The History Of Chocolate Documentary


Fuel for the Aztec and European war machines,
a catalyst for massive industrial innovation and a tasty treat adored by chocoholics across
the globe. It was enjoyed by powerful Emperor’s on
both sides of the Atlantic and filled the pockets of enterprising missionaries. With its roots as a spicy and fatty drink
in ancient Mesoamerica how did chocolate eventually become the guilty pleasure of billions? Let’s find out. Spread across the jungle of the Gulf Coast
of Mexico are enormous carved stone heads, these slightly chubbier versions of the Moai
belong to the Olmecs and are nearly 3000 years old. The Olmecs are our original chocolatiers and
we have linguistic and archaeological evidence linking them to cacao cultivation at least
as far back as 1000 BC. They drank it as a bitter beverage rather
than the solid sweet we eat today. How did these ancient people turn this into
their favourite chocolate beverage? First they would ferment, then sun dry, and
then roast and deshell the cacao beans. Leaving them with a nib that was then ground
and melted into something called chocolate liquor. Which would have tasted like extremely bitter
dark chocolate. Mix it up with some vanilla, honey, or even
chilis and you got yourself a traditional Mesoamerican cacao drink. They loved the froth that would settle on
top on this drink and would even pour it from one cup to another from a standing height
to get as much froth as possible. Long distance trade routes sprang up across
the area connecting cacao growers with cacao consumers. Cacao soon found itself as a central part
of Mesoamerican ceremonies, especially weddings. Kind of filling the role that extremely expensive
French champagne does today. It was so highly valued that it was used a
currency throughout the region, which eventually inspired counterfitters that molded fake beans
out of clay or carved avocado seeds. To give you an idea of what beans were worth
you could buy an avocado for 1 bean, a slave for 100 beans, and a sweet jetski with sick
flames on the side for 9000 beans. So everytime a Olmec, Mayan, or Aztec drank
a cup of chocolate, they were drinking money. Like lighting a cigar with a 100 Euro note. After their rise to power in the 15th century
the Aztecs fell in love with drinking chocolate. But it wouldn’t grow in their highland climate. So what’s a 15th century chocoholic to do? Invade and demand tribute from cacao growing
regions obviously. Once secured, chocolate became a drink reserved
for the top echelons of Aztec society, but the military were some of the few commoners
allowed to drink it. It was issued to them in wafer form so they
could easily mix it with water or maize gruel for a instant nutrition boast. When the Spanish arrived in the Americas they
quickly invaded the Mayan Yucatán in 1517 and Aztec Mexico in 1519 and with the help
of hundreds of thousands of native allies and old world diseases they conquered and
set up New Spain in this now shattered realm. The Mayans had introduced the Spanish to using
cacao beans as currency which the Spanish quickly accepted. Getting them to drink it however was a challenge. Europeans initial reaction to chocolate was
one of disgust. My favourite example is that of Girolamo Benzoni,
who while travelling in Central America was repeatedly offered the drink by the natives
and every time he would vehemently reject it, calling it a drink for pigs and perplexed
at why the natives would walk away laughing when he did so. It’s only after he ran out of wine that
he was forced to try it and discovered that he actually loved it. Much like Benzoni the Spanish conquistadors
turned colonists also had to grow to like chocolate. At this point it’s important to note that
nearly all the Spanish in New Spain were men. So they had to marry and rely on native women. Women that would have cooked for them and
their new children traditional Aztec and Mayan foods. This mixing would create a brand new mestizo
culture, one that drank chocolate. While this society was emerging another group
of influential soon to be chocolate drinkers arrived on the scene, Christian missionaries,
and most importantly the Jesuits. In their work trying to convert the natives
these missionaries were plied full of chocolate and soon realised how lucrative it might be
as a trade item. Once the New Worlders, missionaries, and merchants
started criss-crossing the Atlantic with their new chocolate habits and gifting chocolate
to their princes and popes the European Spanish eventually shed their apprehension and tried
the beverage. Until the 1590’s chocolate rarely cross
the Atlantic. By the 1620’s millions of pounds of it were
being importanted into Spain. And so chocolate spread upwards from pagan
to missionary, from coerced wives to conquistador husbands, all the way until it reached the
lips of kings and queens. So while the beverage was crossing cultural
barriers that word chocolate itself was crossing linguistic ones. Most early Spanish sources call chocolate
cacahuatl an Aztec word for cacao-water. The Spanish eventually combined the Mayan
word for hot “chocol” and the Aztec word for water “atl” together to form chocolatl,
which eventually became chocolate. Why did they Spanish do this? Well let’s just imagine why a Romance language
speaker might be uncomfortable calling his new favourite beverage, which is thick, brown,
and frothy, CACA-huatl. In the 18th century we see chocolate spreading
out of Spain. First to Italy, were it was drank by the likes
of Grand Duke Cosimo III de Medici. Here it was mixed with jasmine, sugar, and
ambergris, the intestinal secretions of the sperm whale. The Italians proved slightly more creative
in their chocolate recipes than the Spanish, who mostly drank the same way as the Mesoamericans. We start seeing some pasta’s with chocolate
and even a lasagna with chocolate and anchovy sauce. Yum… Back in the New World the Jesuits were making
insane amounts of money from their cacao plantations. In 1701 a shipment arrived in Cadiz, 8 huge
crates marked “Chocolate for the revered Father General of the Company of Jesus”. Dock workers found it near impossible to lift
these crates due to their weight. Inspectors found chocolate bars inside that
were incredibly heavy and after running their fingers along them noticed that they were
in fact solid gold bars coated in chocolate. And while the Jesuits were making money hand
over fist and the likes of Cosimo de Medici were enjoying their morning chocolate however
the native american populations were plummeting. Less than 10% were left and in order to maintain
manpower slaves had to be imported from West Africa to plantations in Brasil, Ecuador,
and Venezuela. The role of Mesoamericans in the history of
their own beverage was essentially at an end. So by the beginning of the 19th century chocolate
was an aristocratic drink that conjured up images of Catholic clergy and nobility. But it arrived in the 20th century as something
available to most. How? Enter Napoleon….no the other Napoleon. The Napoleonic Wars and all the blockades
and destabilisation that came along with them contributed to the independence revolutions
that swept Latin America and cut Europe off from it’s cheap chocolate supply. Coffee and tea however could still be brought
in through Asia and so chocolate paved the way for them to overtake it as the bitter
caffeinated beverages of choice. The consumption and production of chocolate
declined for the only time in its history. But it’s during this decline that innovators
began to tinker with chocolate in order to make it faster to produce and more appealing
to all. A Dutchman name by the name of Van Houten,
who unfortunately isn’t an owl, invented a press that could remove most of the fat
from cacao. Removing this fat or cacao butter made the
drink less fatty and easier to mix with water. Soon the British company J.S Fry & Sons discovered
that adding the cacao butter back into the mix at a later stage made a bar of chocolate
that was solid, moldable, and less dry. This first real chocolate bar wouldn’t really
be palatable to us. We’ll need the Swiss to perfect it. The likes of Francois-Louis Cailler and Philippe
Suchard were devising better ways of processing chocolate, and a guy named Daniel Peter was
trying to combine both milk and chocolate together. He was having trouble separating the water
from the milk which was necessary to avoid mildew that was until he joined forces with
his neighbour Henri Nestlé who had made a fortune selling powdered milk. Soon milk chocolate was born. After Rodolphe Lindt invented conching a process
that made chocolate much smoother we arrived at the modern chocolate bar. Smooth, milky, and filled to the brim with
sugar. This new industrialised form of chocolate
quickly dethroned the fatty beverage that once refreshed Emperors and Popes and it was
much more widely available. Marketing soon entered the frey to open up
the product to even more people. In 1861 Richard Cadbury introduced the world
to the first chocolate box and right after he started selling heart shaped boxes for
Valentine’s day, beginning the now inseparable relationship of Valentine’s, Love, and Chocolate. Richard Cadbury was a marketing genius, he
knew he needed to sell the emotions and ideals of chocolate rather than just chocolate itself. And if chocolate isn’t associated with the
emotions and ideals you want to sell that’s fine. Just make up some up and market the crap out
of it. Cover your chocolate boxes with pictures a
girls holding kittens, plaster ads across the country with frockeling cherub face children
eating your chocolate, really focus on the selling milk part of your milk chocolate because
chocolate is no longer an indulgence for the rich it’s actually a healthy treat for all
the family. Soon enough this kind of branding was being
used by most chocolate companies. Chocolate started being pictured alongside
Alpine meadows, and caring nurses or milkmaids that promised the consumer that this product
was pure and nurturing. These images are quite ironic considering
the rampant adulterations carried out by food companies in the 19th century. A medical journal from the era tested food
products sold to the public and discovered that over half of the chocolates on sale contain
ground bricks and some even had lead in there. And while I thoroughly enjoy consuming lead
this discovery prompted outrage back then. Even Cadbury was touched by the scandal as
they were caught bulking up their chocolate with cheap stuff like potato starch. Ingeniously they used this to their advantage
and started claiming that their chocolate was now the purest on the market, their slogan
even change to “Absolutely pure, therefore best.” Chocolate was now thoroughly modern. In its final smooth and sugary and delicious
form. However, it relied on an 18th century style
supply chain. It still does today. You see when chocolate production decline
in Latin America and all the handy free labour dried up after slavery started being banned
the chocolate industry had to find a way to secure a cheap supply of cacao for itself. So what do you do if you can’t transport
slaves from West Africa to your plantations? You transport your plantations to West Africa
of course! The Portuguese brought cacao trees to their
colony in Sao Tome and it soon found itself the world’s largest exporter of cacao. The British colony in modern day Ghana soon
followed suit and was quickly joined by the Ivory Coast. Thus our modern cacao supply chain was born. Today the Ivory Coast and Ghana supply 70%
of the world’s cacao. And while slavery was abolished in the Americas
by 1875 it is still present in cacao production in West Africa. Journalistic efforts in recent years have
done an excellent job at shedding some light on this issue and especially on the problem
of child slavery. This heinous enterprise cannot be overstated
with the likes of Nestlé failing to meet the standards set on it to eliminate child
slavery from its supply chain it truly is an enormous stain on the reputation of the
chocolate industry. There will be further information on this
subject in the description. In recent years the Fair Trade certification
has gained popularity and promises humane labour practices and fair prices for farmers
and while Fair Trade is far from perfect it is providing a possibly less dark future for
chocolate and those that grow cacao. It has even helped native Mayans to once again
grow and manufacture their own chocolate, so that they can once again take part in the
story of chocolate. So that’s the bittersweet history of chocolate. It had been an elite drink among rainbow feathered
Mesoamericans, and remained that for the perfumed, and overdressed nobility of Europe. Spread by filthy rich missionaries and lords
and brought to the masses by ingenious inventors in workshops and expert marketers. A crop that has a dark history of slavery
but now has a possible new future with fair trade that could potentially improve the lives
of farmers and communities in undeveloped regions. All from a skinny little tree called Theobroma
Cacao, literally Food of the Gods….. I hope you enjoyed this episode and please
leave your feedback in the comments down below. Don’t forget to check out my sources in
the description if you’d like more information, there’s only so much I can cover. If you’d like to support the show there
are links to my t-shirt store below too. Thanks for watching.

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