Kids love chocolate. Adults do as well, but there seems to be a very special place in the heart of kids for chocolate. Movies like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory bear this out. Though there are many different types of candy available, when kids go out trick-or-treating on Halloween, they likely don’t want anything else other than chocolate.
In fact, it’s often a real disappointment for a kid to get home and dump out their Halloween loot and discover a stash that favors lollipops and sucking candies over chocolate. If parents want to bribe their kids to do something, chocolate is often the way to do it. Chocolate candy. Chocolate bars. Chocolate pudding. Chocolate ice cream. Chocolate syrup. Chocolate milk. The list of delicious treats made from chocolate is nearly limitless. Though children may not think about it in between bites of their favorite chocolatey treat, they may find the history of chocolate interesting. Adults can have a fun time walking their children through the history of chocolate while making some delicious treats from the beans that chocolate is made from.
The History of Chocolate for Kids
Though when people think of chocolate, they probably think of their favorite sweet candy made from chocolate, such as Hershey Bar or M&Ms, chocolate actually has a very long history and didn’t start out as the sweet-tasting treat we think of today. The early origins of chocolate came from the cacao plant or tree that was grown by the Maya Indians on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico around 600 A.D. The cacao tree grows pods from its trunk that look like an orange fruit similar to a small pumpkin. Once the orange fruits are harvested from the cacao tree, the fruit contains small cacao beans. These beans are where chocolate originates from.
Chocolate as Currency
By 1000 A.D., the cacao beans began to be viewed as something that held value. This value prompted people in Central America to begin using the beans as a form of currency. Some examples of how the beans were used to make purchases have come down to us through ancient drawings. In one example, a person buys a rabbit with 10 of the cacao beans. In another example, a person purchases a slave’s freedom with 100 of the cacao beans. The people of Central America began to use the cacao beans to make a bitter drink that was used to treat people who had a fever or a serious cough.
The Aztecs Take Over Chocolate
In the 1200s A.D. the Aztecs began to exercise their rule over Mexico and therefore the history of chocolate transferred to them. The Aztecs, like the Maya Indians before them, saw value in the cacao beans. This value became very useful when the Aztecs decided to begin demanding taxes from their citizens. The Aztecs would demand their citizens pay taxes in cacao beans. Because the beans were used as currency and especially as a form of currency to pay taxes, citizens couldn’t afford to use the cacao beans for anything else. For the wealthiest Aztecs, however, the cacao beans were made into a drink. The drink was naturally bitter the way the Maya Indians had made it, but the Aztecs would enhance the flavor of the drink by adding flowers, vanilla, or honey to the drink. The reason the Aztecs believed that the cacao beans inherently held so much value was because they believed that the beans were a gift from the God of Wisdom Quetzalcoatl. If you look closely, you’ll see that the words “chocolate” and “Quetzalcoatl” are similar. The modern word “chocolate” is believed to have derived from the name of this Aztec god.
Christopher Columbus’s First Encounter with Chocolate
Christopher Columbus, known as the man who discovered America, encountered the cacao beans on his fourth voyage to the American continents in August 1502. Columbus and his crew took possession of a large native canoe that contained many goods that they used for trade. Among the goods were some cacao beans. Columbus himself didn’t much like the drink made from cacao beans, but he took the bean back with him to Spain nevertheless. However, the beans didn’t catch on in popularity until later on.
Chocolate Moves to Spain
In the 1500s, a Spanish conquistador named Hernan Cortes traveled to Cuba in search of a large fortune. Though he never found his fortune in Cuba, he did hear rumors of a large gold fortune located in Mexico and South America. He left for Mexico in 1519 and soon encountered the Aztec Indians. Cortex, together with his men and their advanced weaponry compared to the Aztecs, waged a war to take control of Mexico. The Aztecs fought against the Spaniards for three battles before giving up to what they believed were “god-like” warriors. Cortex reached Mexico City and the Aztec emperor Montezuma. Montezuma was captured and Cortes began to exercise rule over the Aztecs through Montezuma. The Spanairds tasked the Aztecs with searching mines for gold and silver treasure. It was also at this time that Cortes was introduced to the chocolate beverage the Aztecs made from the cacao beans. Cortes established a cacao plantation and took the cacao beans back to Spain. Chocolate drinks became well-loved by the wealthy in Spain and other parts of Europe. In fact, only the rich could afford chocolate. They would add sugar to their warm chocolate drinks just like they did with tea and coffee, and this made the previously bitter-tasting drink much sweeter. This was where the sweet-tasting treat kids enjoy today originated.
The First Chocolate Cakes
In the 1600s, chocolate evolved even further when a coffeehouse in London began using chocolate to make the very first chocolate cakes and cookies. Cakes today are obviously a huge part of events such as weddings and birthday celebrations. Though it was a much-loved treat, chocolate was still something only the wealthy could afford to buy.
Modern Chocolate and Modern Chocolate Businesses Emerge
Up until the 1700s, chocolate was mainly a drink. In the 1800s, powdered chocolate was created by a Dutch chemist. He did it by removing half of the natural fat or cacao butter from chocolate liquor. He ground what remained and used alkaline salts to reduce the bitter taste that chocolate had been known for up to that point in time. The Dutch chemist’s creation became known as “Dutch cocoa.” A man named Joseph Fry later discovered that he could add melted cacao butter back into Dutch cocoa. The resulting mixture was a moldable chocolate paste. Fry is credited for making the first modern chocolate bar. Several of the chocolate companies still in existence today were started in the 1800s, such as Cadbury, Nestle, and Hershey. People saw an opportunity in people’s love of chocolate and took advantage of it by starting businesses. More chocolate-centered businesses, such as Mars, Heath, and Reese’s, developed in the 1900s.
The Popularity of Chocolate
Today, chocolate is a multi-billion-dollar industry in the United States. It’s a common feature of holidays, such as Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Christmas. Every Thanksgiving sees people around the country eating chocolate pies. Birthdays are often marked by delicious chocolate cakes. And, of course, kids love eating chocolate chip cookies. People all over the world love the taste of chocolate and certain chocolates even have health benefits associated with them. The chocolate industry isn’t one that will soon go away. In fact, because people love it so much, it’s an industry that will only continue to grow. If you’re a parent, a great way to enjoy chocolate with your kids is to learn how to make your own chocolate and do it with your kids.