Cocoa – The food of the Gods…
…. This pleasant-sounding Latin name of Theobroma cacao was given to the cacao tree in 1753 by Swedish natural scientist Carl von Linné.
Cocoa, which is prepared from the cacao bean, the fruit of the cacao tree, was first used much earlier. The Olmecs, the first highly developed culture of Central America, lived in present-day Mexico over 3000 years ago. The hot, humid climate there was ideal for cultivating the sensitive cacao tree. The Mayas, who settled in the region a few centuries after the disappearance of the Olmecs, used cacao beans to prepare a bitter and highly spiced drink. This beverage was drunk and sacrificed in sacred rituals performed
by their priests, kings and nobility.
But the Mayan civilization also came to a mysterious end, and they were replaced by the Toltecs in approximately 900 AD, and then the Aztecs. These two cultures adopted the tradition of the holy beverage, which they named “xocoatl” (xoco = bitter; atl = water). For the Aztecs, this bitter, spicy drink was a source of wisdom and energy, an aphrodisiac and a soothing balsam. The cacao bean also served as currency at the time and was offered to the gods as a sacrifice.
The first European to come into contact with cocoa was Christopher Columbus. In 1502, on his fourth journey to the New World, he first tasted chocolate - and found it to be too bitter and spicy. Several years later, in 1528, the Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortés brought this brown gold and the recipe for the exotic drink to Spain.
The Spanish added sugar and other ingredients to the unique energizing beverage – which they called chocolate – and it soon came to be considered a fashionable delicacy which was enjoyed at the Spanish court for nearly a century.
In 1615, when the Spanish Princess Anna married the French King Louis XIII, the drink was first tasted in France, and from there, it spread to the other royal courts and refined society of Europe. And until the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the consumption of
chocolate – still in the form of a hot drink – was a privilege reserved for the wealthy.
Then came the era of the chocolate pioneers in Italy, Belgium, Germany, Holland and, of course, Switzerland, as well as other countries, who turned their ambitious visions and ingenious ideas into reality. It was their ability to discover techniques and recipes for producing a solid form of this popular beverage which, in time, made solid chocolate available to everyone.
A great many pioneers have made important contributions to the modern history of chocolate, but the most earth-shaking of all innovations was probably the conching process, invented by Swiss chocolate-maker Rodolphe Lindt in 1879. Thanks to his procedure, the previously brittle, sandy and somewhat bitter material began to melt in the mouths of its chocolate lovers everywhere and was elevated to one of the world's most sublime pleasures.
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