Today we think of good chocolate as perhaps Swiss or Belgian, but chocolate is very American.
Chocolate is made from cacao seeds which are native to the upper Amazon. This is prehistory, so the story keeps developing, but the earliest archeological evidence of cacao cultivation is believed to be in Ecuador. After that, the earliest archeological evidence of cacao has been found in Guatemala. It was probably there and in Olmec Mexico that something closer to what we now call chocolate developed.
The word “chocolate” comes from the word chocolātl in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs of Mexico. The Mayans and Aztecs believed that cacao seeds were a gift from god. It was used for religious and social purposes. Chocolate was so valuable that cocoa beans were used as currency. They were traded as far north as what is now New Mexico.
World Chocolate Day
World Chocolate Day is July 7.
National Chocolate Day
In the USA, National Chocolate Day is October 28.
Chocolate Comes from Central and South America
The cacao plant is native to the upper Amazon in Colombia and Venezuela.
Some of the earliest archeological evidence of chocolate preparation is found among the Mokaya people around 1900 BC. It was in Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico, next to Guatemala. That is Mayan country.
There is later evidence of pre-Olmec chocolate preparation from around 1750 BC in Veracruz, Mexico. Veracruz is the gateway from the Caribbean to the old Aztec capital in what is now Mexico City.
The evil Christopher Columbus took some cocoa beans back to Spain on his fourth expedition to the Americas. Spanish friars later introduced chocolate drink to the Spanish court.
At first chocolate was used as a medicine because of its bitterness. Adding sugar made it popular in royal courts across Europe. Then everyone fell in love with it. It’s often considered to be an aphrodisiac.
In New York City
New York City was a major port for trade between the Americas and Europe. Sephardic Jewish merchants ran a trade from Curaçao in Venezuela to Europe.
The New York Cocoa Exchange in Manhattan’s Financial District was active from 1939 – 1979. The pretty triangular building is still there on 1 Wall Street Court.
Cacao seeds are bitter. Chocolate is made by fermenting the seeds, roasting, and grinding them into cocoa mash. Cocoa mash can be processed into cocoa solids or cocoa butter.
Dark chocolate is mostly cocoa solids. White chocolate is mostly cocoa butter. What we now call chocolate has lots of sugar in it. It makes cacao’s bitter flavor sweet and provides a pleasant contrast between the two flavors.
Chocolate is part of many Mexican and Colombian kitchens. Even though it is no longer associated with the gods, the preparation of chocolate can be a nice family ritual.