Happy Valentine’s Day to our Purple Light family and friends. One of the objects most associated with this holiday is a heart shaped box of chocolates. But, how did this start and where did chocolate come from? Here we provide you with a brief history of chocolate.
The History of Cacao
Cacao is the beanlike seed from which chocolate is produced. The first human consumption of cacao dates to about 1,900BC in Mesoamerica. The Olmec, Mayan and Aztec cultures all revered cacao and thought that it was a gift from the gods (Quetzalcoatl to be specific). But, the product that they enjoyed was a bitter, frothy drink that was believed to be an aphrodisiac. This is how chocolate came to be associated with romance. The drink was restricted to the ruling class only, and it was so valuable that the beans could be used as money. Cacao grew better near the moist coastal regions, than in the dryer central highlands of Mexico. So the next time you’re relaxing at the beach in Cancun, enjoy a chocolate. You can tell your friends you participated in important historical culinary research while on vacation.
Columbus was the first European to come in contact with cacao. Because of the native’s reverence for the bean, he thought that it was important enough to bring back to Europe. But, it never caught on. Following conquistadors also came in contact with cacao. But, its bitter taste (and the unappetizing appearance of the drink made with it) still prevented it from becoming popular in Europe. It wasn’t until Spanish friars added sugar or honey, and cinnamon, to the drink that it began to catch on. In the 16th century it began to become popular among the nobility and wealthy merchant classes. It was extraordinarily expensive, and to be able to taste chocolate showed your importance and stature. This was how chocolate gained its prestige as a gift. What better way to show your lover how much they are worth to you?
The Dutch Made a Breakthrough
The real breakthrough in chocolate occurred during the 19th century in the Netherlands. In 1815 a Dutch chemists discovered that by adding alkaline salts, you could decrease cacao’s bitterness and speed up production. In 1828 he figured out how to reduce half of the fat out of cacao (which could cause inconsistencies in production and spoilage) and came up with a superior cacao powder. This became known as “Dutch Cocoa”. The Dutch are still masters of chocolate production, whether candies or more interesting items. Let us help you arrange a tour of Amsterdam to experience their famous, and mind altering, “space cake”.
In 1847 they figured out that if you added melted cocoa butter and sugar back into cocoa powder, chocolate would take on a solid form. This was the birth of modern chocolate. The Lindt chocolate factory, founded before solid chocolate in 1845, was one of the first to mass produce these candies. (Although if you’re skiing in Switzerland, a nice cup of hot chocolate in its original liquid form sounds amazing). England’s Cadbury received a Royal Warrant to sell chocolate products to Queen Victoria in 1854. Milk chocolate was invented in 1875 when they added powdered milk into the mix. This was just in time for a man named Milton S. Hershey to see a chocolate making machine at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. He bought it, took it to Pennsylvania, and the rest is American chocolate history.
From its birth in the Americas, to the upper classes of Europe, to becoming a popular treat for everyone around the World; chocolate has traveled as much as many of our Purple Light clients. Today the average American eats 12 pounds of chocolate a year. Over $75 billion dollars is spent each year on chocolate worldwide (with a noticeable spike near Valentine’s Day). I almost forgot about the heart shaped box. I wish that I had a romantic story, but it was just a marketing ploy. Richard Cadbury, son of Cadbury’s founder, decided to use fancy shaped boxes to increase sales. He came up with the heart shape in 1861 and it immediately caught on as a Valentine’s gift.
The history of chocolate involves sex, wealth, luxury, lounging around and Imperial Courts; as well as childhood fun. All of this has occurred in fascinating locals around the World that we would love to send you to. Remember, this is culinary research! But, we also arrange spa vacations if you overindulge in this tantalizing treat over the holiday. (And a spa vacation makes for another wonderful Valentine’s Day gift. You could even present it as a gift certificate in a heart shaped box).
Purple Light Vacations provides you with the knowledge, insight and personalized service to make your vacation all you want it to be at no additional cost. We help you travel in the know wherever you go. To get started, fill out this quick form or call 619.324.1444 (ext. 3).