Who invented chocolate? | Live Science

Chocolate is delicious whether we bite into a bar or sip hot chocolate, but who was the original inventor of this delicacy?

Although it is now known as candy, the origins of chocolate run much deeper. The guy who figured out how Chocolate is lost in time, but it was probably someone in South America thousands of years ago.

The earliest evidence of the use of cocoa – the fermented, dried seed of the fruit that grows on South America Theobroma cacao tree – dates back approximately 5,300 years, from Santa Ana-La Florida archaeological site in southeastern Ecuador, which is attributed to the Mayo-Chinchipe culture, according to a 2018 study in the journal Nature ecology and evolution (opens in a new tab). But it’s likely that the plant was used by people all over South America long before, as the tree was already outside its natural range 5,300 years ago.

However, native South Americans did not indulge their sweet tooth; the chocolate they concocted is very different from the chocolate that most people enjoy today.

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Here we see an open cocoa pod with cocoa bean pulp inside. (Image credit: foodfolio via Alamy Photo)

To make chocolate, the large seeds – often called “beans” – from the fruit pods of the cocoa tree are fermented in white fruit pulp (opens in a new tab) that surrounds them. They are then dried, cleaned and roasted, after which the seed skin is removed to produce cocoa nibs – a very coarse form of the final product. The nibs are then ground and the cocoa mass is often delivered as a liquid – called chocolate liquor – which can be mixed with other ingredients to make commercial chocolate. Chocolate liquor can also be pressed to make its two components, cocoa powder and cocoa butter (cocoa is spelled differently from cocoa; it refers to cocoa in its processed form.)

A traditional cocoa drink was made by adding ground cocoa nibs to water and was usually bitter; it is thought that the sugars from the fruity pulp could also be fermented into an alcoholic beverage. The resulting frothy mixture was considered both medicinal and aphrodisiac, according to a 2013 study in the journal Nutrients (opens in a new tab), and it was highly prized by the elites of ancient societies. According to a Boston University paper (opens in a new tab)the Olmecs—who lived in southern what is now Mexico between about 1500 BC and 400 BC—considered cocoa a gift from their gods, and that an offering of it connected worshipers to the divine.

Cacao was grown almost everywhere in Central and South America by the time the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the early 16th century AD, and it is now grown in tropical regions around the world. But “the real point of origin is believed to be the Amazon Basin,” said Cameron McNeil, an associate professor of anthropology at Lehman College of the City University of New York and an archaeobotanist who has tasted cocoa throughout the region.

People had reached the southern tip of South America around 14,500 years ago (and some controversial sites suggest that the the first americans arrived several thousand years ago), but it’s unclear exactly when the first people arrived in the Amazon, she said.

Early cocoa drinks may not have been nearly boiling hot, like hot chocolate today, but rather lukewarm, McNeil said. “I’ve traveled all over Mesoamerica enjoying traditional cocoa drinks, and I’d say they’re hot, but not scalding hot,” she told Live Science. Several Mesoamerican cocoa drink recipes also use chili peppers to make them spicy, such as Maya and Aztec drink xocolatl, where the English word for “chocolate” comes from — but it’s unclear who introduced chili peppers to recipes for these ancient drinks, McNeil said.

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Pre-Hispanic Aztec art of a cacao tree from the Codex Tudela, 1553. (Image credit: Fine Art Images/Heritage Images via Alamy Stock Photo)

One of the reasons for cocoa’s popularity is that it contains caffeine, the stimulant also found in coffee (coffee and cocoa are not related; the coffee plant originated in the Old World, maybe Africa (opens in a new tab), not the Americas). For ancient Americans, the boost from cocoa was likely subtle but invigorating, McNeil said. And while other stimulants were available in South America, cocoa was the only stimulant in Mesoamerica, which may explain why it was embraced and became a source of wealth there, he said. she declared.

As early as the 16th century, chocolate was introduced from the New World to Europe as a drink, and it quickly became a symbol of luxury. What most of us now think of as chocolate – the chocolate bar – was invented in 1847 by British company JS Fry and Sons, according to The Oxford Companion for Sugar and Sweets (opens in a new tab).

In 1795, Joseph Storrs Fry patented a method of grinding cocoa beans with a steam engine; his sons then combined cocoa powder, cocoa butter and sugar to make a solid chocolate bar, which became popular in Europe. The company eventually sold several chocolate products – including the first chocolate Easter egg in 1873 – and rival companies such as Cadbury and Rowntree helped spread the delicacy throughout the British Empire and beyond. The Swiss were particularly taken with the new chocolate, and in the 1870s the Swiss company Nestlé used powdered milk to produce the first milk chocolate bar.

The first mass-produced milk chocolate bar was sold in the United States in 1900 by Milton Hershey (opens in a new tab), who had sold caramels before that; and chocolate bars have become particularly popular in the United States in the 1920s (opens in a new tab)when snacking flourished while alcohol consumption declined due to prohibition.

These days, chocolate connoisseurs can find a wide variety of chocolates to tempt every palate: from smooth, smooth milk chocolate to brittle, 80%-90% bitter dark chocolate (or even unsweetened baking chocolate, which is 100% cocoa). But the next time you partake, just think of the bitter taste and caffeinated buzz that ancient elite Native Americans relished thousands of years ago.

Originally posted on Live Science.

Joshua B. Speller