Where did chocolate originate? Well, it’s a long story. Settle in, grab a candy bar, and let’s talk about it.
Anyone who grew up in Pennsylvania knows all about Hershey Park. Started by the Hershey Company, it’s an amusement park next to the Hershey factory, which constantly pumps the aroma of cocoa into the air. These guys were so crazy about chocolate they said, “This stuff is so good, I gotta get on a roller coaster!” Turns out, people have been going absolutely insane for the stuff for thousands of years. Here’s where chocolate comes from.
Where did chocolate originate?
Chocolate comes from the seeds of the cacao tree. The tree grows huge pods that contain a fleshy pulp that looks kind of like a brain. The seeds—also called beans—are pulled out of the pulp and then processed for consumption.
The cacao tree is native to South American rainforests and was first cultivated by the Mayo-Chinchipe culture who lived in modern-day Ecuador. Let’s all give them a big hand for their heroic discovery.
When was chocolate invented?
Sadly, the Mayo-Chinchipe peoples aren’t going to hear our applause because they were innovating with chocolate 5,300 years ago. That’s right: Chocolate is a prehistoric invention, meaning that it was created prior to the formal creation of the written word.
How did chocolate spread from its place of origin?
The Mayo-Chinchipe started out consuming chocolate as a beverage. Then, the chocolate drink traveled north into Mesoamerica (modern-day Central America and Mexico); there are archeological findings from an Olmec culture site that show the chocolate drink being consumed in 1750 BCE.
The Mayans and Aztecs incorporated the chocolate drink into their respective cultures. To this day, the chocolate-maiz drink tejate is an important part of Oaxacan cuisine and is likely an evolution of the original drink from long ago.
The Aztecs went so far as to associate chocolate with their god Quetzalcoatl. The myth goes that this god was responsible for introducing chocolate to the people. This deification of chocolate is a lot like the modern-day Hershey Park, the church of chocolate.
How did chocolate make it to Europe?
Chocolate emigrated to the Western world like so many other things, via colonialism. The Spanish conquistadors who landed in 16th century Mexico brought the cacao beans back to their homeland and the drink really took off with the aristocracy there.
Once chocolate met with the Industrial Revolution, innovations started happening, including the solid chocolate bar. From there, the sky was the limit. Now we have dozens of varieties of Kit Kats and one of the sickest log flumes in the world.