A few beans and a chance discovery by an ancient civilization, and what you get is an aeonian intoxicant for mere mortals who have absolutely no will power against the witchcraft of this powerful, happiness inducing sinful kai, simply called chocolate. That is probably the most uncomplicated answer to the question, who invented chocolate? How did this food item come to be discovered and how did it get propelled to achieve the worldwide popularity it enjoys today? I wish I could say that it was a decade-long laborious work in labs by us humans, that led to the invention of chocolate, but sadly that would be a complete figment of my imagination. We owe our love for chocolate to more 'natural' sources, to be more exact, the Theobroma cacao tree, which produces the bitter seeds which when processed becomes the aphrodisiac called chocolate.
Who was the Inventor of Chocolate?
The question, who invented chocolate, is in pure semantic terms, quite faulty because chocolate or the use of cacao beans was discovered more than 3000 years ago. This discovery of the uses of the seeds of the Cacao tree can be attributed to the Olmec civilization who found the tree growing wild in Eastern Mexico, which they inhabited. Discovering the use of these tree seeds probably led to their cultivating it and then using the cacao or cocoa beans to make a drink by mixing it with water and spices, including chillies. So if you want to know who first created chocolate in an edible form, the answer would probably be the Olmec Indians. But there is a slight debate about the discovery and history of chocolate as in November 2007, scientists discovered evidence of use of cacao at a site in Honduras, which dates 500 years before the use by the Olmec clan. Interestingly, here the cocoa beans were fermented to produce a beer like drink, to celebrate occasions. No wonder that the people even now claim to get high on chocolat!
The Mayans and the Aztecs also succumbed to the temptation of chocolate and soon started cultivating it. In fact, cocoa beans were used in religious and social rituals and soon claimed its spot as a monetary unit. They were also offered as tributes at the funerals of individuals of high standing and used in rituals for Quetzalcoatl, the God of the Aztecs who apparently brought cocoa to them. Cocoa drinks were privileged and meant only for noblemen and soldiers fighting a war, as the invigorating benefits of cocoa had been discovered by then. Whether it is a fact or reality is debatable, but apparently the Aztec king Montezuma, used to supposedly drink 50 cups of chocolate everyday, especially prior to his visit to his harem.
Christopher Columbus and Henry Cortez first brought cocoa to Europe. Columbus though did not recognize the value of these bitter beans. Cortez, on the other hand, noticed how important cocoa was to the natives of Mexico, when he landed there in 1519. Very famously, he is known to have said in a letter to Charles V of Spain, "...They seemed to hold these almonds at a great price; for when they were brought on board ship together with their goods, I observed that when any of these almonds fell, they all stooped to pick it up, as if an eye had fallen...it enables soldiers to march all day without food.." Though chocolate still remained a mystery to the rest of Europe, for almost a hundred years after it was brought to Spain, where the chilly and water that the Aztecs added to cocoa beans was replaced with sugar and other more European tasting additives to make a chocolate syrup. It was an Italian traveler who took cocoa to the rest of Europe.
Chocolate: As You Like It
For quite a while after being 'discovered' in different parts of Europe, chocolate remained a pleasurable experience for the rich and influential. In 1657, the first chocolate house, called The Coffee Mill and Tobacco Roll, opened in London. The popularity of chocolate grew exponentially after that but it still remained expensive.
It was a Dutch person who invented chocolate in the affordable form that we recognize today. In 1828, Casparus van Houten, a Dutch chocolate master, invented a hydraulic press that extracted cocoa oil, which made chocolate difficult to digest. The residue of the cocoa beans just needed to be ground to produce cocoa powder. This invention caused a drop in price, leading to an availability to the masses. The invention paved the way for the democratization of chocolate or simply put mass production of bars of chocolate. His son, Coenraad Van Houten, introduced a process called Dutching, wherein the powder was treated with alkaline salts to make it more soluble with water.
From then on, chocolate became a treat worldwide, with its varied therapeutic effects being widely heralded. Did you laugh when you read about witches and wizards in the Harry Potter series who were fed chocolate after encounters with Dementors? Well, J.K. Rowling did have her facts right; one of the established immediate effects of chocolate is that it lessens anxiety and elevates a person's mood.
So how does it matter who first created chocolate or where it comes from, as long as we get to partake it on occasions, (or in some of my friends' cases, on an everyday basis). We can just bless these individuals (who I am sure are serenely smiling at us from heaven) each time we take a bite of the sweet, yummy, delectable food of gods.