Chocolate has been called the divine substance and the gift of the gods. And really, who can argue with that? Chocolate has become the world’s favourite dessert food and an outright obsession for many chefs and food connoisseurs alike. But it hasn’t always been this way. Until the mid 1500s no one in Europe had even heard of chocolate and it was a full 300 years after that that chocolate achieved mass appeal.
So where did chocolate come from and how did this worldwide obsession with chocolate begin?
Chocolate: Times Gone By
We can trace the origins of chocolate back more than 2,000 years to the time of the ancient Mayans. They discovered that the pods of the cacao tree could be ground up with other spices such as chilli peppers and corn meal to make a delicious, though somewhat bitter beverage. Cacao seeds were offered as gifts to the gods and used in a number of ancient rituals.
By the height of the Aztec Empire, around the year 1400, cacao was a major commodity which was traded between the Aztecs, the Mayans and others. The Aztecs would often require that the people they conquered pay tribute in the form of cacao seeds. These seeds were so valuable that the Aztecs eventually used them as a form of currency.
A Royal Affair With Chocolate
When Columbus discovered America, the Spanish were eager to introduce the beverage to Europe and its fame quickly spread. It was so expensive that only the wealthy could afford it and so sweetened chocolate became a symbol of status and nobility. In France, chocolate was exclusively reserved for members of the royal court.
It wasn’t until the 1800s that chocolate became a food
Despite the mechanical advances, cacao is still grown in much the same way it was 2,500 years ago. It only grows in tropical climates, today mostly in West Africa, and is still harvested, dried and roasted by hand.
Chocolate: Not Only For Eating
What has changed is the way cacao is used today. It’s not only the world’s number one dessert, with an ever widening variety of recipes and versatility as a food, it’s used in a number of non-food applications as well, such as cosmetics and medicine.
In fact, despite the common myth that chocolate can cause acne, chocolate is actually good for the skin and maybe even help get rid of acne. Dark chocolate contains antioxidants that improve the health of your skin. It also seems to provide some protection from the damage caused by UV rays and overexposure to the sun.
In its latest form of decadence, chocolate can be used as a bath to improve the feel, tone and texture of your skin. The chemicals in chocolate can also have a medical benefit. These chemicals not only act as a cure for acne, but also help lower blood pressure, improve cognitive ability and lower cholesterol.
But of course, if you’re like me, you’ll agree that the greatest of all of chocolate’s benefits is the taste! There’s nothing like chocolate to give you that divine taste sensation that’s unmatched by anything else!