Ahhh, it’s that time of the year again. Love is in the air! The celebration of Valentine’s day just doesn’t quite feel complete without indulging in chocolate of some shape or form. Chocolate covered strawberries, chocolate truffles, chocolate cakes… whew!
But, there’s more to a box of chocolates than meets the eye. It’s believed that cacao trees existed on earth 100 million years ago, growing in the Andes Mountains. The tradition of consuming chocolate dates back to ancient Mesoamerica (modern day Mexico). The Olmec, one of the earliest known mesoamerican civilizations, are the first people documented to transform the beans of the cacao plant. Cacao was used during rituals and as a medicine for an array of ailments.
Mayans created the foamy drink called “xocolatl” meaning bitter water. A drink comprised of cacao seeds, chillies, water and cornmeal. It was known as the drink of the gods.
“Cocoa was so revered that images of cocoa pods were painted on the walls of stone temples and Mayan artifacts have been found that show kings and Mayan gods drinking chocolate.” -Godiva
When Aztecs conquered the region, Mayans were forced to pay taxes to the Aztecs. They paid these taxes in the form of cacao beans. The Aztecs believed that chocolate was a gift from the god Quetzalcoatl. During this time, the cacao beans were a revered form of currency.
After the Spanish exploration and subsequent conquest of the Americas, chocolate spread to Europe.
“Hernán Cortés was believed to have discovered chocolate during an expedition to the Americas. In search of gold and riches, he instead found a cup of cocoa given to him by the Aztec emperor.” -Magnum Ice Cream
When Spanish chocolate was mixed with sweeteners such as sugar and honey, the concept took off. The sweet chocolatey drink was extremely popular among the aristocratic class.
“In 1615, French King Louis XIII married Anne of Austria, daughter of Spanish King Phillip III. To celebrate the union, she brought samples of chocolate to the royal courts of France.”
From there, the ingredient spread from Spain to the rest of Europe. Approximately Two hundred years later, the invention of the chocolate press allowed chocolate to be formed into molds and shapes. Thus, the chocolate bar was born. From there the rest is history. The artisan chocolatiers that we know today in Belgium, France and Switzerland were established and perfected their craft. The industrial revolution allowed it to be mass produced and sold all over the world.
Present day, cacao ceremonies are still practiced all over the world. Participants embrace the meditative qualities of cacao and its ability to improve mood and energy and clear the mind. But, for most individuals chocolate is known as a sweet treat, and the perfect gift for a loved on on Valentine’s Day.