From its origins dating back at least 4,000 years to its modern-day status as a cornerstone of America’s culinary culture, chocolate is now beloved as the most popular sweet treat globally and the lynchpin of a more than $103B industry. Its history and uses may surprise you, so choco-let us tell you why we love this treat so much. See for yourself why Ward’s is your one-stop shop for all things chocolate, just in time for Valentine’s Day!
A Bittersweet History
In some of its earliest known days, back in the 6th century, the Mayans enjoyed their chocolate in a mixture that included ground-up cacao seeds combined with chiles, cornmeal, and water. This warm beverage was xocolatl, meaning “bitter water,” which is the word from which chocolate is derived.
Both the Maya and Aztecs revered chocolate, as they associated it with Quetzalcoatl, a god worshipped in many Mesoamerican religions, in present-day Mexico. Both the Maya and Aztecs used cocoa beans as currency, even charging cacao taxes in the early 15th century. Chocolate then made its way through Spain, and soon the rest of Europe was enjoying it. It was reserved mainly for the upper classes until the industrial revolution made mass distribution possible. Here are some of the other important dates in chocolate’s history:
- 1828 – Cocoa Press is invented, more effectively squeezing out the cocoa butter and leading to smoother consistency for chocolate drinks.
- 1830 – J.S. Fry and Sons creates the first solid chocolate bar.
- 1875 – A Swiss man, Daniel Peter, sells the first milk chocolate on the market.
- 1894 – Milton Hershey founds The Hershey Company.
- 1925 – The New York Cocoa Exchange is established.
Cacao vs. Cocoa
Cacao beans come from the tropical tree Theobroma cacao (“fruit of the gods” in Greek) native to Central and South America, which produces around 20-60 beans encompassed by a sticky white pulp in a pod-like growth. Chocolate concoctions are made from what’s inside the beans.
If you are confused about the difference between cacao and cocoa, you aren’t alone – even renowned chocolate experts disagree. Some chocolatiers call the pods and beans cocoa, while any powder left over after removing fat from the beans is the cacao. Other chocolatiers refer to their entire chocolate product as cacao to hint that their goods are less processed than other brands. Other chocolatiers call the pod and beans cacao before they are fermented and cocoa beans after fermentation.
How Chocolate Is Made
Cacao seeds must be hand-harvested, then the pod removed and broken open with a machete. The seeds are then left to ferment while covered with banana leaves for anywhere from 2-7 days. This process brings out the chocolate taste and smell while also allowing the white pulp to separate from the pod.
Once the seeds are fermented, the beans are sun-dried and taken to the chocolate factory to be cleaned. The beans are then roasted in a winnowing machine that opens the beans and removes the hulls. What is left in the bean is referred to as the nib, and the nib later becomes chocolate.
When the nibs are compacted under rollers, it creates chocolate liquor, a thick paste, and ingredients are added depending on which chocolate is desired. Fine chocolate can be divided into milk, dark, and white chocolate, which can be further separated depending on grades, including bittersweet, semisweet, dark, and amount of chocolate liquor up to 99%.
There are many well-known uses for chocolate in cakes, candy, truffles, hot cocoa, fondue dip, and other baking purposes. But there are some more unusual ways to enjoy chocolate you may not know about, including as an alternative to fluoride in toothpaste, body paint, a mixture for cheese or a coating for bacon, or even as cocoa butter lotion. Dark chocolate has been referred to as a superfood due to its high antioxidant content. The Bosco chocolate syrup company claims their product was used as theatrical blood in the infamous shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror classic Psycho. What a way to go!
Ward’s Is Loco for Cocoa
Whether you are shopping for a Valentine’s treat for your love or yourself, we will wow you with our more than 300 gourmet chocolate options. If you are under a time Crunch, our Ward’s Supermarket team can expertly help you choose the best type for your taste. Besides the well-known brands you know and love like Lindt, Ghirardelli, and Godiva, we also carry organic and free trade options and specialty chocolates – dairy, gluten, and sugar-free, grain-sweetened, carob, vegan, and raw choices. No matter your preferences, Ward’s has the chocolate you need to satisfy your sweet tooth!