A brief history of cocoa
From food of the gods to Dutch expertise
The Cocoa Journey
The Honduran jungle
The birthplace of cocoa
The earliest evidence of man’s cocoa consumption traces back to the Central Honduran Ulúa valley in pre-Olmec times, approximately 4,000 years ago. The valley was frequently pestered by floods, but was an ideal place to grow cocoa, a crop that needs tropical heat, the understory shade of other trees and rich soil. In those days, the valley was home to cocoa plantations that covered thousands of acres.
A valuable delicacy
Later Central and South American civilizations enjoyed Xocoatl, an energizing frothy cocoa concoction that tasted nothing like modern-day chocolate. It was reserved for tribal dignitaries, distinguished warriors and sacrificial men and women. The valuable cocoa beans also served as currency. ‘Cacau’ originally meant ‘carrying over from those who walk, work or cultivate’, which could be interpreted as exchanging or paying.
Hernando Cortés discovers cocoa
The Spanish conquistadors, led by Hernando Cortés, discovered the remarkable value of Xocoatl and the cocoa beans it was made of when they first set foot ashore in Mexico in 1519. Mistaking him for the reincarnation of Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec cocoa deity, King Montezuma II showered Cortés with gifts, including tons of cocoa beans, which Cortés was more than happy to take with him upon his return to Spain.
Adding a couple of adjustments to an ancient recipe
In 1590, Spanish monks introduced a recipe for the first sweet chocolate drink. They added honey, vanilla and sometimes cane sugar to the recipe to make the Xocoatl more suited to the Spanish taste. Their improvement of the original chocolate drink laid the foundations for modern-day recipes.
Breaking the Spanishmonopoly
Francesco Carletti introduces cocoa throughout Europe
For more than eighty years the Spanish kept the original Xocoatl recipe a secret and firmly controlled the cocoa import. But when Francesco Carletti, a Florentine merchant, visited Central America in 1606 he discovered how the Indians made the Xocoatl and cocoa was eventually introduced to the entire European mainland. It remained however pricy and exclusively for the privileged.
A divine union
Quetzalcoatl and the Catholic Church reconcile
Until 1660, chocolate remained the subject of much discussion within the church, which considered it as sinful and decadent. Noble ladies consumed their chocolate drinks in church to be able to sit out the long services. The church eventually gave in and allowed chocolate to please its devoted and wealthy followers.