Historia del chocolate

Chocolate, a brief walk through its history

Welcome to a new article from Agust Barcelona. Today we’re going to talk for the first time about chocolate, that superfood that we all love and that is so irresistible.

Talking about chocolate is a very long subject that we could write endless lines about, so, in order to approach the subject in a clear way, let’s first focus on how it was born and how it has evolved to become the famous mass consumer product of our days.

Where does it come from?

Firstly, chocolate is produced from cocoa beans, a fruit produced by a tree called Theobroma cocoa.

cocoa tree
Cocoa tree with its fruit

Chocolate is one of the foods that America gave to the world and although it comes from the Amazon rainforest in South America, it was the first civilisations of Mesoamerica (Mayas and Aztecs) who cultivated it and gave it great cultural, social and religious importance.

What does the word chocolate really mean?

To find the origin of this word, we have to travel back 3,000 years. The word cocoa has its origin in the Olmec word kakawa and later the Mayas adopted this word, while the drink made with cocoa, water and spices was called cacahuatl, which could be translated as “sour drink”.

cocoa
Cocoa beans

On the other hand, the origins of the word chocolate are unclear. Although there are historians, books and internet articles that claim that the word chocolatl is of Mayan origin and comes from Nahuatl, the truth is that no historical records have been found to support this theory.

Other historians attribute the change of the word from “cacahuatl” to “chocolatl” to the arrival of the Spaniards in America in the 15th century. When Hernán Cortés discovered this drink, he decided to change its name because the prefix “caca” in Spanish sounded too scatological. Later, it was the Spaniards who were responsible for spreading the use of this new word.

Cocoa, the food of the gods

Cocoa is scientifically known as Theobroma cocoa. This term, baptised in the 18th century, comes from Greek and means Theos (god, divinity) and broma (food), which is why cocoa is known as “the food of the gods” and its main component, theobromine, a term we will talk about in another article.

The reason why it was called the food of the gods was because in both Mayan and Aztec times cocoa had multiple properties and was also used for religious purposes.

History of chocolate

As we have already mentioned, the first cocoa trees grew naturally in the Amazon rainforest of South America, near the Orinoco River some 4,000 years ago.  The Mayas, who considered it a divine food, consumed it by mixing water with spices. They were also the first to use cocoa as a daily part of their cuisine. They used cocoa for healing, relaxing, stimulating and aphrodisiac purposes. They even used cocoa butter as an ointment for wounds.

When the Aztecs conquered the Mayans, they also incorporated this food into their culture.

Mayan chocolate vessel
Mayan chocolate vessel. Image extracted from National Geohraphic

Due to the forests where cocoa grew were far from their lands, it was a scarce food for them, so it was only reserved for the elites and warriors due to its multiple properties and benefits.

The Aztecs believed that the seeds came from the god Quetzalcoatl himself, so they were so valuable to them that they used them as a bargaining chip. For example, with 10 grains you could buy a rabbit and with 100 you could buy a slave. To put this into perspective, today it takes approximately 200 beans to make a bar of about 90-100 grams (if the chocolate is really pure).

Like the Mayans, the Aztecs considered cocoa to be a bitter, frothy liquid, mixed with a myriad of spices and maize.

Although Christopher Columbus received the first cocoa beans as a welcome gift as early as 1502, it was not until 1524 that Hernán Cortés brought the first shipment to Spain.

When the beans arrived in Spain, it was the monks of the time who added sugar, honey, cinnamon and other more pleasant flavours.

Chocolate was first reserved for the ruling classes (nobility and Church) and Spain kept the secret of chocolate for more than 100 years.

The origins of chocolate in Spain
Monks making chocolate. Image extracted from  Chocolates Valor

Later on, cocoa spread throughout Europe due to the various marriages between European courts and gradually became better known and spread to the people, with the first chocolate shop opening in London in the 17th century.

This prompted the European powers to establish cocoa plantations in their own colonies such as Brazil, Africa, the Philippines, etc., in order to gain control of the plantations themselves, which were the exclusive property of Spain.

The industrialisation of chocolate

The success of chocolate has been unstoppable since it became accessible to the rest of the population, so much so that in the 18th century the first chocolate factory was opened in the United States and in the 19th century the first milk chocolate factory, which until then was only consumed as a beverage.

In 1828, the Dutchman Coenraad Johanes Van Houten invented the hydraulic press, which made it possible to produce the first chocolate bars.

As early as the 20th century, chocolate bars were a staple and essential food for soldiers in wartime. This helped chocolate to later be marketed to children, due to its high nutrient content.

US chocolate bar during World War II. Image extracted from Xataca.

From this point onwards, the number of products has evolved and developed until today, with a massive use of chocolate, which has brought us a number of challenges, which we will discuss below.

Chocolate coulant in Agust Barcelona

After a brief journey through the history of chocolate and its origins, we invite you to come to Agust Barcelona and try our delicious chocolate coulant.

This exquisite dessert made with the best refined chocolate is a delight not to be missed if you are a great lover of this food.

So remember, we are waiting for you in our restaurant to enjoy an authentic and delicious experience, not to be missed!