Every day, highways around the world are packed with trucks hauling literally tonnes of sweet, sugary packets of brown confectionary: chocolate. From the hipsters with their jet-black, chili-infused bars of sustainably-sourced chocolate to hyperventilating children unwrapping animal-shaped lumps of a sweetness that would make an elf think twice, the world is choco-crazy. Indeed, as a species we are eating more chocolate than ever: to take but two greedy countries as an example, British people ate an average of 8.4kg a head, with the Swiss managing a still-astonishing 8.3kg. In 2015, $18.27 billion worth of chocolate was eaten in the US.
Aren’t we greedy? But did you know that chocolate has been around for around 3500 years? Yes, beyond levels of consumption, we are far from innovators in the history of chocolate. In following the long and winding journey through the history of chocolate around the world, we will begin our journey in Mesoamerica and take in the slave trade, medicine, 18th-century psychology and, of course, sex. It’ll make you super hungry, so go and grab your bar of choice and scoff away as you decide whether the history of chocolate is as fascinating as the product is absolutely lovely.
20. The Mesoamericans were making an alcoholic chocolate drink way back in 1400 BC
Central and South America are rich in the cacao tree (see below), the humble origin of the world’s favorite unhealthy snack. At some stage or other, someone in the region decided to eat one of the ugly pods growing unappealingly on the branches, and the rest is, well, history. It’s almost impossible to determine when this first happened, but the earliest evidence for the use of cacao – either for food, drink, or timber – comes from Ecuador 5, 300 years ago. Further north in Mexico, there is evidence for chocolate drinks being brewed-up in ceramic vessels around 1900 BC.
Alcohol and chocolate make a wonderful combination, and it seems that our ancestors were also well-aware of this fact. For no more recently than 1400 BC, a Mesoamerican proto-Willy Wonka fermented the pods of the cacao tree into an alcoholic beverage, which was doubtless totally delicious. Testing pottery fragments dug up in Honduras in 2007, anthropologists from the University of Pennsylvania found chemical evidence for the residue of fermented cacao beans. The beverage was nowhere near as sweet as today’s milk chocolate-based drinks, so don’t go imagining the Mesoamericans quaffing Baileys, but we are definitely not history’s only chocoholics.