Monctezuma greeted Hernando Cortés
and his army with chocolate drink, most probably a gesture of friendship
since cacao was a drink for nobles, warriors, and traders. According to
Bernal Díaz the drink was served to Monctezuma in "vessels
of pure gold. In the markets, there were sellers of fine chocolate beverages
which were made with honey, flowers, vanilla, and even cayenne pepper.
The brewer would pour the drink from a height to make it foam." This chocolate was made from ground cacao seeds with added seasonings, and was indeed a spicy, frothy, non-sweet form of what we today call simply chocolate..
Recently researchers have made further chocolate discoveries. The residue of a chemical compound that comes only from the cacao plant which is the source of chocolate has been found in pottery vessels dating from about 1100 BC in Puerto Escondido, Honduras. Chocolate history is older than we originally anticipated. With this discovery, chocolate history is pushed back by at least 500 years.
In Foods of the Americas: Native
Recipes and Traditions, authors Fernando and Marlene Divina tell us:
"Both the Maya and Aztec people prized cacao, using the beans not
only for culinary purposes but also for trade and as money. Pre-Conquest
chocolate was almost always a drink, which had many forms and flavorings
(chile powders wee among he most popular). The Aztec drink was called xocolatl which means "warm liquid." Pounded maize could be added,
but the highest aristocrats almost always took chocolate unadulterated,
with a froth created by pouring the liquid from vessel to vessel. Chocolate
also was of major ceremonial importance to the Maya and the Aztecs. It
was served at lavish banquets, buried with the dead, and used to anoint
newborn babies." click
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Cortés sent beans to Spain,
saying that he found chocolate to be an energy source. "...a cup
of this precious beverage would put a man in condition to make a whole
day's march without the need for other food." The conquistadors must
have been more sensitive than we imagine, since chocolate has very little
The first shipment of chocolate was
sent to Seville in 1585. The Catholic Church eyed the pep-giving bean
with suspicion, and decreed that it could not be consumed in Lent or on
any fast days. After the chocolate loving Cardinal Brancatio declared
chocolate to be essential, the Spanish drank their cacao with zeal, and
it was their secret for almost 100 years.
You can't keep a good chocolate bean
down, however, and a Florentine explorer, Francesco Carletti, wrote from
a journey near Lima that he was in a place "...where cacao grows,
a widely celebrated fruit of great importance..." Chocolate history moved on and the Florentines
became the first producers of chocolate in Italy.
We would probably not have enjoyed the earliest chocolate produced in European history. Early chocolate drinks were fatty
and difficult to digest. As early as 1753 the fat was being removed, but
it wasn't until 1828 that it began to be powdered. The idea of mixing
it with milk is credited to Sir Hans Sloane, physician to Queen Anne.
He sold his secret recipe to a London apothecary who later sold it to
the Cadbury brothers, still the name most associated with chocolate to
the English. Franz Sacher, in 1832, introduced the dense chocolate cake with apricot jam in the middle and shreds of chocolate on the outside and it became an instant classic.
In America, Milton Hershey developed the ubiquitous Hershey bar. He used more sugar than the European counterparts because it was less expensive than cocoa butter. It was introduced in 1900 at he price of five cents. The first threat to its supremacy came in 1923 when the Milky Way candy bar, made by Mars was introduced. Mars actually bought its chocolate from the competing Hershey until 1965.
Today chocolate history has a new chapter - the United States is the leading consumer of
cacao. Per capita consumption of chocolate in the United States and western Europe
has doubled since 1945. The Swiss and the British eat the most chocolate.
The Norwegians and Austrians drink the most chocolate.
Should any chocolate lovers need justification
to indulge in their sweet addiction, the good news is that chocolate provides
minerals such as potassium and calcium. In confirmation of Cortés
observation, chocolate does contains stimulants,
primarily theobromine, followed by caffeine and serotonin. Research indicates
that cacao consumption produces a marijuana-like effect, with a harmless
euphoria. Chocoholics everywhere will attest to at least a mildly ecstatic psychological state from chocolate.