The four colors of chocolate. At the lower right, Ruby Cacao—completely natural in color and other properties—was introduced in 2018 (photo © Barry Callebaut
Last Updated October 2019
The History Of Chocolate
A Chocolate Timeline: Follow One Of Man’s Favorite Foods
Confectionery history has a record of at least 4,000 years, when Egyptians captured their treats on papyrus. Sugary confections were being sold in their marketplaces as far back as 1566 B.C., sweetened with date sugar or honey. Yet chocolate didn’t appear on the scene until the ancient Aztec and Maya cultures discovered the value of the cacao plant. It is reputed to have originated in the Amazon or Orinoco basin.
Here’s a timeline of from the origin of chocolate as we can track it, until today, as we know it.
|1500 B.C. - 300 B.C.
The Olmec Indians are believed to be the first to grow cocoa beans (“kakawa”) as a domestic crop. Cacao trees have grown wild for possibly 10,000 years. The Olmec civilization lasts to about 300 B.C.
|300 B.C. - 500 A.D.
250 to 900
The Olmec, a very sophisticated society, give much of their culture to the Maya, including “xocoatl,” sho-KWA-til. Consumption of cocoa beans is restricted to the Mayan society’s elite, in the form of an unsweetened cocoa drink made from the ground beans.
|A.D. 600 - 1000
The Maya migrate into northern regions of South America and Mesoamerica, establishing the earliest known cocoa plantations in the Yucatan. Nobles drink frothy “cacau” from tall pottery beakers. Beans are a valuable commodity, used both as a means of payment and as units of calculation.
Beans are local and international currency: a turkey could be bought for 200 beans, a tomato for 3 beans. Later, when the Maya trade with the Aztecs, 400 beans equal 1 Aztec Zontli, 8000 beans equal 1 Aztec Xiquipilli.
Ancient Mexicans believe that Tonacatecutli, the goddess of food, and Calchiuhtlucue, the goddess of water, are guardian goddesses of cocoa. Each year they perform human sacrifices for the goddesses, giving the victim cocoa at his last meal.
The Maya begin trade with the Aztecs, and give them cacau. The Aztecs called it “cacahuatl” (ca-ca-WAH-tel), meaning warm or bitter liquid. Xocolatl is
flavored with local spices, including chile, cinnamon, musk, pepper and vanilla, and thickened with cornmeal; then frothed in a bowl with a molinillo (photo at right) and served at room temperature.
Cacahuatl becomes popular among the Aztec upper classes. The Aztecs see cacao as a gift of the plumed serpent god Quetzalcoatl, the god of light.
The Aztecs become the first to tax the beans, and restrict it to noblemen, priests, officials, warriors...and the rich traders who supply it. It is a restorative, a medicinal revitalizer, a ceremonial beverage and an abetter of longevity. It is served at end of banquets.
Christopher Columbus is said to have brought back cacao beans to King Ferdinand from his fourth visit to the New World, but they were overlooked in favor of the many other treasures he had found.
Cacao is tasted by Columbus on his fourth and last voyage to the New World. Columbus encounters a great Mayan trading canoe on the island of Guanaja, off Honduras, carrying a cargo of cocoa beans. (Almost 500 years later, Valrhona, the great chocolate company, makes a grand cru chocolate bar and names it in honor of the island—it is spectacular chocolate.) He presents the King and Queen of Spain with beans, but Ferdinand and Isabella see no real worth in them.
Spanish explorer Hernan Cortès conquers part of Mexico. By chance, his arrival coincides with the expected return of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl—the god who had given cacao to the people and taught them how to cultivate it—from his travels. Quetzalcoatl is believed to be white-skinned and beard, and Cortès is initially mistaken for the god. Hernando Cortez records the cacao usage in the Aztec court of Emperor Montezuma in San Juan de Ulloa (Vera Cruz, Mexico). He builds a cocoa plantation to “grow money” in the name of Spain, beginning a Spanish cocoa monopoly that lasts two centuries.
1527 or 1528
Cortez conquers the Aztec empire and brings cacao beans, equipment and recipes for preparing chocolate from Mexico to the Spanish court of King Charles V. It is greeted with excitement, but is heavily taxed, so only the rich can afford it. Monks, hidden away in Spanish monasteries, are appointed as the processors of the cocoa beans to keep chocolate a secret for nearly another century. It makes a profitable industry for Spain, which planted cocoa trees in its overseas colonies.
The Spanish historian Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdez, who spent 1535 through 1545 as commander of the castle of Santo Domingo and returned to Spain with the appointment of Historian of the Spanish Indies. Santo Domingo, noted, “None but the rich and noble could afford to drink chocolatl as it was literally drinking money. Cocoa passed currency as money among all nations; thus a rabbit in Nicaragua sold for 10 cocoa nibs, and 100 of these seeds could buy a tolerably good slave.”
Dominican friars take a delegation of Kekchi Mayan nobles from Alta Verapaz to visit Prince Philip of Spain. The Mayans bring gift jars of beaten cocoa, mixed and ready to drink. Spain and Portugal do not export the beloved drink to the rest of Europe for nearly a century. Early after its arrival, the Spanish replace the chile with sugar and keep the cinnamon to make the bitter cacao beverage their liking. It is decided that the beverage tastes better warm. According to The True History of Chocolate authors Sophie and Michael Coe, the most likely scenario for the development of the word “chocolate” is that the Spaniards combined the Maya word chocol, meaning “hot,” and the Aztec atl, meaning “water,” to produce chocolatl. The proper pronunciation of tl is “te.” It is surmised that they would not want to use the Aztec word, cacahuatl, because “caca” in Spanish is a vulgar word.
The first time how the cocoa drink is prepared is found in the notes of Benzoni, an explorer working for the Spanish army. The Spanish keep this secret from the rest of the world, in the hope they can keep their monopoly in the cocoa trade.³
Cocoa gains popularity as a medicine and aphrodisiac.
The first official shipments of cocoa beans begin arriving in Seville from Vera Cruz, Mexico.
Spanish nuns in Oaxaca, Mexico are the first to sweeten chocolate with honey, cinnamon and cane sugar, making the drink popular with colonials. Spanish monks introduce the first sweetened drink to Spain around 1590. They sweeten it with honey and vanilla.³
An Italian traveler, Antonio Carletti, discovers chocolate in Spain and takes it to Italy where chocolate-mania develops: Cioccolatieri open in all major cities. From Italy, chocolate spreads to Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Spanish Princess Maria Theresa gives her fiancé Louis XIV of France an engagement gift of chocolate, packaged in an elegant, ornate chest. Their marriage is symbolic of the marriage of chocolate in the Spanish-Franco culture. The word of chocolate further spreads throughout Europe.
Chocolate incites controversy. Johan Franciscus Rauch of Vienna condemns chocolate as inflamer of passions and urges monks not to drink it. A Mr. Parkinson in his 1640 “Theatrum Botanicum” calls it “wash for hogs.”¹
The first publication of a recipe for chocolate is by the Spanish doctor Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma, based on the Aztec recipe. The bitter flavor is enhanced by adding almonds, anise, cinnamon, flowers, hazelnuts, roses of Alexandria and vanilla. The exact spices depend on the physical ailment.
Cocoa is introduced to Germany by a German scientist named Johann Georg Voldkammer who discovered it in Naples. The Germans institute the habit of a cup of hot chocolate before bedtime.³
Chocolate is seen as having largely medicinal properties. In fact, the first official statement about chocolate is made by Bonavontura Di Aragon, brother of Cardinal Richelieu, describing the use of chocolate as stimulating the healthy functioning of the spleen and other digestive functions.³
The first chocolate house is opened in London by a Frenchman. Coffee houses were already popular. The shop is called the The Coffee Mill and Tobacco Roll. Costing 10 to 15 shillings per pound, chocolate is a beverage for the elite. The English introduced several changes: Instead of water, they added milk. Some also added Madeira or beaten eggs.4
Louis XIV gives the chocolate monopolies of the Paris chocolate drink trade and the French Royal Court to David Chaillou, a baker who made costly biscuits and cakes with chocolate—France’s first “chocolatier.” ²
The first recipe for cacao is published in Spain; it includes chiles, ear flower, cinnamon, almonds or hazelnuts, sugar and annatto seeds, boiled together and frothed with a molinillo. Other recipes use cloves and vanilla. In London, in November, Samuel Pepys notes in his diary that he had been to a coffee house to drink Jocolatte and that it was very good.4
Dr. Stubbe writes that “Chocolate encouraged all sorts of physical prowess. The mighty lover, Casanova, found the drink as useful a lubrication to seduction as champagne.” ¹
While Daniel Peter is given credit for inventing milk chocolate 200 years from now, but according to the International Cocoa Organization, in 1672 Sir Hans Sloane details in the American Physician a medicinal recipe using milk in drinking chocolate. Sir Hans Sloane brings a cacao tree specimen back from Jamaica to England in 1689. During his time in Jamaica he becomes interested in the bitter drink Jamaicans make by boiling roasted beans from a local tree in water. He believes it to have therapeutic properties but because the taste is unpalatable, he boils the beans in milk and sugar, creating the first milk chocolate drink—“hot cocoa.” He brings his recipe back to England and sells it to an apothecary who markets the product as “Sir Hans Sloane’s milk chocolate.” ¹
Eating solid chocolate is introduced in the form of pastilles. One reference states that in 1674 the English propose solid “fingers of chocolate in the Spanish fashion” intended for eating. The phrase indicates that such products may already have been available in Spain.¹ Chocolate pastry is first served in coffee houses in the U.K. ³
In Martinique, chocolate is such a part of the culture that it is used as a reference for time: arriving “at chocolate” means arriving at 8 o’clock.¹
Zurich mayor Heinrich Escher brings chocolate to Switzerland for the first time, from Brussels. ³
After 1700, drinking chocolate expands worldwide; chiles disappear as an ingredient except in Mexican mole sauces (returning in the late 1990s in “Aztec” cocoa recipes, thanks to the popularity of Mexican food).
By the turn of the 18th century, chocolate makes its way back to the Americas. In little more than a decade, Massachusetts sea captains are bringing back cargoes of cocoa beans and Boston apothecary shops are advertising and selling chocolate imported from Europe.
Fry sets up the first chocolate factory in Bristol, England using hydraulic machinery to process and grind the cacao beans.
Chocolate travels to the Low Countries with the Duke of Alba. By 1730, cocoa beans drop in price from $3 per pound to being within the reach of other than the very wealthy.
A French inventor, Monsieur Dubuisson invents a table mill for grinding chocolate.
1737 or 1753
Swedish naturalist, Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778) is dissatisfied with the word cacao, so renames it “theobroma,” Greek for “food of the gods.”
European countries colonize much of the world, and in the process acquire cacao plantations that ensure their own supply of cocoa beans. The French colonized western India and Madagascar, the Dutch, Ceylon and Java, the Belgians, the Congo, the British, western India, the Germans, the Cameroon and the Portuguese, Brazil.4
Chocolate “returns” to America: The English colonies are brought the drink that that is the rage in Europe.4
Irish chocolate-maker John Hanan imports cocoa beans from the West Indies into Dorchester, Massachusetts, to refine them with the help of American Dr. James Baker. The pair builds America’s first chocolate mill and by 1780, the mill is making BAKER’S chocolate.
Madame du Barry, mistress to French King Louis XV, drinks chocolate with her lovers.¹
Dr. Joseph Fry of Bristol, England, employs a steam engine to grinding cocoa beans, an invention that leads to the manufacture of chocolate on a large factory scale.
Venezuela is producing half the world’s cacao, and one-third of all chocolate products produced in the world are being consumed by the Spaniards.
The pioneer of Swiss chocolate-making, François Louis Callier, opens the first Swiss chocolate factory in Corsier, near Vevey.
Purchases of cocoa by the Royal Navy are more than for the rest of Britain. Nutritious, hot and non-alcoholic, it is considered a perfect drink for sailors on watch duty. Among sailors on duty in the Atlantic Ocean and the Baltic Sea, the cold wind from the northwest is known as a “chocolate gale.”¹
Coenraad Van Houten invents the cocoa press, a hydraulic press, to squeeze out some of the cocoa butter from the beans, leaving behind the defatted cocoa powder. The nib of the bean is about 52% cocoa butter; Van Houten’s machine reduces the fat content by nearly half and creates a “press cake” that is pulverized into the fine powder known as cocoa. The powder is treated with alkaline salts so that it mixes more easily with water. The final product has a darker color and the beverage has a milder taste and a smoother consistency. Van Houten was Dutch and patented his invention in Amsterdam, so his alkalizing process becomes known as “dutching.” The invention helps cut prices as well; and the overall Industrial Revolution enables the mass production of chocolate, spreading its popularity among the citizenry.¹
A German baker named Stollwerck begins a business that grows into one of the largest companies in Germany, producing a variety of chocolate products and brands.
The first pressed chocolate tablets, pastilles and figures are produced in Belgium by the chocolate company Berwaerts.
Joseph Fry’s grandson Francis Fry, then head of the firm J.S. Fry & Sons, discovers a way to mix some of the cocoa butter back into the dutched chocolate (cocoa powder) and adds sugar, creating a paste that can be molded. He calls this “eating chocolate” (“chocolat delicieux a manger”). This is the first modern chocolate bar, although conching has not yet been invented, so it is not the smooth, silky bar we know today but a rough, grainy chocolate.¹
Cadbury brothers are selling a similar product two years later.¹ Joseph Fry & Son and Cadbury Brothers display “chocolates for eating” at an exhibition in Bingley Hall, Birmingham, England.
Prince Albert’s Exposition in London is the first time that Americans are introduced to bonbons, chocolate creams, hand candies (called “boiled sweets”) and caramels.
Ghiradelli, who imported beans from Peru to San Francisco to sell to gold prospectors, has discovered how to extract cocoa butter from ground cocoa to create a very soluble cocoa powder.
Richard Cadbury creates the first known heart-shaped candy box for Valentine’s Day.
edition of Culpepper’s Complete Herbal includes cocoa as aphrodisiac.¹
The first gianduja is created in Italy: chocolate mixed with hazelnut paste.³
John Cadbury mass-markets the first boxes of chocolate candies.
Daniel Peter of Vevey, Switzerland, who had developed an accidental interest in chocolate due to his affection for Fanny Cailler, the eldest daughter of chocolatier François-Louis Cailler, experiments for eight years before finally inventing, at age 31, a means of making milk chocolate, using condensed milk. The milk has been perfected by his neighbor Henri Nestlé, a food scientist.
Daniel Peter and Henri Nestlé form the Nestlé Company, which later becomes the world’s largest producer of chocolate.
Rodolphe Lindt of Berne, Switzerland, invents the conching machine to heat and roll chocolate in order to refine it to a smooth consistency. The result is a more smooth and creamy chocolate that melts on the tongue. Up to this point, even the finest chocolate had a grainy character. After warm chocolate is conched for seventy-two hours in a long narrow trough, and has more cocoa butter added to it, it is possible to create chocolate fondant and other creamy forms of chocolate. (Today, conching can be finished in 12 hours.)
Félix Bonnat founds the Bonnat Chocolate Shop. Shortly afterwards he creates the French praline.
Milton S. Hershey sells his first Hershey Bar in Pennsylvania, using modern, mass-production techniques that make chocolate affordable to the masses.
The Tobler firm, founded in 1868, starts to produce its own chocolate. The Toblerone nougat, almond, and honey chocolate bar is born.
Milton Hershey creates a model factory town town called Hersheyville dedicated to the production of chocolate. The specialty is the Hershey Kiss. Around 1900, the price of cacao and sugar drop tremendously, making chocolate affordable for the middle classes.
The first-known published recipe for chocolate brownies appears, in The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, edited by Fanny Merritt Farmer. A reference often given for the first publication of brownies, in the 1897 Sears and Roebuck Catalogue, is erroneous. That recipe is not for a chocolate and flour baked brownie bar, but for a molasses candy also called brownies. The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book recipe uses flour and two squares of Baker’s chocolate.
Milton Hershey’s birthplace, Derry Church, Pennsylvania, is renamed Hershey.
Canadian Arthur Ganong markets the first nickel chocolate bar.
Jean Neuhaus invents the chocolate shell that can be filled with soft centers and nut pastes, offering vast variety to the previous dipping and enrobing of chocolate.
Swiss confiseur Jules Séchaud of Montreux introduces a machine process for manufacturing filled chocolates, creating the first box of filled chocolates.
Jean Neuhaus’ daughter-in-law invents the ballotin, the rectangular box with molded insets that protect the individual pieces of chocolate from rolling around.
The Kestekides family launches the Leonidas brand in Belgium.
Chocolate bars become individual-sized: from 150g (5 ounces), they begin to be made in 30g and 45g sizes (1 ounce and 1.5 ounces) and made in tablet shapes for snacking.
Twenty-two years after Hershey’s kisses debut, Francesco Buitoni, a relative of the pasta family, launches Baci, Italian for kiss. His chocolate kisses have a hazelnut in the center.
Barry Callebaut begins the production of chocolate couverture, in Belgium. (We don’t know which company made the first couverture.)¹
The New York Cocoa Exchange begins in New York City.
Belgian chocolatier, Joseph Draps starts the Godiva Company to compete with Hershey's and Nestlé’s American market.
Nestlé makes first white chocolate, named Galak, although it was called different names, such as Milkybar or Alpine White, in different countries. During the 1930s, brand names become increasingly important. After two years of research, Nestlé launches the Black Magic bar.4
World War II rationing includes chocolate: in Europe it is rationed to 4 ounces per person per week. Sales of chocolate are half of pre-war sales. Production of Kit Kat, a leading brand, is suspended.4
A story of chocolate espionage hit the world press when an apprentice of the Swiss company of Suchard-Tobler unsuccessfully attempted to sell secret chocolate recipes to Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, and other countries.
Valrhona introduces the concept of the single origin chocolate bar, making their first with beans exclusively from South America. The 70% cacao bar is named Guanaja in honor of the island of Guanaja, off Honduras, where Christopher Columbus first tasted chocolate almost 500 years earlier. They call it a Grand Cru chocolate.
Following Valrhona’s pioneering efforts, other “designer chocolate bars” debut, including bars made from the beans of single plantations. Today, annual world consumption of cocoa beans averages approximately 600,000 tons, and per capita chocolate consumption is greatly on the rise. But the best chocolate, made of criollo beans, is just 5% of the world crop.
A new generation of chocolatiers knows no bounds. The fusion cuisine of the late 20th century has logically found its way to chocolate: exotic spices such as saffron, curry and lemongrass are now commonplace in chocolate, as are everyday kitchen foods such as basil, goat cheese and olive oil. Most appropriately, chocolate has returned to its Mesoamerican roots. Many artisan chocolatiers now offer some version of “Aztec” chocolate, spiced with the original “new world” flavors of chile and cinnamon. The market has seen growth in organic and kosher brands and high percentage cacao chocolate is recognized as a functional food, delivering antioxidants. It seems that the Aztecs were right about the health-giving properties of cacao.
The Cote d’Ivoire is the world’s largest exporter of cacao beans, 1.4 million tons. The Netherlands both imports and grinds the most cacao. Some is made into chocolates; the remainder is processed into couverture and cocoa powder and exported to other countries which make their own chocolates from it.
The newest innovation in 78 years—since white chocolate—is introduced to consumers. It is ruby chocolate, a pink chocolate made with a particular variety of cacao bean that results in the pink color. Here’s more about it.
¹ International Cocoa Organization, icco.org
³ Bownes.co.uk from Barry-Callebaut.com