Chocolate Then and Now

Chocolate Then and Now

Chocolate has been around for centuries. People have been consuming it since at least 1500 BC. Let’s explore the history of chocolate and find out more about this yummy treat! 

Mesoamerica and the “drink of the gods”

Through some archaeological digging, scientists discovered vessels which contained traces of a compound, theobromine, which is found in chocolate and tea. It’s thought that a ceremonial drink was made from either the beans or the pods of the cacao tree.

cacao tree with pods

What's also interesting is the word theobromine. The compound in chocolate doesn't really have bromine in it, but comes from the word Theobroma, named by scientists as the group of trees that include the cacao.

Theobroma is made up of the Greek roots "theo" (god) and "broma" (food). Based on the tales from history, cacao really is food of the gods! Let's find out more!

Olmec head in Mesoamerica

The cacao tree grows naturally in Central America, which used to be called Mesoamerica. That’s where the Olmec people lived. They were one of the earliest known civilizations in Central America.

The Olmec were the first known civilization to domesticate the cacao tree and used cacao in spiritual ceremonies, but we don't know the names of their gods.

cacao pods and beans

Fast forward a few centuries to the Mayan people. The Mayans revered cacao and said that it was from the god Ek Chuah. They made a drink from the roasted beans, chilies, and cornmeal ground to powder using a metate, or grinding stone.

It was called “xocolatl,” which means “bitter water.” No sweet stuff there! The drink they made was like tasting a spicy baking cocoa.

Their drink, xocolatl, is thought to be where the word chocolate came from.

Aztec Temple

The Aztecs, who lived where Mexico is now, also had a particular fondness for chocolate. So much so that they used cacao beans as money! The Aztecs said that cacao was a gift from their god, Quetzalcoatl.

Chocolate Crosses the Atlantic

Christopher Columbus took some of the cacao beans back to Spain in 1502.

In 1519, Hernan Cortes was introduced to the cacao beverage. He took this back to Spain, as well.

The beans and the drink caught on as a digestive aid. And then…honey or sugar was added to the drink. Popularity exploded.

vintage image of cacao beans in basket with large brass weights

By the 1600’s, the sweetened chocolate beverage had spread through Europe. Many countries set up their own cacao plantations along the equator.

It was super popular with the royalty and nobility. In fact, Great Britain and France even had “chocolate houses", or special buildings where chocolate was processed.

Chocolate and the Industrial Revolution

The method to produce chocolate was very labor-intensive. It took plenty of effort and time.

old chocolate factory

Chocolate Factory in the Netherlands

And then, in 1828, a Dutch chemist named Coenraad Johannes van Houten invented the cocoa press. This method separated the cocoa butter from the roasted cacao beans. What was left was a dry bit which could be easily turned into a powder.

This powder was mixed with other ingredients, poured into molds, and solidified into an early version of the chocolate bar!

This new process made it much more accessible and affordable for everyone!

making chocolate

A Swiss candy maker, Daniel Peter, added powdered milk to the mix of cocoa powder, sugar, and cocoa butter back in 1875. His addition created the first milk chocolate. And now? Milk chocolate is one of the most popular “types” of chocolate all over.

Odd fact:

It’s thought that cocoa is the result of a misspelling of cacao. Someone swapped some vowels, and the name stuck!

The Wonderful Flavors of Chocolate

There are a few varieties of chocolate, and people have their favorites. What kind of chocolate is your favorite?

Dark chocolate- bars and shavings

There’s dark chocolate, made with more cocoa and cocoa butter. This gives it a bitter taste. It can be eaten and a lot of people like the “pure” taste. It’s also called semisweet or bittersweet. It’s used in a lot of baking (think chocolate chip cookies!)

Milk chocolate- cups, shells, bell, bunny, and eggs

Of course, there’s milk chocolate. This is what chocolate candy is usually made from. Chocolate bars, chocolate “kisses,” chocolate-coated candy, and don’t forget around the holidays with eggs and figures of Santa Claus and chocolate bunnies and pumpkins! When it comes it milk chocolate, there’s a shape and size for just about everybody!

White chocolate pieces

Don’t tell anyone whose favorite is white chocolate, but it’s not considered chocolate! There aren’t any cocoa solids used in making white chocolate, only the cocoa butter. Which is why it’s white. There are rules in some countries that regulate how chocolate is made…and what determines if it can be called chocolate!

Ruby chocolate bars

In recent years, a new kind of chocolate has been introduced to the world scene. It’s called ruby chocolate. And it’s a real thing! The distinctly colored chocolate comes from red cocoa beans which are only found in Brazil, Ecuador, and the Ivory Coast. A Belgian-Swiss cocoa company began producing ruby chocolate in 2017.

Chocolate has come a long way in its long history. From a bitter brewed drink to a sweet treat found all over the world!

You can explore more treats in our World Treats Box, or check out some fun Mexican dishes in our Mexico box! Then...have hot chocolate for dessert!

Sweet and Spicy Mexican Hot Chocolate

Mexican hot chocolate in mugs, chili pods, and cinnamon

Bonus Recipe

For a yummy authentic Mexican treat to warm you up on a chilly night try out this recipe for Mexican Hot Chocolate!

Mexican Hot Chocolate (Makes 2 servings)


  • 2 Cups of Milk
  • 2 Tablespoons of Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • 2 Tablespoons of Sugar
  • ½ Teaspoon of Ground Cinnamon
  • ½ Teaspoon of Vanilla Extract
  • ¼ Teaspoon of Chili Powder (you can also mix in a dash of cayenne for extra spice)
  • 1-3 ounces of Bittersweet Chocolate, chopped (depending on how chocolaty you want it)
  • Toppings of your choice… like mini marshmallows or chocolate shavings (to make it really fancy!)
  • 2 Cinnamon Sticks for stirring and adding extra flavor


Grab an adult, a sauce pan and gather your ingredients.

Use a whisk and put all the dry stuff into the pan. The Cocoa Powder, the Sugar, the Cinnamon, and the Chili Powder (and Cayenne if you’re using it.)

Give it a little mix to combine.

Then add a little bit of the Milk, less than a ¼ cup.

Mix it up really well, until it’s nice and smooth.

Then add the milk a little at a time and keep whisking it in until all the milk has been added.

That way it mixes everything and there are no lumps!

Stir in the Vanilla Extract and turn on the heat. Medium-high is good.

While the mixture is heating up, add the chopped Bittersweet Chocolate to the pan.

Heat it up, stirring the pot occasionally to mix the Chocolate in.

It doesn’t have to come to a boil, it just needs to get hot. A little steam will be coming off the mixture.

Once it’s nice and hot, divide your yummy creation of Mexican Hot Chocolate into two mugs and add your favorite toppings with the Cinnamon Stick.

Enjoy your tasty treat!

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