Chocolate is a sweetened food created from the seed of the tropical Theobroma cacao tree that was initially domesticated by the Mesoamerican cultures of Maya and Aztec more than 3 millennia ago. With archaeological findings that suggest that chocolate beverages were consumed there between 1900BC and 1500 BC, those areas of Central America became first who saw the benefits of cocoa and proceeded to deeply integrate it in the lives of their population.
The earliest found reference to the cocoa cultivation dates to around 2000BC in Amazon, with many ceramic vessels used for cocoa processing being find from 1900-900BC. By 300AD, Mayans managed to fully integrate cocoa beans into their religion as symbols of life and fertility. Because its processing was hard and costly, high quality cocoa food and beverages were used only by nobility and religious priest who used it in their ceremonies. 3 centuries later in 600AD, Mayan culture traveled from Central America to the areas between Yucatán Peninsula and Pacific Coast of Guatemala. There they established brand new plantations of cocoa and religious ceremonies elevated cocoa as a food of the gods.
Decline of Mayans and rise of the Aztecs in 1200 introduced changes in the religious significance of cocoa. They viewed cocoa as a divine plant that their god Quetzalcoatl stole from heavens when he descended to the earth on a beam of morning star. Aztecs adopted recipe of Mayans for the “divine drink xocoatl”, chocolate elixir that was viewed as very valuable. However, both Aztecs and Mayans did not have access to sugar, so they spiced their chocolate drinks with other spices. By 15th century Aztecs became dominant culture in Mesoamerica, with trade reaching all neighboring cultures. In that period, cocoa beans were established as the most popular form of money.
In 1502, during 4th voyage of Christopher Columbus, Europeans finally came in contact with cocoa. However, Columbus did not grasp the significance of this (for him) un-edible beans, and he recorded that the local tribes used them only as a currency. He brought those beans back to Spain, but its use there will remain small for several decades. Herman Cortes however had a significant influence on the spreading of cocoa influence. He destroyed Aztec Empire in 1519, capturing vast quantities of cocoa and cocoa plantations. He established European plantations immediately, and presented his incredible discovery to the Spanish King Charles V in 1528 – chocolate beverage spiced with sugar! Soon after that Spain and Portugal nobility become obsessed with chocolate, creating recipes that involved vanilla, nutmeg, cloves, allspice and cinnamon.
While Spain and Portugal enjoyed chocolate products, the rest of the Europe was not intrigued. Ships filled with cocoa bean were deemed worthless by English buccaneers, and the courts of the central Europe avoided it. This started to change in 2nd half of the 17th century, when France, Italy and England went into their “chocolate craze”, causing explosion of cocoa trade, lowering of prices and availability of chocolate to Europeans of all status level. This presence of chocolate received incredible increase with the arrival of Industrial Revolution, and the appearance of first chocolate factories and countless new recipes.
Total domination of chocolate products in the entire world came after World War II with the advent of modern industry and refrigeration that enabled longer shelf life of chocolate products. Today, cocoa bean tree is cultivated on more than 69,000 square kilometers of land, with most of them being in Côte d'Ivoire who is the world’s largest manufacturer.