"You can deprive the body, but the soul needs chocolate."
Etymologists trace the origin of the word "chocolate" to the Aztec word "xocoatl," a bitter drink brewed from cacao beans. The Latin name for the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, means "food of the gods." How delightfully appropriate!
The Mayans were the first to discover the delicacy of the cacao during the Classic Period Maya (250-900 A.D.). Although, I did read somewhere that Honduras may have used it as far back as 1400 B.C. Dang. Wowzers. Mayans believed it was nectar of the gods (which is one of my mom's favorite sayings!). The hot chocolate they drank wasn't the sweet one we are accustomed to. Rather, it was a bitter drink. They would first make a paste and then mix it with water, chili peppers, cornmeal, and other things to create a frothy, spicy drink.
Chocolate was also used in religious ceremonies. Maya couples would drink it as part of their betrothal and marriage ceremonies.
The Aztecs were introduced to cacao around 1400 when they would trade with the Mayans. Cacao seeds were the currency of the time. The Aztecs believed that cacao was brought to earth from paradise and that wisdom and power could be had by consuming the seed.
It was the Spaniards in the 1500s who would sweeten chocolate into the delicious version we know today. Legend has it that the Aztec king Montezuma welcomed the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes with a banquet that included drinking chocolate, having mistaken him for a reincarnated deity instead of a conquering invader. Cortes actually described it as "a bitter drink for pigs" (FOOL!)– but once mixed with honey or cane sugar, it quickly became popular throughout Spain, and later the rest of the world.Because Spain was one of the first countries to colonize the Americas, it had a monopoly on chocolate for many years. Like the Aztecs, only the wealthiest and well-connected nobility could partake of and afford the expensive import.
In 1828, a Dutch chemist, Coenraad Van Houten, founded the cocoa press (pictured), a way to make powdered chocolate by removing about half the natural fat (cacao butter) from chocolate liquor, pulverizing what remained and treating the mixture with alkaline salts to cut the bitter taste. His product became known as "Dutch cocoa," and it soon led to the creation of solid chocolate.
By 1868, a little company called Cadbury was marketing boxes of chocolate candies in England. Milk chocolate hit the market a few years later, pioneered by another name that may ring a bell – Nestle.
n 1875, Daniel Peter and Henri Nestle added condensed milk to solid chocolate, creating a milk chocolate bar.
In 1879, Swiss chap Rudolphe Lindt invented the conch, a machine that rotated and mixed chocolate to a perfectly smooth consistency.
Today, Hershey makes more than 80 million HERSHEY'S KISSES Brand Chocolates every day at its chocolate factories in Hershey and Virginia.
In America, chocolate was so valued during the Revolutionary War that it was included in soldiers' rations and used in lieu of wages. While most of us probably wouldn't settle for a chocolate paycheck these days (I would!), statistics show that the humble cacao bean is still a powerful economic force. Chocolate manufacturing is a more than 4-billion-dollar industry in the United States, and the average American eats at least half a pound (try 2 for me!) of the stuff per month.
-In fact, many Asian cultures have never really developed a taste for chocolate (a crime!). The Chinese, for example, only eat one bar of chocolate for every 1,000 the Brits consume.
*In countries like Ghana and the Ivory Coast, chocolate is rarely eaten because, sadly, it's worth more to trade than to eat.
*While it's not known exactly how KISSES got their name, it is a popular theory that the candy was named for the sound or motion of the chocolate being deposited during the manufacturing process.
*If stranded on a desert island, more than half of Americans surveyed would rather have an unlimited supply of HERSHEY'S KISSES Brand SPECIAL DARK Chocolates than their favorite book.
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Any ideas for my next curiosity-feeding adventure????