The known history of chocolate goes back as far as 1500BC, when the Olmec Indians were the first civilization to grow cocoa beans as a domestic crop. The Olmec were a Pre-Columbian civilization living in the tropical lowlands of south-central Mexico, near the modern-day city of Veracruz.
Mayan and Aztec civilizations were the next to discover the value of the cacao bean, the natural source of what we know as chocolate. The Aztecs made a potent medicinal drink called xocoatl, or “bitter water”, out of ground cacao beans and other spices.
So impressed were the Mayans with cacao’s taste (and its ability to promote energy), that cacao was frequently used in sacred rituals. They even celebrated an annual harvest festival that was devoted entirely to honoring the “cacao god.”
The original bitter chocolate drink favored by these people was very different from the smooth, sweet chocolate bars we enjoy today, yet the source of both remains the same: the humble cacao bean.
Around 600AD, the Mayans migrated into northern regions of Mexico and established the earliest known cocoa plantations in the Yucatan. In the 16th century, Mayan nobles visited Prince Philip of Spain, and brought gift jars of cocoa, introducing it to western civilization for the first time. It took nearly a century after that for the drink to spread across the rest of Europe.
The first chocolate house was opened in London in 1657. At that time, chocolate was considered a beverage strictly for the upper class. Solid chocolate was introduced in the form of chocolate rolls and cakes, served in chocolate emporiums.
By the early 18th century, the price of cocoa beans had dropped enough to be enjoyed by people of all classes. In the latter part of the century, Dr. Joseph Fry of Bristol, England, invented a steam engine for grinding cocoa beans that led to the manufacturing of chocolate on a large scale.
Chocolate was introduced to the United States in 1765, when Irish chocolate-maker John Hanan imported cocoa beans from the West Indies to Massachusetts, to refine them with the help of American Dr. James Baker. The pair soon built America's first chocolate mill and by 1780, were making the now-famous Baker's® chocolate.
Other innovations that occurred in the 19th century include the invention of the cocoa press by Conrad Van Houten. This helped cut prices and improve the quality of chocolate by squeezing out some of the cocoa butter and giving it a smoother consistency.
Van Houten was the first to add alkaline salts to powdered cocoa to make it mix better with water. His alkalizing process became known as "Dutching."
In 1847, Joseph Fry & Son discovered a way to mix some of the cocoa butter back into the "dutched" chocolate, and added sugar, creating a paste that could be molded. The result was the first modern chocolate bar.
Fry & Son, along with the Cadbury Brothers, displayed chocolates for eating at an exhibition in Bingley Hall, Birmingham, England in 1849.
Prince Albert's Exposition in London in 1851 was the first time that the public was introduced to bonbons, chocolate creams, and caramels.
John Cadbury was the first to mass-market boxes of chocolate candies. In 1861, his son, Richard Cadbury, created the first known heart-shaped candy box for Valentine's Day.
In 1879, Daniel Peter and Henri Nestlé joined together to form the Nestlé Company. Also in that year, Rodolphe Lindt of Berne, Switzerland, produced a more smooth and creamy chocolate that melted on the tongue by invented the "conching" machine.
In 1926, Belgian chocolatier, Joseph Draps started the Godiva Company to compete with Hershey's and Nestle's American market.
Today, the chocolate industry is an ever-growing, $50 billion dollar-a-year worldwide business. This industry is spread across five continents, and is dominated by a small number of sellers. U.S. companies such as Mars and Hershey’s alone generate $13 billion a year in chocolate sales and account for two thirds of all U.S. manufacturers. Europe accounts for 45% of the world's chocolate revenue.
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