Did you know chocolate was originated in Central America? That is used to be a treat only to the rich? Chocolate has a fascinating history!
The Olmecs occupied a small area south of Veracruz and were the first cultivators of the cacao pod. The Mayans were next, just south of present-day Mexico, to elevate chocolate to the status of the Gods. They named the cacao tree Cacahuaquchtl (tree) as they were concerned no other tree was worth naming. They believed the tree belonged to the gods and that the pods growing from the tree were an offering from the gods to man. The Mayans were the originators of a bitter brew made from cacao beans. It was a luxury drink enjoyed by kings and noblemen. Thankfully we can all enjoy chocolate now!
Christopher Columbus, in 1502, reached the island of Guanaja off the coast of Honduras. As the legend goes he was greeted by natives that gave him a sackful of cacao beans in exchange for some of his own merchandise. When Cortes arrived seventeen years later the cacao beans were being used as food and a form of currency. It was reported that a slave could be bought for one hundred cacao beans. At the time, two hundred small cacao beans were worth one Spanish real.
The Spanish helped develop cacao plantations in Mexico, Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru, Jamaica, and Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic). Cacao production has since spread all over the world but the cacao from these original regions still produces the most highly prized variety of cacao bean. The first-ever chocolate processing plant was set up in Spain in 1580. From then on the popularity of chocolate gradually spread to other European countries.
The Dutch transplanted the tree to their East Indian states in the early seventeenth century and from there it spread to the Philippines, New Guinea, Samoa, and Indonesia with a large degree of success made possible by the exploitation of hundreds of thousands of African slaves. In the early nineteenth century, the Portuguese transplanted Brazilian cacao saplings to the island of Sao Tome off the African coast and later to West Africa. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Germans had settled it in Cameroon and the British in Sri Lanka. Plantations have since spread to Southeast Asia and Malaysia is now one of the world’s leading producers.