South America: Cradle of Cocoa

Chocolate, whose name is said to come from the nahuatl “xocolartl”, is made from the cocoa bean. The Aztecs and Mayans associated chocolate with the God of fertility. The cocoa tree is native to South and Central America. Archaeologists have evidence that cocoa beans have been used in these regions for more than 3,000 years. In fact, they have found cocoa residue on a container dating from 1400 to 1100 BC. The beans are covered with a mucilage that was used to make a fermented drink at the time. It was only later that Mesoamerican peoples began to enjoy a chocolate drink for its therapeutic virtues.

During the pre-Columbian civilization, chocolate was a luxury product used as a bargaining chip. For example, among the Mayans, a turkey cost 100 beans. Cocoa beans were also used at the time to count.

The Maya were the first to consume chocolate for its taste. They made it into a hot, frothy drink to which they added vanilla, chilli pepper and annatto, a fruit very rich in vitamin E, which is used today as food colouring. The Aztecs, for their part, consumed chocolate to combat fatigue and diarrhoea.

Europe discovers chocolate

In 1494, Christopher Columbus was given chocolate beans. Not knowing what they were, he threw them overboard, thinking they were goat droppings. It wasn’t until a few years later that he discovered the chocolate drink. Chocolate was only imported into Europe by the Spaniards when they conquered the Aztec territories. The Spanish court was very quickly fond of this chocolate drink to which it added honey and vanilla to mask its bitterness. In France, chocolate arrived through the Jews and the Marranes of Spain who were fleeing the Inquisition. They settled near Bayonne after 1609. To consume this bitter drink, some add milk and sugar in addition to vanilla. Faced with a growing demand for chocolate, the Europeans, especially the Spanish army, made Mesoamericans their slaves and exploited African labour to cut costs. The first chocolate factory opens in London, England, rich enough to easily afford cocoa. Hans Sloane invented a milk drink that was later sold to Cadbury. In France, Marie-Thérèse of Austria and her husband, Louis XIV, popularized this drink and democratized its consumption at the court of Versailles.

The first chocolate factories

It was in the 19th century that the first chocolate factories came into being. The chocolate industry is on the move. Cadbury makes the first dark chocolate to be crunched as early as 1821. Van Houten produces the first cocoa powder in 1828. The chocolate bar was created by Menier in 1836 and is still popular to this day. It all happened very quickly and chocolate became a consumer product in all its forms. Its production is then mechanized to reduce costs. The big names in industrial chocolate gradually made their appearance, such as Suchard, Mars and Nestlé. Find out more about chocolate on

Chocolate today

Today, chocolate is a product with multiple uses. It can be overused or used as a luxury product by the greatest chocolate makers. It comes in several colours, can be filled, hollow, mixed with peanuts. It has become the symbol of certain religious festivals such as Christmas and Easter. In terms of consumption, Germany is in first place with 11.12 kilos per year and per inhabitant, followed by Belgium and Switzerland, countries famous for their chocolate. France, on the other hand, consumes only 6.78 kilos of chocolate per year per inhabitant.