The History of Chocolate

Chocolate Candy

Cocoa in the form of chocolate candy arrived after some trial and error. Even before the turn of the 19th century, there were "factories" dedicated to grinding cacao beans into a paste that could be formed into wafers or small cakes. These cakes, in turn, could be mixed with water to make chocolate.

This liquid chocolate, however, was a far cry from the smooth, creamy cocoa, or hot chocolate, we drink today. The paste did not mix well with the water, so it produced a thick, gritty beverage that still retained much of the bitter taste of the cacao from which it was made. What's more, every step of the chocolate-making process was still essentially performed by hand, limiting how quickly it could be produced and making it an expensive commodity.


The first step toward a modern cocoa that could be enjoyed by all came in 1828 in Holland. In that year, a chemist by the name of Coenraad Johannes Van Houten patented a process that used a machine to squeeze most of the fat (cocoa butter) out of the cacao paste, resulting in a finer and more stable cocoa powder that could be produced cheaply and efficiently. (The cocoa butter, an expensive fat, could then be sold for use in other products.) To make the cocoa powder mix well with water or milk, Van Houten then treated it with alkaline salts (a process referred to as "Dutching").

The result was a smoother, less bitter cup of cocoa that was cheaper and more convenient for the consumer to prepare. Manufacturers soon discovered that the new cocoa powder could also be mixed with cocoa butter and sugar to form a thinner paste that in turn could be poured more easily into molds and would hold its shape once cooled. The modern chocolate bar was born.

These Industrial Age developments, along with the invention of milk chocolate, allowed for faster and cheaper production of milder forms of chocolate. For the first time in its history, chocolate was placed within reach of the common man, woman, and child. The rest, as they say, is history.

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Written by Carol Turkington

History of Chocolate FAQ

Where does chocolate come from?
Chocolate is made from the seeds of the fruit of the cacao tree. The cacao tree is native to the tropical rainforests of Mesoamerica, or the southern and eastern portions of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and parts of El Salvador and Honduras.
How was chocolate discovered?
The Maya are believed to have discovered -- or invented -- chocolate. No one knows for sure which of the Mesoamericans first came up with the idea of using cacao seeds to produce something edible. Evidence does show that the Maya used cacao seeds to make a thick, bitter chocolate beverage.
Who first ate chocolate?
The Maya are believed to be the first people to turn cacao seeds into a chocolate drink.
What was chocolate first used for?
The Maya used chocolate -- or their version of chocolate -- as a drink that was meant to be savored at the end of a meal. Cacao was also used in religious rituals, like baptisms, marriages, and even burials.
Why is chocolate called chocolate?
Chocolate is the term that refers to items made out of cacao beans. It's believed that the word comes from the Aztec word "xcoatl", which was the word for the very first beverage made out of cacao beans.

Originally Published: Nov 18, 2007