As Chocolate Week approaches, we take a look at chocolate’s amazing heritage.
4th October 2017
The luscious tastes of chocolate date back a lot longer than most people imagine. Chocolate beverages – which were originally alcoholic – are thought to date back to at least 1400BC and perhaps as far back as 1900BC. Drinking vessels found in Mexico confirmed the chemical footprints of this fermented cacao bean drink were present. Alcoholic chocolate drinks sound pretty amazing to us.
In fact, all early versions of chocolate were in liquid form. The first countries to have enjoyed chocolate were those located between Mexico and Costa Rica. Although most cacao is grown in Africa nowadays, Central America is the region where the cacao tree is native. The raw ingredients of chocolate are found inside sheaths that grow from the cacao tree’s branches. These sheaths are full of cacao beans inside a sweet pulp. This is the indulgent basis forming the foundations of every chocoholic’s dream.
Various civilisations in this region have used the products of the cacao tree for a number of uses over time. The Olmecs are said to have used it for religious rituals and in medicinal drinks, while the Mayans linked it with their gods. In fact, the Mayans believed cacao was so special, their gods must have shed their blood on the cacao tree. It’s amazing to find out that the otherworldly power of chocolate dates back centuries. Although the Mayan version of chocolate was a warm mixture of cacao seed paste, water, chilli peppers and cornmeal – a little different to today.
The Aztecs, on the other hand, drank their chocolate cold. It was served at the end of banquets and was also believed to be an aphrodisiac. They too linked chocolate with the gods – this time with the god Quetzalcoatl – who they thought had been ostracised by the other gods for daring to share chocolate with humans. Nowadays people say that chocolate is nature’s way of making up for Mondays – so we’re certainly glad chocolate was shared with humans. As the Aztecs conquered areas that had cacao trees, they ordered those invaded communities to pay them a tax in the form of cacao beans. Chocolate was therefore an early form of currency.
Cacao beans first arrived in Europe in the 16th century, thanks to Christopher Columbus, and so the global love affair with chocolate truly began. Milk started to be added to chocolate drinks from the 17th century, which produced the beginnings of the milk chocolate we know today. Funnily enough, it was a Dutch chemist – Coenraad van Houten – who put his skills to very good use by creating a process in 1815 that led to the first solid form of chocolate.
Often called ‘black gold’, chocolate is now one of the most popular sweet treats across the globe. The British are the sixth highest consumers of chocolate in the world, with an average of 7.6kg of chocolate being consumed per person per year!
Chocolate Week, from 9th to 15th October 2017, celebrates everything to do with this indulgent foodstuff with a fascinating history. The Chocolate Show in London’s Olympia from 13th to 15th October is the place to go for an insight into the modern-day innovations in chocolate. Find everything from chocolate sculptures and a chocolate bar – complete with chocolate and drink pairings – to workshops at the Hotel Chocolat School of Chocolate.
Here at The Athenaeum, we’re celebrating Chocolate Week in style with our Chocolate Afternoon Tea. Expect to find all the usual afternoon tea trimmings, accompanied by pastries that have had a chocolatey make-over. These include blood peach choux buns with Opalys chocolate mousse, berriolete domes with Guanaja lactee and millefeuile with dark morant bay chocolate cremeux. Happy Chocolate Week to one and all!
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