Chocolate is one of the favored comfort foods and since researchers indicate that dark chocolate is high in antioxidants, we should be happy to add dark chocolate to our snack list every afternoon. Let’s take a look at how chocolate evolved from the Mayan civilization to commercialized competition.
A brief history of chocolate
The cocoa bean can be traced back to the Mayan civilization, and the tree that produced the beans was known as “food of the gods.” The tropical trees bearing this divine bean have grown wild in Central America as far back in history as one can go. They also grow in South America, Africa, and Asia. In Mexico, the Mayan Indian priests used cocoa beans to perform healings and the Maya believed that cocoa was so sacred that it could be used to treat ailments.
The Maya developed a bitter drink made of cocoa that was mixed with other spices. Over time, the Aztec Indians added sweet ingredients like honey and vanilla to this drink. The Aztecs valued chocolate so much that they used it as a buying source.
Interestingly, by the time Columbus brought cocoa beans to Europe, they really didn’t know what to do with the beans so the value wasn’t as great. However, when Spanish explorer, Hernando Cortez, met Aztec Emperor, Moctezuma, he and his fellow travelers were offered a sample of the chocolate drink. This would be roughly the 16th Century. It was then that Cortez returned to Spain with the ingredients to make this special drink. Since the drink had a reputation of holding power, the monasteries hid the beans and the recipe for the drink and it was only served to the nobility.
Eventually, the beans made it to other parts of Europe for everyone to try. During the 1700s, just as coffee houses were very popular, the rising of chocolate houses was developing. Humorously, when France first sampled chocolate a century later, it was considered a bad influence.
Marketing and making other chocolate forms
In the mid to late 1600s, chocolate was incorporated into cakes and rolls and as we entered the 1700s, the cost of cocoa beans was reduced which enabled people other than the wealthy to purchase it. In the mid-1700s, chocolate finally made its way to the United States from the West Indies, thanks to John Hanan, an Irish chocolate maker. Hanan collaborated with an American doctor by the name of James Baker and together they opened a chocolate mill which produced Baker’s® chocolate that is still sold today.
Through innovation and machinery improvements, once the ability to grind cocoa beans became possible, manufacturing facilities were enabled to produce chocolate products on a wider scale. Once the cocoa press was invented by Conrad Van Houten, prices were reduced. Van Houten also came up with a process called alkalizing which made it easier to mix water with cocoa in its powdered form.
A British chocolate maker by the name of Joseph Fry & Sons developed the first chocolate bar. In the mid-1800s, this company along with the Cadbury Brothers created chocolates for consumption at an exhibition where the chocolates were displayed in Birmingham, England. Also, during this time frame, London held Prince Albert’s Exposition giving Americans a first opportunity to sample chocolate bonbons and other varieties incorporating chocolate.
In 1861, the first heart-shaped candy box was created by Richard Cadbury for Valentine’s Day. Seven years later, boxed chocolates were mass-produced and marketed.
Switzerland’s Daniel Peter created a way to produce milk chocolate and in collaborating with Henri Nestlé, they formed the Nestlé Company. Another individual from Switzerland arrives on the chocolate scene, Rodolphe Lindt, who created a much creamier form of chocolate. In the late 1800s, a chocolate fan could spot the first published chocolate brownie recipe in the Sears & Roebuck catalog. Then, moving into the early 1900s, a process was developed to fill chocolates. By 1926, the Godiva Company was formed by Joseph Draps, and competition with the American companies of Hershey’s and Nestle’s began.
Are there health benefits from consuming chocolate?
If you’re going to consume chocolate, it’s healthier to eat dark chocolate because it contains a greater number of antioxidants than your regular chocolates like milk chocolate. There’s also more cocoa in dark chocolate so it’s richer in a more chocolate flavor. Belgium chocolate is my favorite.
Allegedly, according to research performed in both Scotland and Italy, don’t wash that chocolate down with a cold glass of milk as milk may cancel out the value of the antioxidants, or at least make them less likely to be absorbed in the body.
Chocolate contains three forms of acid, two of which may not greatly affect your cholesterol levels. For example, oleic acid is considered a healthy monounsaturated fat which is also in olive oil, and stearic acid — a saturated fat only has a neutral effect on your cholesterol according to research. Palmitic acid, however, another saturated fat could affect cholesterol.
Since chocolate stimulates the production of endorphins, this could explain why we are happy people when consuming chocolate. Serotonin, an anti-depressant, can also be found in chocolate, which can act also as a stimulant because it contains caffeine and theobromine. If we eat a small piece of dark chocolate every day, we could be helping our hearts with the effect it has on blood pressure.