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You may think that chocolate has been around for hundreds of years, but in fact you would be wrong.

Eating chocolate has only been around for about 150 years, while on the other hand drinking chocolate has been around for centuries, long before Christopher Columbus discovered America. If you want to know more, read on.

Chocolate first came to Europe in the 16th Century, but it has been proven that the Mayans established cocoa plantations long before 600 AD. In fact, chocolate was introduced to the Spanish court by Herman Cortes, a Spanish explorer in 1519 after conquering Mexico. He was given a cup of “Xocoatt” by Montezuma, the Aztec emperor.

The Aztecs considered the chocolate drink so glorious that it was served in golden goblets and then only to members of the royal family who were considered gods by their own people. So valuable was the cacao or cocoa bean, from which the chocolate drink was made, that the bean was also used as money. Ten beans bought a rabbit, while 100 beans could buy a slave.

The Spanish sweetened the bitter Aztec chocolate drink with sugar and spices, such as vanilla and cinnamon. They kept the chocolate a secret for nearly 100 years, although gradually the reputation of this delicious but expensive drink crept around Europe. In 1928, a Dutchman called Johannes van invented a press which could extract cocoa butter and cocoa powder from the bean. This process has changed little over the years and is how we still get our cocoa powder for chocolate drinks today. This invention paved they way 20 years later for an Englishman named Joseph Fry, who discovered how to combine the cocoa butter with chocolate liquor (ground cocoa beans) and sugar to make the first 'eating chocolate'.

In 1875, Daniel Peter added condensed milk to Joseph Fry's chocolate recipe to make the first milk chocolate. A few years later, Rodolphe Lindt invented a way to refine chocolate so it could be moulded into shapes as well as bars. Since then technology in the manufacture of chocolate and chocolate products has come on fast and furious, taking chocolate from a luxury that only a few could afford to an everyday commodity that we now take for granted.

The Latin name for the cacao/cocoa bean tree sums up chocolate nicely for us . . . Theobroma . . . which translates to . . . 'food of the gods'.