from bean to chocolateCacao used to be a food for Gods and Kings. The word cacao comes from the scientific name “Theobroma Cacao”, meaning food of the Gods. More than 3000 years ago in the lands of the Olmecs and Aztecs (current day Mexico), the legend states that a feathered snake God named Quetzalcoatl showed them how to prepare the drink of the Gods: xocoatl, meaning bitter water.

Origin of chocolateHistorians believe that the first people to ever consume cacao were the Olmecs, the first civilization of Mexico 3000 years ago. It is believed that when they entered the jungle they saw the monkeys sucking on the sweet pulp that surrounds the seeds of the cacao fruit. The Olmecs realized that the seeds could be transformed into an exquisite delicacy, extracting the beans from the pod, then fermenting them for several days with banana leaves and letting them dry in the sun. They fire roasted and ground until obtaining a thick paste that could be combined with water. Once they tired of having to enter the jungle every time they needed chocolate, they decided to cultivate cocoa trees in their fields and discovered that cocoa farming was not an easy task, because this tree only grows in certain altitudes, protected from the sun and in mild weather conditions.

quetzaBy the 1400’s the Aztecs were the most powerful civilization of Mexico, Central and South America. The cocoa bean acquired a significant importance for them, not only as a luxury drink but also as a form of currency, a religious offering, employing them in ceremonies related to birth, marriage and death. In becoming a currency, indigenous people used this price chart as a way to barter. Turkey: 300 cocoa beans. Rabbit: 30 cocoa beans. Avocado: 3 cocoa beans. Tomato: 1 cocoa bean.

cocao exchange

The world of cacao completely changed when the Spanish explorers Christopher Columbus and Hernan Cortez landed in Mexico. Although they did not like the drink that the Aztecs prepared they took the beans back to Spain to experiment. In Spain they added sugar and the popularity of the drink exploded. It was the first caffeinated drink in Europe (before coffee and tea). The Spanish kept cacao a secret for 100 years. Slowly, as monks traveled to other countries and marriages between Spain and other royal families occurred, the cacao drink spread to Italy, France, Belgium, Switzerland, and England.cocoa arrives to Europe

Each country has an important part in the history of chocolate.

  1. 1502- Spain: Christopher Columbus lands in Nicaragua and sees cacao beans.
  2. 1519- Spain: Cortez lands in Mexico and is greeted with cacao (Aztecs mistake him for Quetzalcoatl).
  3. 1672- Jamaica: Hans Sloane mixes cacao with milk for medicinal use.
  4. 1753- Sweden: botanist gives the botanical name “Theobroma Cacao”. Theo=God, Broma=Food
  5. 1824- England: Cadbury is the first chocolate company to export throughout Europe.
  6. 1828- Netherlands: Van Houten invents the cocoa press which separates cocoa butter from cocoa powder.
  7. 1875- Switzerland, Daniel Peter invents milk chocolate.
  8. 1879- Switzerland, Lindt invents the conching machine which makes chocolate smoother.
  9. 1894- USA, Milton Hershey builds a company that makes chocolate affordable to everyone.

The top producers of cacao:

  1. Ivory Coast
  2. Ghana
  3. Indonesia
  4. Nigeria
  5. Brasil
  6. Cameron
  7. Ecuador
  8. Dominican Republic
  9. Papua New Guinea
  10. Malaysia

The top consumers of chocolate:

  1. Switzerland
  2. Ireland
  3. United Kingdom
  4. Austria
  5. Belgium
  6. Germany
  7. Norway
  8. Denmark
  9. Canada
  10. France

Indigenous names for cacao:

  • Maya; kakaw,kahau, haa,yau
  • Mixi: caco
  • Náhuatl: cacao, cacaocuáhuitl, xocolatl
  • Otomí: chudenchú
  • Zapoteco: biziáa, bizoya, yagabizoya