Seeds from the cocoa tree were known to the pre-Columbian natives of tropical Middle America, particularly to the Mayas and Aztecs who used the beans not only for food and drink, but also as a medium of exchange.  Although Columbus took back cocoa beans to Spain in 1502, it was Hernando Cortez in 1519 who realised the potential commercial value of the beans after being served a chocolate drink locally known as xocoatl, a bitter concoction of ground cacao beans and ground corn in cold water and mixed with spices and chili peppers.

 

For almost 100 years, the secret of processing chocolate remained in Spain, but with the decline of Spain’s power, the secret leaked out and by the middle of the seventeenth century, the drink was popular all over Europe, although only the wealthy could afford it. It was only in the 19th century that cocoa plantations spread to the tropics in both hemispheres and chocolate became a popular and affordable beverage.

 

In 1825, Conrad Van Houten, a Dutch chemist, invented a cocoa press that enabled confectioners to make chocolate candy by mixing cocoa butter with finely ground sugar.  Scottish engineer James Watt’s steam engine provided manufacturers with the capability to grind the beans to a smooth paste called chocolate liquor.

 

In 1828, the Dutch made chocolate powder by squeezing most of the fat from the finely ground cacao beans. The cocoa butter from this pressing was added to a powdered sugar mixture and a new product, eating chocolate, was born.

 

In 1847, solid eating chocolate was developed by a British chocolate maker, J S Fry and Sons.  Dark sweet baking chocolate was created in 1852 and in 1876, Daniel Peter, a Swiss chocolate manufacturer and Henry Nestle, a maker of evaporated milk, incorporated condensed milk into warm chocolate liquor and produced the first milk chocolate.

History of Chocolates