Inventors are usually people who do or find something out before others. So who can claim to have first discovered chocolate and how?
Let’s look at some of the significant people who had a helping hand in developing the history of chocolate as we know and love it today.
Chocolate. The very name evokes pleasant feelings and a smile in most of us. And it’s not surprising because every day several million chocolate bars are consumed across the world.
Which means that someone somewhere will be eating chocolate while you’re reading this article. And by the time you’ve finished reading it, several thousands of bars will have been unwrapped and eaten. Not to mention all those cups of hot chocolate that are drunk around the globe before bedtime or on a cold day.
The discovery of cocoa tree in Central America
Most experts credit the ancient Maya civilization that existed in modern Central America around 250 AD as the first inventors or originators of chocolate. This is because they were adept at harvesting the cacao pod which is the fruit of the cacao tree.
The Mayans developed a way of fermenting, roasting and then grinding the seeds of cacao pod. They probably used other local ingredients such as chilli peppers and cornmeal which was mixed with the cacao seed to form a paste. From this came what is believed to have been a frothy, cold, unsweeted and hence bitter, spicy chocolate drink.
This liquid chocolate formed an important part of Mayan religious and social festivals and cacoa beans were used as a form of currency as they were hard, durable and easy to store and transport.
Cocoa travels to Europe
Hard on their heels, literally, came the Spanish explorers or Conquistadores of the 15th and 16th centuries. As well as gold, Spanish galleons brought back the cacao bean to the court of King Charles V and with it the knowledge of what was then a chocolate drink only.
European tastes varied and often the beans found their way into the storehouses of monasteries and monks may have helped develop/invent a chocolate drink that was now both sweet and hot.
So far we’re still talking about chocolate as a drink only. And talking is what people frequently did when drinking chocolate in the increasing number of fashionable coffee houses that were established from the late 17th century onwards.
The scientific name Theobroma cacao was given to the species of the cacao tree by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1753, when he published it in his famous book Species Plantarum. Theobroma means ‘food of the gods’ in Latin.
The first step in creating chocolate – the invention of cocoa powder
We have to jump forward to around 1830 before chocolate started to take on a solid form. Industrialisation brought the means and the machinery as well as the money and the manpower to bring chocolate in a mass form to the masses.
A Dutchman, Coenraad van Houten, invented the cocoa press which squeezed out the cocoa butter separating it from the cocoa powder. This meant that the cocoa powder could now be easily extracted and produced much more cheaply.
The first dark chocolate bar is made in Europe
The inventor of the first chocolate bar was a Quaker called Joseph Fry.
His chocolate factory in Bristol, England was responsible for producing chocolate bars by adding melted cacao butter and sugar back into the mix which now made the chocolate mouldable.
Invention of first milk chocolate bar
The second half of the 19th century saw the pace of chocolate production rapidly quicken as several new chocolate techniques and inventions were patented in quick succession.
In 1875 Henri Nestle invented powdered milk which led to a Swiss colleague, Daniel Peter adding milk to chocolate. They combined to develop what became a highly popular milk chocolate recipe.
Soon afterwards Rudolphe Lindt invented a way of evenly spreading cocoa butter inside chocolate and the conching machine was developed. By this time Cadbury’s had already successfully marketed boxes of chocolate candies to the public.
First ever chocolate Easter Egg
So far, we’ve been talking about chocolate as a drink and in a moulded solid bar format. But Fry and Sons can also claim to have invented the first ever chocolate Easter egg in 1873.
What better way to decorate an Easter egg than with chocolate? Millions of us think so because its estimated that 80 million Easter eggs are sold each year in the UK alone.
First ever chocolate bar is made in USA
In the 1890’s Milton S Hershey switched from making caramels to milk chocolate candies in the process of setting up his own milk processing plant. In 1900 the first ever Hershey chocolate bar was produced in Pennsylvania USA.
Invention of chocolate chip cookie
Another chocolate favourite is the chocolate chip cookie which was invented in 1930 by Ruth Wakefield. The story goes that she used broken pieces of Nestle’s semi sweet chocolate in the belief that it would simply melt and absorb into the dough of her chocolate cookies.
When this didn’t happen she found she had baked the first ever batch of American chocolate chip cookies.
The invention of white chocolate in 1930s by Nestle
There are three types of chocolate – dark, milk and white – although technically, white chocolate isn’t a chocolate at all because it does not contain cocoa solids.
White chocolate was invented in the 1930s by Nestle. One theory is it was a means of using up all that excess cocoa butter. For many, white chocolate is synonymous with the pint sized guy totin’ ‘Milky Bar kid’ adverts in the 1960’s on British television.
The invention of 4th type of chocolate in 2017 – the Ruby chocolate
All very simple then. Except in 2017, chocolate makers Barry Callebaut, invented a new type of chocolate.
Enter Ruby Chocolate. It has a pink colour and a fruity berry flavour with a sweet/sour taste.
It’s not a new type of cacao but is made from unfermented cacao beans with the pinkish colour thought to come from its treatment with a combination of citric acids.
Starting with the ancient Mayans, through to Spanish explorers and British Quakers, we can see that chocolate inventions are still happening right up to the present time.
As long as people like eating chocolate you can be sure that someone will come up with a new way of making what many people still regard as ‘the food of the gods’.