Cocoa came from the south

Most hypotheses about the origin of cocoa place it between the Mexican lands and the tropical zones of South America. In the sacred stories of ancient Mesoamerican civilizations, a supernatural explanation is offered about the origin of this plant, whose fruit is capable of offering humans an enormous number of benefits.

According to Mayan mythology, the god Kukulkan gave cacao to men. This sacred plant was placed under the protection of Ek Chuah, god of plantations and trade, who represents the duality of the use of cocoa as food and as currency.

For the Mayans, the supernatural character of cocoa was not only in its origin but also in its properties, since they believed that its consumption guaranteed the nourishment of human beings even after death. Hence, the seeds of this plant were part of their funerary rites, not only as an offering to the gods for a good transition to the afterlife, but also as food for the journey.

Of the knowledge that the Mayans had about cocoa, numerous archaeological evidences remained, such as references in codices, scenes represented in vessels and traces of theobromine in pottery pieces. It is believed that the common name of this plant derives precisely from the Mayan word used to name it: ka'kaw.

For the ancient Toltecs, cocoa was a gift granted by Quetzalcoatl to the population. According to the story collected in the Tonalamatl, the book of auguries of the priests of the goddess Xochiquetzal, the gods agreed that one of them should go down to earth to help the Toltecs get rid of their hardships by teaching them the sciences and the arts.

This task was left in the hands of Quetzalcóatl who, in alliance with Tlaloc, the god of rain, and Xochiquetzal, the goddess of joy and love, turned the Toltecs into a people of wise men and artists, knowledgeable about the route of the stars, the most precise ways to measure both time and seasons, and how to take advantage of the rains for the benefit of the crops.

In addition to all these gifts, Quetzalcóatl gave the Toltecs a plant whose use was exclusively destined for the gods. He planted it in the fields of Tula and asked Tlaloc to water it with his rain, and Xochiquetzal to cover it with flowers. Once the bush bore fruit, Quetzalcoatl harvested it and roasted the seeds. He taught the women to grind it and beat it with water to obtain chocolate, a drink that was initially consumed only by nobles and priests. Four kinds of cocoa were derived from the initial plant, one that was used for consumption and another three that served as currency.

The first to domesticate and use cocoa were the Olmecs (1500 BC), in the humid coastal plains of the Gulf of Mexico, especially in the regions of the current state of Tabasco and southern Veracruz. Later the Mayans, Toltecs and Aztecs would develop a large number of foods and therapeutic uses of this sacred plant.

The initial contact of cocoa with the Western world dates back to 1502 when Columbus arrived in Guanaja, one of the islands that make up the archipelago of La Bahía, in Honduras. As part of the exchange between the natives and the Spanish crew, they received cocoa beans that the locals used as currency. With them they also prepared a bitter drink that European travelers did not find pleasant, as Columbus writes in his log, so they did not give importance to the sacks loaded with cocoa beans that they had received from the original inhabitants of those islands.

It was not until 1519 that the Spanish understood the value of cocoa, with the landing of Hernán Cortés and his crew in the Yucatán Peninsula, and their subsequent arrival in Tenochtitlán. Upon being received by Emperor Moctezuma II, they tasted a drink that the Aztecs called chocolate, word that means "sour water" (xoxoc: sour, atl: water) whose base was cocoa, and to which chilies and pepper were added to aromatise it. Contrary to Columbus, Hernán Cortés quickly saw the importance and commercial value of cocoa and sent the first shipment to Spain in 1524.

Many years later, in the kitchens of the monasteries of the Dominican sisters of the convent of Oaxaca, in the viceroyalty of Mexico, and in the Cistercian convent of the Monasterio de Piedra in Zaragoza, Spain, sugar and spices such as vanilla were added to this drink. and cinnamon. This gave rise to chocolate as it is known today.

By 1585 cocoa beans were marketed in Spanish ports as one of the most expensive and desired products. In this way, on the other side of the Atlantic, something similar to what happened to Aztec society happened: chocolate was only consumed by the wealthiest classes.

The first chocolate shops were installed in Spain in the mid-XNUMXth century. Subsequently, licenses were extended so that chocolate could be sold in buns, boxes, pills and drinks. By that time, chocolate had already become the favorite for breakfast and lunch. It was also the ideal snack for Spanish families, who served it to their visitors accompanied by biscuits.

Due to the fact that territories of the Italian peninsula such as Naples, Sicily, Milan and Tuscany belonged politically to the Spanish monarchy, chocolate arrived in this area in the year 1559, brought by the commander of the imperial army Emanuele Filiberto, Duke of Savoia, who introduced it in the court after triumphing in the battle of San Quentin.

In a short time, the Italian city of Turin had chocolatiers considered to be the greatest experts in the trade. At the beginning of the 350th century, XNUMX kg of chocolate came out of there every day and was exported to Austria, Switzerland, Germany and France. At that time, the Turinese chocolatiers created the chocolate bar, the chocolates and the cream made from cocoa and hazelnuts. In the XNUMXth century, the fame of these chocolatiers was such that the Swiss and Belgians traveled to Italy to learn from them.

Chocolate was introduced to the French court in 1615, on the occasion of the wedding of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria. At first the drink was not very well accepted, as it was seen as a harmful drug due to its invigorating effects.

In the palace of Versailles, the consumption of chocolate became a habit under the reign of Louis XIV, the sun king, and Maria Teresa of Austria, who popularized its consumption and decreed that great feasts with chocolate would be held on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. as protagonist.

Louis XV, for his part, was considered the greatest lover of the drink made from cocoa. Sometimes he himself prepared it following this recipe that, as he claimed, had aphrodisiac powers: “Gently boil four bars of chocolate with the same number of glasses of water. When ready to serve, add one egg yolk for four servings and stir over low heat, but don't let it boil."

When in 1770 Marie Antoinette of Austria married Louis XVI, she brought her own chocolate maker to the court of Versailles, who received the official title of “Chocolate Maker for the Queen”. He invented new recipes, in which he mixed chocolate with orange blossom water and sweet almonds.

Chocolate arrived in England in 1655. At that time it was a drink practically reserved for the court of King Charles II, due to the high costs and import tariff rates on cocoa beans that came from Jamaica. But progressively it became popular and in 1657 a Frenchman opened the first Chocolate House in London, promoted as follows: “On Bishopgate Street in the house of a Frenchman, a West Indian drink called chocolate is sold which you can be ready at any time
Reasonable price".

London's most famous chocolate house, Mrs White's Chocolate House, was founded in 1693 by Italian immigrant Francesco Bianco, on Chesterfield Street.

Cocoa beans became accessible to the majority in the 1802th century, with the arrival of large factories. The industrialization process quickly displaced artisanal manufacturing. Thanks to new industrial procedures, in 1819 a technique was developed that allowed chocolate to solidify to make tablets. The paternity of this invention is attributed to François-Louis Callier, who founded the first Swiss chocolate shop in XNUMX. A year later, in England, the tablet was created Fry & Sons, a grainy mixture of liquor, chocolate, sugar and cocoa butter.

In 1828, thanks to an invention by the Dutchman Caspar Van Houten, which made it possible to separate the different elements of cocoa and its fats, powdered chocolate was created. With the new procedure, it was possible to extract two products: a mass of cocoa butter and a piece of solid chocolate that was then ground until it was reduced to powder. The cocoa butter mass later became the base of the tablet that is now consumed as a candy.

The well-known bar of chocolate to eat is of recent creation - for chocolate was consumed exclusively in liquid form until 1879 - when Rodolphe Lindt had the idea of ​​adding processed cocoa butter back to the mixture, thus allowing it to have a texture solid and creamy at the same time, that would be crunchy when you bite into it and then melt in your mouth. This presentation was of singular importance during World War II, as it provided the allied troops with an excellent source of energy, while occupying very little space for transport. After the war ended, the market for bar chocolate was consolidated.

Related articles