Cocoa, the dried and fully fermented fatty seed that is derived from the cacao tree, is used to make different kinds of chocolates. The almond-like soft and pinkish, or purplish, cocoa seeds grow inside cocoa pods, which have a rough leathery rind skin. After being taken out from the pods, the seeds are dried and roasted. The cacao trees, in which the fatty seeds of cocoa grow, have been grown since centuries. Read on to get interesting information on the background, history and origin of cocoa.
Interesting Information On Background & Origin Of Cocoa
The cacao tree, also known as cocoa tree, was originally named as 'kakawa'. According to historical records, the inhabitants of Mesoamerican civilization, living along the Mexican Gulf Coast, cultivated the tree in 1000 BC. They used the cocoa beans for making chocolate drinks, consuming which was believed to be the right of the elite class only. The tree, later on, came to be known as 'cacao'. It was reconstructed by linguists as a vocabulary item in proto Mixe-Zoquean family of languages, by about 1000 BC, at the very height of Olmec civilization.
The cacao culture was taken to the Maya civilization by the Izapan civilization. Maya had succeeded Izapan in the lowlands of what are now Chiapas of Mexico, Peten of Guatemala and Belize. During the period extending from 450 AD to 500 AD, clay vessels started being made to drink chocolate. It were mainly the Maya royals who consumed chocolate in the vessels, making it an important status symbol. At that time, chocolate was a foamy liquid, spiced with red pepper and other spices. Cocoa beans had become a major Mesoamerican commodity by 900 AD, when the Maya civilization ended.
In 1500 AD, after the rise of the Aztec empire (the present-day Mexico City), Xoconochco (situated along the Pacific coast of the present-day Chiapas, Mexico and Guatemala) emerged as the region in Mesoamerica, with rich source of cocoa. Cocoa beans were used to prepare a luxury drink named 'chocolatl'. To make the drink, the whole cocoa beans were roasted, ground and mixed with maize meal, chilli and vanilla. The mixture was finally stirred with a special whisk, to prepare chocolate. By the time the Aztec capital fell, in 1521, cocoa beans were being used as a currency throughout Mesoamerica.
Cocoa marked its appearance in the Old World in the year 1544, when a delegation of Kekchi Maya, from Guatemala, called upon the Spanish court of Prince Philip and presented him gifts (containers) of the Mayan chocolate drink.Cocoa tree was introduced to the Asians in 1560. The tree was brought to the island of Sulawesi, in Indonesia, from Caracas, Venezuela. The first official shipment of cocoa beans reached Seville in 1585. Five years later, in 1590, the Spanish introduced cacao tree in Africa.
Spanish people took the cacao tree to Fernando Po (the present-day Bioko), an island located off the coast of Cameroon, as well. The period from 1600 to 1650 saw chocolate being served in the Spanish court as well. Spanish people also brought cacao tree to the West Indies and the Philippines. Cocoa arrived in London in 1657, followed soon by France (in 1659). In France, David Chalious acquired the monopoly of producing chocolate. By this time, French people had explored various medicinal properties of cocoa and started using it accordingly.
Cocoa was introduced in Florence, Italy, in 1668, with the opening of a chocolate house. In the country, the drink satisfied the taste buds of the Florentines, who could easily afford to buy it. On the Caribbean island of Martinique, the production of cocoa was started in 1680. In the following two decades, a period extending from 1700 to 1720, chocolate houses overshadowed coffee houses in London and became the hub for amusement, business and political debate.
Cacao was brought to Bahia (Brazil) in 1746, when French tried to break the Spanish dominance of cocoa production. The production of chocolate started in North America in 1765, with the opening of a cocoa bean grinding mill in Massachusetts. The people in Philippines, Jakarta and Sumatra were introduced to cocoa by the Dutch, in 1778. Large scale production of cocoa started soon in Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia and Malaysia).
In 1828, Conrad van Hooten, a Dutch chemist, patented a technique for improving the digestion power of cocoa. His technique allowed the extraction of the fat from roasted and crushed cocoa beans. Alkaline salts were added to the resultant powder, in order to dissolve the powder in water. This came to be known as 'Dutch cocoa'. The mass production of cheap chocolate, using the Dutch cocoa, was permitted after the technique was patented.
The year 1847 marked the first successful large scale production of chocolate bar, when J.S. Fry & Sons, an English manufacturing company, introduced the use of cocoa powder for the purpose. Another important period recorded in the history of cocoa lasted from 1850 to 1860. In 1853, the Cadbury family business became the supplier of chocolate to Queen Victoria. In the same year, Cadbury-Schweppes emerged as one of the world's leading chocolate manufacturers.
In 1879, in Switzerland, Henri Nestlé (a chemist) and chocolate manufacturer Daniel Peter formulated a technique to blend chocolate with milk, by using a low-fat form of chocolate (cocoa powder) and a low water form of milk (the condensed milk). The mixture was enriched further by adding cocoa butter and cocoa solids. This came to be known as milk chocolate, which proved to be a major commercial success.
Conching, the standard process used for manufacturing chocolate, began in 1879, when Rudolphe Lindt, a Swiss chocolate manufacturer, invented the stone-grinding chocolate machine. The machine produced a finely grained mellow chocolate. In 1894, Hershey Chocolate Company was established by Milton Hershey, in Pennsylvania. The advent of 20th century marked significant growth in the manufacture of cocoa, in different countries across the world. Today, the production as well as consumption of cocoa and chocolates has grown manifold.