As one of the most popular treats in the world, chocolate is something that’s well-known by people from all cultures of all ages. However, this hasn’t always been the case, as chocolate was once the preserve of the holy, then the wealthy, before becoming the widely enjoyed product it is today.
Prehistoric hot chocolate
You may not realise it, but the chocolate bars we enjoy today were not the first form of chocolate to be created. In fact, long before our ancestors came up with the idea of making chocolate as something you could eat it was enjoyed as a drink. Well, we say enjoyed…
The name chocolate came from the Aztec word ‘xocolātl’ and made its way into the English language from the Spanish after they conquered much of Central and South America. The Aztec word translates as ‘bitter water’ which is quite a long way from how most people would describe chocolate, but relates to how the ancient Aztecs used the substance.
In prehistoric South America, chocolate was considered sacred. Of course, you could say that not much has changed in the way some view it today!
However, while you won’t see many mini chocolates being handed out in churches here; the Aztecs used a ground-up concoction of fermented cocoa beans and hot water as an offering to their gods that were then drunk during sacred ceremonies.
When the Spaniards set off for South America back in the 16th century, they hoped to find many things that were of value that they could bring back to Europe as a result of their voyages. One of those things was chocolate.
It was actually an Italian explorer, Christopher Columbus, who first found cocoa beans on his voyage to Nicaragua. Upon his arrival in the first years of the 16th century, he saw cocoa beans not only being used to make a spicy, oily beverage for which he developed quite a taste,
he also saw the beans being used as chocolate currency in the country’s markets. Having introduced the drink to the Spanish King and Queen, the country took chocolate to their hearts and began to alter it from the way the South Americans took it.
In Spain, hot chocolate became quite the delicacy. Blended with sugar and sweet spices such as vanilla and cinnamon, the wealthy and well-to-do across the country became great chocoholics. As royalty from the European countries mixed by marriage, as they were prone to do at the time, the cult of chocolate spread from Spain right across Europe.
Great British chocolate
After arriving in the British Isles in the 17th century, chocolate houses began to spring up to rival the coffee and tea rooms around London. In the hands of the famous Cadbury brothers, milk is added to the concoction and made for a truly luxurious drink the like of which hadn’t been seen anywhere else in the world.
Once chocolate had taken hold of the British tastebuds, the race was on to find new ways of getting chocolate to the masses. In another chocolate family affair to rival the Cadbury brothers, J. S. Fry and Sons created the first chocolate bar that could be wrapped up for people to carry with them.
It was particularly notable through World War II that chocolate was not only great for energy but also did wonders for morale. That’s probably why when packing for space missions, NASA astronauts can expect to find neatly packaged space programme bespoke chocolate bars in with their ration packs.
From Aztec to space tech, chocolate has come a long way from the original bitter water of the prehistoric period. Today we can enjoy chocolate bars all over the world – and sometimes even out of this world!