August 3, 2021
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When it comes to food history, there are legends and stories galore, which are at once fascinating and even at times, we daresay, fanciful. Chocolate is one of those foods that has a history that spans the globe, and, as such there’s a lot that can be shared about this wonderful bite. Here’s just three interesting — and quite simplified — tidbits about chocolate’s evolution over its 3,000 year history.
1. The biggest purveyors of chocolate were Maya
Not Aztecs. As the late Chef David Sterling of our Yucatan cooking vacation taught us, the Aztecs may have been the Mayas’ biggest customer when it came to cacao. But even before the Mayas, it was the Olmecs who figured out how to turn the cacao bean into a flavorful paste. The Mayas then turned that paste and improved the chocolate beverage, in no small part with allspice. The Aztecs then “borrowed” those recipes and made their own improvements too. Even the word chocolate signifies this history, as it’s most likely a hybrid of an Mayan word (chokoj) and Nathuatl, the language of the Aztecs (atl). The word chocolate actually translates to “hot water.” After all, that’s how it was made back then.
2. Chocolate made its way to Europe via Spain
While Christopher Columbus is largely considered to be the first European to discover that cocoa was used as currency — floating in a Maya vessel no less — he wasn’t the one to bring it back to Europe. Rather, that was Hernando Cortez in 1528. As the story goes, Cortez and the Spainards started mixing the cacao beans with ingredients like sugar and vanilla, and the result was a drinking chocolate that was reserved for the Spanish nobility. The Spanish kept chocolate their secret for another 100 years.
3. Chocolate turns into aphrodisiac in France
It wasn’t until the Spanish princess Maria Theresa was betrothed to France’s Louis XIV that chocolate started to spread across the European continent, all thanks to a gift of chocolate. Once in France, it became a treat of the royalty and the Sun King, Louis XIV, even appointed someone to sell the treat. As the popularity of chocolate spread, it also gained a reputation as an aphrodisiac, and the art and literature of the time highlights just that. Then again, Marquis de Sade was also thought to use chocolate to hide the flavor of poisons.
So many places have their own history with chocolate, and in turn there are so many fascinating stories and legends surrounding the treat that evolved from cocoa beans. For a ‘bite’ or two more of chocolate’s history, come visit us on one of our many cooking vacations around the world.
By Liz Hall
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