maya had achieved many nearly continuous permanent settlements in their territory from Mexico to Honduras and El Salvador. It is believed that they have started growing the Theobroma Cacao at about 600 BC. During this period of time the Olmecs nearly lost all of their influence. According to ancient deliverances of the Maya culture the Theobroma Cacao was believed to have a devine origin by the God El Chuak. For him a big celebration toke place every April.
The Aztecs finally gave the fruit of the Theobroma Cacao its name: Xocólatl today known as cacao. Xocólatl is a composed term of Xòcoc for "bitter" and atl for "water". It goes back to the custom of mixing water, cacao, vanilla and red pepper to a drink. The value of cacao increased during the high culture of the Aztecs between 300 and 600 BC, also known as Early Classic, significantly. But the cacao was at no time accessible to the masses. Cacao was considered to be a commodity which was predetermined only for the nobility, the warriors and the priests. In order to better judge its value the fact, that cacao was a currency plays an important role.
In 1492 Christopher Columbus discovered America. At that time he was not aware of the importance of this plant in any way. Hernán Cortés, who occupied the mexican peninsula Yucatán in 1517, promoted the conquest of the Aztec empire during 1519-1521. The Spanish conquerors soon became aware of the importance of cacao to the Mayas and Aztecs after the victory, though they did not understood their reason. Many Spaniards disliked the drink because of its bitterness. Once the traditional drink was sweetened by cane sugar cacao achieved its breakthrough amid the occupants. Some sources even attribute the first transport of cacao to Europe to Hernán Cortés. However, this could not be confirmed anywhere. Nevertheless it is deemed to be proven that chocolate was a gift of a noble Maya during his visit to Prince Philipp in 1544.
Since 1585 commerce with chocolate has been officially carried on. At that time, chocolate enjoyed a growing popularity among the spanish nobility. Its triumphal march through Europe started in Italy and continued over France and England until it was finally served in a german coffee shop in Bremen in 1673. Beginning in the mid 19th century, when the expensive imported cane sugar had been replaced with beet sugar, the advantages of an improved cultivation of the Theobroma Cacao combined with product developments such as the cacao press have fostered the success story of chocolate.
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