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The History of Chocolate

October 13, 2015

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Chocolate has been a popular food and drink for thousands of years. It's one of the most popular foods ever; it was even included in British soldiers' rations during World War II! You know that there are lots of different kinds of chocolate, and that it can be eaten in lots of different ways. But do you know chocolate's rich historical background? There's a lot to learn! 

Where Does Chocolate Come From? 

  • Chocolate is made from the beans of the cacao tree, which is native to equatorial climates. 
  • The beans are fermented, then dried, roasted, and ground to make cocoa, the base for chocolate. 
  • The first historical evidence of chocolate comes from Central America and South America, where residue of a drink made from cacao beans has been found and dated to as early as 1750 BC! 
  • Cacao beans were so important in Central and South American cultures that they were actually used as currency!

This is what cacao beans and pods look like before they become chocolate!This is what cacao beans and pods look like before they become chocolate!Courtesy of The Washington Post

Chocolate Spreads!

  • Explorers traveling in South America in the early 16th century were likely the first Europeans to encountered chocolate. 
  • Chocolate was first imported to Europe by the Spanish, where it found favor (as a drink) with the European nobility, who added sugar to relieve the bitter flavor
  • By the 17th century, chocolate was all the rage in European countries, but it wasn't until the early 19th century that innovations in the production of cocoa made it possible to create something close to the cocoa we are used to today
  • By the mid-19th century, well-known chocolatiers like Cadbury and Hershey were already mass producing solid chocolate. 

Christopher Columbus was one of the first Europeans to witness the importance of chocolate to the South American people.Christopher Columbus was one of the first Europeans to witness the importance of chocolate to the South American people.

The Dark Side of Chocolate

  • Once Europeans created a demand for chocolate, plantations starting popping up throughout South America. 
  • Plantations meant slave labor - many workers were African slaves. 
  • Today, chocolate is largely produced in western Africa, and it has been alleged that many cocoa farms treat workers unfairly in this region. 
  • You can buy chocolate that is fair trade and that is ethically made; check the labels when you are buying your chocolate to make sure you are not contributing the the practice of morally wrong working conditions. 

Watch what you eat - child labor is often used on cocoa farms. Watch what you eat - child labor is often used on cocoa farms. Courtesy of confectionarynews.com

Fun Facts!

  • Eating chocolate actually produces chemicals in the brain that make you happy!
  • Americans consume about half of all the chocolate produced in the world. 
  • White chocolate is not actually chocolate; it contains no cocoa solids!

Yummy!Yummy!Courtesy of motherearthnews.com

As you can see, the history of chocolate is about a lot more than food or drink. It's about ancient cultures, European exploration, and even science! 

Have Your Say! 

Do you like chocolate? Let our Kidzworld readers know!