With it’s brown squares and melt in the mouth quality, it has been one of the nation’s favourite snacks for many, many years. Chocolate has been on the shop shelves for a long time; it has also been around for far longer than you would think. But the story of how we ‘got’ chocolate in the first place is more fraught than you would expect - so here is a quick whistle-stop tour down the years.
It’s not until very recently that chocolate has had the form we are all familiar with. According to the BBC, it all started with the humble Cacao Bean - and what is thought to be a mistranslation lead to what we now know as the Cocoa Bean. The name for the tree the bean grew on also translates as ‘food of the Gods’ - which is something a lot of us can agree with.
The Maya’s of Mesoamerica (now South America) used the beans to create a primitive form of chocolate - although it was often bitter tasting. And then the bean made it’s way to Europe….
All Aboard To Europe
The sixteenth century came calling, and with it came a trip to Europe!
Although there are now conflicting accounts, it is said that Hernan Cortes travelled to what we now know as South America; on arrival, he was greeted with what is described as a “spicy drink”. This drink became a favourite on arrival home - including places that you would not expect, such as in the homes of the rich. However, there are also legends, myths about how it came to Europe - including that Cortes may have been at a banquet, and disliking the “bitter drinks for pigs” on first taste.
That being said, the first shipment to arrive in Britain veered off course - and was burnt, due to a mistaken appearance of sheep droppings.
To The Mainstream
Once believed to have almost god-like, magical qualities - that it was medicinal, a cure for all evils - what we know as chocolate slowly began to make it’s way into becoming more of a mainstream product. Once a privilege of the rich, the steam engine mass production ability of the late 1700s meant that it was able to be more widely available.
1828 saw a Dutch chemist create a more palatable version, meaning that the bitter taste was no longer a problem - and thus creating a more ‘solid’ product. Joseph Fry is credited with creating the first modern chocolate bar; in 1847 he found that he could mould the paste, creating a more streamlined product.
Almost two decades later saw the beginnings of a small business called …. Cadbury. Milk chocolate began a few years later, thanks to another household name you may know. (Have a guess - rhymes with Wrestle.) The two giants in the chocolate world have retained much of their dominance since - you only have to have a look around Cadbury’s World, which includes a veritable history, to see how not much has changed since.
Where To Now?
The BBC describes the twentieth century as being one of expansion. Chocolate gradually became more and more affordable - whereas in the thirties, a box of chocolate was said to have cost up to ten weeks of rent. Once again, a change was underway - with more affordable treats being created, due to the addition of sugar and other additives. Brands we still know today are almost a century old - such as the Flake, a Crunchy Bar being invented during the ‘roaring twenties’. Others are slightly younger - with slightly ‘younger’ chocolate treats being created in the thirties. (Smarties and Areo were both created in 1937.)
Oh, and white chocolate - although debatably if actually real chocolate - was accidentally invented, as a way to get hospitilised children to drink milk that also contained vitamins.
Alessandra Bester the founder and creator of Nono Cocoa explains:
'Similar to the accidental creation of Milky Bar in 1961 by Nestle, i was looking for banding solution to help provide essential nutrients to my son who due to his Autism, Allergies and eating disorder, need it 'outside the box' thinking to help him function. I locked inside colourful chocs natural ingredients and functional foods in high potency. This did not only save his life, but also helped to stimulate his senses and after many years, he was able to taste and enjoy food like everyone else.'
What you can see and enjoy now is the result of real life crisis and true innovation. Ethan's mum added:
'When i was asking to make Ethan's chocolates available for people to buy, we thought of a name. Since Ethan would say Nono to everything, we name it Nono Cocoa. What happened next was unexpected. I set up the company from home kitchen and i was surprised to see how much my son wanted to be involved in the process and how much he was able to do at the age of 10 with severe autism. I instantly though this is his future opportunity. Since then we have been providing opportunity for people with autism. 'We create our own future' '
This is a very happy ending to the short history of chocolate.
Lydia Wilkins is a freelance journalist covering disability and lifestyle. She is also a newsletter writer and blogger over at mademoisellewomen.com.