Happy National Chocolate Day! This famous sweet treat is a favorite of people and cultures around the world, but it wasn’t always so easily accessible. Grab a piece of chocolate and read on to learn more about this delightful dessert!

This history of chocolate starts in ancient South America. The fruit of the cacao tree (better known as the cocoa bean) was cultivated thousands of years ago by the indigenous people of South and Central America. The Toltec, Maya and Aztec peoples all prepared chocolate as a beverage, and the Maya people held chocolate in particularly high regard as the food of the gods. Mayan dignitaries were buried with bowls of chocolate, and they considered the cacao tree a sacred plant. In fact, chocolate played a role in helping historians decipher Mayan writings — the deciphering of the word ka-ka-w (or “cacao”) on a container buried with a dignitary was a key factor in unlocking written Mayan language.

After Spanish conquistadors came to Central America, cocoa beans were introduced to Spain, and a hot chocolate beverage became popular in the Spanish court. It took years for the chocolate craze to spread throughout Europe, and for centuries, chocolate remained a drink that only the wealthy could afford. Exclusive chocolate houses popped up in London, Amsterdam and beyond, some of which would also double as meeting places for political parties and centers for gambling.

Around the mid-1800’s, the different methods for consuming chocolate were beginning to develop. The process for obtaining cocoa powder was patented in the Netherlands in 1828, and in 1847, English confectioners found a way to make sweet, or eating, chocolate, which forms the base of most chocolate creations. Milk chocolate was created in Switzerland in 1876, and the world was well on its way to the mass production of chocolate that we know today.

In modern times, chocolate is no longer reserved for the rich. Chocolate manufacturing has become a booming industry in the United States alone, and now there is a variety of flavors and forms of chocolate on nearly every grocery store shelf. It is estimated that Americans eat 2.8 billion pounds of chocolate each year!

Did you enjoy learning about chocolate and want to find out even more? Check out our learning adventures around the world, from visiting the Mayordomo Chocolate Factory in Mexico to exploring culinary traditions in New England, Italy and beyond.


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