“The greatest tragedies were written by the Greeks and Shakespeare…neither knew chocolate.” – Sandra Boynton
If you ask me, chocolate would be a sweet payment for any job. Unfortunately, our society prefers paper money to change hands, but it hasn’t always been this way. Chocolate has had an impact on the history of many different cultures from all around the world.
Initial Indulgence Unsurprisingly, the ancient use of chocolate as currency dates back to the time of the Mayan and Aztec Empires. Cocoa beans were used as the “coins” of the time as well as to prepare a bitter drink called “Xocoatl.” This far-off cousin of hot chocolate was reserved for nobility and warriors. So to put it in modern context, cocoa was the ancient gold, mainly used by the rich and sometimes consumed.
Sweetened-up Spanish Once the Spanish took over Mexico, they caught on to the appeal of this high-end sweet. After adding honey or cane sugar for a sweeter taste, it was exported to Europe. It remained a treat for the upper class and was believed to have medicinal, aphrodisiac and nutritious properties.
Dutch Decadence Despite the popularity of cocoa in Spain and Mexico, we have the Dutch to thank for solidifying our favorite treat. In 1828 a chemist separated the cocoa butter (the natural fat) with the chocolate liquor. The remaining substance was pulverized and mixed with alkaline salts, resulting in “Dutch cocoa.”
Bonbons from the Brits In 1847, an Englishman by the name of Joseph Fry added melted cocoa butter back into the Dutch creation, setting it it a mold. From this genius came the first modern chocolate bar. The English further proved their chocolate prowess in 1868 with a little company called Cadbury. The world-renowned company we know and love was the first to mold chocolate into hearts for Valentine’s Day and eggs for Easter.
This is only a brief overview of the rise of our favorite dessert. Over the great span of history, chocolate has made its way from being a deified seed to a popular treat for everyone. Comment below the significance of chocolate in your own family’s history. As the cocoa tree has proven, even a bean can change the world.