According to ancient Aztec lore, the god Quetzalcoatl brought the cacao tree to mankind when he came down from heaven on the beam of a star after stealing the plant from paradise. That legend may be the reason people have used reverent terms to refer to chocolate through the centuries, terms that have included “drink of the emperor” and “food of the gods.” While you may think those terms are contradictory since one refers to a liquid and the other references a solid, both accurately describe how humans have consumed chocolate throughout the ages.
Evidence suggests members of pre-Olmec cultures living in what is now Mexico first produced chocolate around 1900 B.C. These people made a paste from ground cacao beans and mixed it with water, vanilla, chili peppers and other ingredients to make a frothy beverage.
Early Olmec, Mayan and Aztec settlements recognized the mood-enhancing and aphrodisiac effects of ingesting chocolate, which led them to view a chocolate drink as a magic elixir that had mystical if not spiritual attributes. By the 14th century, the Mayans used cacao beans as an ancient currency when they traded with the Aztecs, who were unable to grow cacao plants in their fields.
In the 1500s, Spanish fortune hunters arrived in Mexico in search of gold and silver but returned home with another treasure — chocolate. Considered a luxury, chocolate was primarily reserved for the wealthy and powerful Spanish elite. Like the Mayans, the Spanish drank their chocolate during this time, but they thought the magic elixir prepared by the Mayans and Aztecs had a bitter flavor, so they sweetened their concoctions with sugar and cinnamon.
Moving Across Europe
Spain was the only European nation to indulge in chocolate for almost 100 years after it was brought to the country by conquistadors. It began to play into romance around this time. A Spanish wedding that united the daughter of Spain’s King Philip III and France’s King Louis XIII in 1615 is credited with bringing chocolate to France.
It’s rumored Anne of Austria gave King Louis XIII an engagement gift of chocolate that was packaged inside a decorated wooden box. Anne of Austria’s love of chocolate was infectious and the members of European courts and aristocrats began drinking the magic elixir.
Just as chocolate quickly became popular with French aristocrats, the beverage became popular in Catholic countries after Pope Pius V ruled consuming the drink didn’t violate the fast. The pope’s ruling meant drinking chocolate as nourishment on Holy Days was okay, increasing the beverage’s popularity.
Modern History of Chocolate
Chocolate remained a largely aristocratic beverage until Coenraad Johannes van Houten, a Dutch chemist, invented the cocoa press in 1828. Van Houten’s invention was revolutionary because it allowed chocolate to be used as a confectionery ingredient to make solid chocolate using molds. Van Houten’s invention reduced production costs dramatically and made chocolate affordable for non-aristocrats for the first time.
J.S. Fry & Sons made the first solid, edible chocolate bar from just three ingredients in 1847. The invention of the conching machine by Rodolphe Lindt in 1879, along with some other innovations, laid the groundwork for the mass production of chocolate treats on assembly lines. Some family-owned companies joined the booming chocolate industry in the late 1800s and early 1900s, including Cadbury, Mars and Hershey.
With consumers throughout the world spending over $75 billion on chocolate every year, chocolate continues to be the tasty treat of choice for many.
Fast Facts About Chocolate and Romance
Here are some fast, fun facts about chocolate and romance:
- Chocolate used to be the equivalent of today’s Viagra. According to some sources, Montezuma, a colorful Aztec emperor from the 16th century, consumed a cup of chocolate before he visited his harem, and he drank up to three gallons of chocolate daily to improve his libido.
- Known for seducing many women over the course of his lifetime, Casanova referred to chocolate as the “elixir of love” and drank it instead of champagne.
- Serotonin is naturally present in your brain and it improves your mood. Since chocolate has a small amount of serotonin, French doctors prescribed chocolate as an anti-depressant for women suffering from a broken heart.
- Because of chocolate’s sexual reputation, nuns were forbidden to consume chocolate at one time.
While knowing the history of chocolate is one way to impress your friends, knowing fun facts about chocolate is a great way to start a conversation, add some levity to a tense situation, or just entertain yourself. You probably never knew it had such a romantic history.