The star product of Easter and the end of year festivities, chocolate is an ultra-popular food in France – the French consume an average of 6.4 kilos per year per inhabitant. Nowadays, chocolate is cultivated in South America, Africa and also in Indonesia. However, chocolate only arrived in France at the beginning of the 17th century! Let’s take a look back at its discovery in France on the occasion of World Chocolate Day.
Before talking about the arrival of chocolate in France, we must go back further, and as a result of the search for the first traces of cocoa cultivation: most analyzes made over the centuries show that the first cocoa tree cultures developed in the Mesoamerican region, from the second century. millennium BC. The cacao tree in particular knows among the Mayans a real development, from the sixth century, but not so much for its taste: among the Mayans, the same with the Aztecs, cocoa was the object of a cult, their god Ik Chua associated with it..
The Mayans always consumed this food in the form of a drink, which was made from the beans of the cacao tree, which they later called “cocoa”. The Aztecs called their drink from cocoa beans “xocoalt”, which later gave the name “chocolate”. In addition to its therapeutic virtues, cocoa is also used as a currency in these civilizations, to make barter.
Chocolate, imported in Europe by the Spaniards
The first contact of Europeans with cocoa took place at the beginning of the 16th century, when the conquistador Hernán Cortés imported it into Spain in 1528. However, another navigator had already crossed the road of these strange beans: Christopher Columbus. First, during a trip in 1494, the American Indians offered the Italian explorer, who was going back to Europe, some cocoa beans, the value of which was important to them, and they used them as their currency.
Unperturbed, Columbus threw the beans overboard, mistaking them for goat droppings. During his fourth voyage, in 1502, he discovered the island of Guajana, in the north of Honduras: there, the natives made him taste the famous “xocoalt”, a drink made of crushed cocoa beans and water, which he did not like at all. It was not until Hernan Cortés returned to Spain that he brought back products that had been unknown until then, such as corn, chili peppers and tomatoes… but also cocoa.
He praised the merits of the latter to Charles V, assuring him that “a cup of this precious drink allows a man to walk a whole day without eating”. Only that! Since that time, towards the end of the sixteenth century, cocoa was transported to Spain by shipements.. The raw material was transformed into a drink, but it remained an extremely expensive product. However, it was highly appreciated by the Spanish aristocracy and clergy.
It is in 1615 that chocolate arrives in France, during the marriage of Anne of Austria, daughter of the king of Spain Philippe III, with Louis XIII, in Bayonne.
A royal sweetness
Since then, chocolate has been popular as a drink. Louis XV even adored this cocoa-containing beverage, as he is said to have prepared it himself.
Democratization of chocolate and change of form
To make it better, people started to season the cocoa beverage with sugar, pepper or spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg. Several recipes were developed, which varied according to the country. But the history of chocolate will know a real turning point in the nineteenth century: in 1828, the Dutch chemist and industrialist Conrad Van Houten develops a manufacturing process that allows to obtain cocoa powder, whose boxes will quickly spread throughout Europe.
It is then an Englishman, Joseph Fry, who will allow chocolate to pass from its liquid form to a solid form: in 1847, he invents the first chocolate bar, by adding cocoa butter to Van Houten’s chocolate powder. Result: a chocolate to crunch!