by Gloria Grasso
Saying that chocolate is not only one of the best known food but also one of the greatest pleasures in our world is probably not a stretch. Nowadays, it comes in all shapes and forms, as bars, candies and bonbons, with several tastes and cacao percentages, in order to accommodate the taste buds of even the pickiest of the eaters. Thinking of its distinctive smooth and sweet taste is enough for causing an immediate mouth watering sensation. Although it may not come as a surprise that chocolate comes from cacao beans, which are endemic of South America, it may be shocking to find out that originally chocolate was consumed as a beverage, and a salty one, nonetheless. In fact, the origins of the word “chocolate” must be traced back to the Aztecs and their word “xocoatl”, that used to describe a bitter drink brewed from cacao beans. However, the origins of the beverage itself or of the use of cacao beans as a possible source of nourishment may be even older than that, dating back to Mayan societies or even before, to the Olmecs. What is sure is that cacao beans have been cherished from centuries and even used as a currency at some point among the pre-Columbians societies of Central and South America.
In order to find the sweetened version of chocolate that is more familiar to us we would have to wait until the appearances of Europeans explorers and colonisers in the American continent, in the 15th century BC. According to some legends, the at-the-time Aztec ruler Montezuma II was a huge chocolate addict, drinking gallons a day, and believing it had great energetic nutrients as well as aphrodisiac properties. Similar legends say that it was him who offered the chocolate beverage to Hernan Cortes, after having him mistaken for the reincarnation of a deity rather than a conquering coloniser. At first, the peculiar bitter taste of the drink did not appeal to the foreigner’s tastebuds, but it quickly became a fashionable drink in Spain, after it started to be mixed with honey or cane sugar. Once the Spanish started importing cacao beans from America, chocolate became the latest trend all over Europe, and the high demand was followed by the creation of chocolate plantations, tended by thousands of slaves.
The creation of chocolate powder and bars came comparatively rather late in chocolate history, not earlier than the 19th century. At first, a Dutch chemist managed to pulverise the cacao beans deprived of their natural fat, making the powder product known as “Dutch cocoa”, and then, a British man named managed to add back the butter into the cacao to form moldable bars. This gave start to the further expansion of the chocolate market and the creation of the treats that are most known in our times. However, modern-day chocolate production and high consumptions of the product comes at a cost, including the poor condition of its workers and the exploitation of natural resources, which is also why many organisations have created appeals for more ethical and sustainable ways of chocolate production.
Editors, H. com. (n.d.). History of Chocolate. HISTORY. Retrieved 17 March 2021, from https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-americas/history-of-chocolate
McCarthy, N. (n.d.). The World’s Biggest Chocolate Consumers [Infographic]. Forbes. Retrieved 17 March 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2015/07/22/the-worlds-biggest-chocolate-consumers-infographic/
The History Of Chocolate In Ecuador | Southern Explorations. (n.d.). Retrieved 17 March 2021, from https://www.southernexplorations.com/history-chocolate-ecuador
This page is happy to have many authors! From some of the Two Rivers' staff to our lovely volunteer interns. WE hope we can see Ecuador in as many perspectives as there are trees in the Amazon.