The earliest record of chocolate was over 1,500 years ago in Central America. The tropical rain forests provided the perfect climate for the cacao tree to grow - the plant from which chocolate is derived.
The Mayan civilisation worshipped the cacao tree, believing it had divine origins - cacao is a Mayan word meaning ‘God Food’. Cacao was corrupted into the more familiar 'cocoa' by the early European explorers.
The Aztecs of central Mexico also prized the beans and even used them as currency. But living further north in a drier climate, they acquired beans through trade or as spoils of war. Like the Mayans, they brewed cacao to drink in rituals and as a luxury beverage, and called it ‘xocolatl’. Difficult to pronounce, the Spanish conquistadors called it 'chocolat', which later became ‘chocolate’ in English.
The Aztec's prized xocolatl over everything else, and when Aztec Emperor Montezuma was defeated in 1519, the victorious conquistadors, expecting to find the Aztec treasury full of gold and silver, found only huge quantities of cocoa beans.
The first mention of ‘solid’ chocolate dates back to the mid-1600s, when English bakers began adding cocoa powder to cakes. Then in 1828, Dutchman Johannes Van Houten invented a process to extract the bitter tasting fat or ‘cocoa butter’ from the roasted ground beans. Hoping to make a smoother and more palatable drink, he accidentally paved the way for solid chocolate.
Chocolate as we know it today first appeared in 1847 when Fry & Sons in England mixed sugar with cocoa powder and cocoa butter to produce the first solid chocolate bar. Then in 1875, a Swiss manufacturer, Daniel Peters, found a way to combine cocoa powder and cocoa butter with sugar and dried milk powder to produce the first milk chocolate.