The history of chocolate
Chocolate… everyday millions of people enjoy it in all its delicious forms, but where does it come from and how did it get to be so popular? In this short history of chocolate, we’ll look at how a simple, rather bitter-tasting little bean was transformed into one of the best loved foods in the world.

When did it begin?

It’s all began thousands of years ago in the Americas when the chocolate we know today was very different! Ancient civilisations such as the Mayans and Aztecs revered cacao (or cocoa) beans and they were used as offerings to their gods and also as currency.

Cacao was used for many things in the Mayan civilisation – official ceremonies, rituals and tributes. The Mayans would also make a drink from cacao, which consisted of cacao beans ground up with maize and then mixed with water… sometimes it would be flavoured with spices or vanilla, then poured from one cup to another to create a thick, foamy drink called ‘xocolatl’, meaning ‘bitter water’.

The Aztecs took this ‘chocolate drink’ and would add chilli and achiote (annatto seeds), which would give the liquid a red hue, this would be given to Aztec soldiers, or used as an aphrodisiac and as a treat for the men at banquets.

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Chocolate in Europe

Chocolate finally made its way to Europe following the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, however at first the Spanish didn’t realise the potential for cacao, preferring other wonders like gold. In 1519, the Spanish conqueror Hernando Cortez visited the court of Emperor Montezuma in Mexico, where he was presented with a golden goblet of chocolate. He introduced the Spanish to the cacao seeds, and although it was still presented in liquid form, the spices were replaced with honey and sugar to give an overall sweeter taste.

The Spanish were able to establish their own huge plantations and export large amounts of cacao back to Europe. By the 17th century, chocolate had become something of a luxury item among Europe’s aristocracy. In the 17th century, diarist Samuel Pepys swore by chocolate’s energising properties and Napoleon carried it with him into battle. But with the advent of the industrial revolution and mass production in the late 18th and early 19th century, delicious chocolate, now in a solid form, began to grow in popularity.

Chocolate and cocoa powder

Chocolate today

Today, chocolate has become one of the most versatile and beloved foods in the world. And yet it’s become so much more – we have a with chocolate that we have with few other foods. It comforts us, delights us, draws us in and gives us a taste experience unlike any other. Simply put, we love it. And the humble beans it comes from have come a long way in its 4,000 year history.

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Why Thorntons

For over a century, Thorntons has specialised in crafting high quality chocolate sweets, toffee, fudge and other confectionary.

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