The Sweet History of Chocolate: The Mayans and Aztecs – Hungry History

Oh, the sweet taste of chocolate! Bitter, sweet, spicy, crunchy, milky, dark, white–chocolate is irresistible in all of its forms and flavors. Whether it’s a special occasion (Valentine’s Day, people!), family duties, a hospital visit, a work day, a break, a cheat day, or even some alone time, you know chocolate will be there. But have you ever wondered how chocolate became so popular and such a staple in our life? Let’s go back in time and check the history of chocolate!

The Sweet History of Chocolate:

The birth place of chocolate is Mesoamerica, a region covering Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, el Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. While there are no conclusive findings regarding which culture was the first to cultivate the cocoa tree, it is believed that Mexico was the first to use the beans in beverages.

Pre-Olmecs & Olmecs

Early Formative Period of Mesoamerica (1900-900 BC)

History of Chocolate and the Olmecs

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The start of the history of chocolate dates way way back (2000 years Before Christ back)!

The oldest traces of cocoa, dating back to 1900 BC, were found in a Mokoyan archeological site on the Pacific coast of Mexico. Mokayans are pre-olmec people, whom are considered America’s first civilization. Cocoa residues were also found in an Olmec archeological site suggesting the use of the beans back in 1750 BC.  However, due to scarcity of evidence, it is believed that Olmecs only used chocolate for medicinal drinks or cultural rituals, as opposed to consumption for personal pleasure.


Classic Period of Mesoamerica (200–900)


The history of Chocolate and the Mayans

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After the Olmecs, came the Mayans.

The Dresden Codex, a pre-Columbian Mayan book, explicitly states that chocolate was the drink of Gods. They believed that it was the food of the god of rain, Kon. For them, Gods produced chocolate by shedding blood on cocoa shells.

Crushed cocoa beans, chili peppers, and water were mixed together then gushed from one pot to another to create a foamy topping.  

The etymology of chocolate is of Mayan origin: xocoatl, meaning bitter drink.


Post Classic Period of Mesoamerica (900–1519)


The History of Chocolate and the Aztecs

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The peak of the Aztec civilization saw them conquering Mexico and the Mayans. However, they couldn’t grow their own beans and had to import them.  The Mayans were taxed a “Tribute” which was paid with valuable beans.

Aztecs also thought that cocoa possessed magical powers, making it very precious. Eventually, they adopted the beans as a form of currency!

Below are some recorded exchange rates of the cocoa beans left by Spanish conquerors:

  • 4 beans = 1 pumpkin
  • 10 beans = 1 rabbit
  • 10 beans = lady to stay overnight
  • 100 beans = 1 canoe filled with fresh water or a turkey hen

This resulted in cocoa becoming a crucial element and commodity in the Aztec economy; it opened new trade routes for the region.

Culturally, legend says that the God of Vegetation, Quetzacoatl, descended to earth to teach the people about the cultivation and preparation of cocoa. However, sharing that sacred and divine drink infuriated other deities and Quetzacoatl was thrown out of paradise. Angry with his expulsion, he promised he would come back for revenge in 1519 (But that never happened)!

Additionally, chocolate was a staple in Aztec royalty for its aphrodisiac powers. King Montezuma used to drink 50 cups daily and even more when he had a date. However, women were not allowed to drink cocoa!

Are you enjoying history of chocolate so far? More to go 🙂


16th Century 

The History of chocolate and Spain

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While roaming the Americas in 1502, the great Christopher Columbus landed upon the cocoa bean. Intrigued by it, he brought some back to Spain and offered them to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. However, they found them disappointing.

Another Spanish Conquistador, Hernán Cortés, who was responsible for the fall of the Aztecs, came back to Spain with not only chocolate but also its recipe and necessary equipment. This new ingredient was kept secret from the rest of Europe. Though, in 1579, English pirates raided a Spanish ship packed with cocoa beans. Ironically, the Englishmen thought the beans were sheep stools and burnt the whole ship. Eventually, chocolate caught up and was used for health purposes.

Important: Cortés found that warm chocolate tasted much better and popularized it, and thus, hot chocolate was born. Also worth noting, Spanish chefs were the first to add sugar to the drink.


17th Century

The History of Chocolate

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Chocolate was first introduced to France at King Louis IIX’s wedding. His Spanish wife Anne d’Autriche brought cocoa and an expert in foaming beverages to their ceremony (Does that even exist!?).

Louis IX, son of Louis IIX, played a vital role in the popularization of chocolate. In 1659, he allowed David Chaillou to open the first chocolaterie in Paris, France. The preparation of cocoa was still done the same way as the Mesoamericans. History of chocolate doesn’t ends here, there is industrial revolution that took over.

The Industrial Revolution and Beyond

The History of Chocolate

With the industrial revolution came great changes to the chocolate culinary world. The Mayan way was improved and the preparation of chocolate was revolutionised.

  • Doret, a French, designed a hydraulic machine to mince the beans into paste.
  • Dubisson, also a French, invented the steam chocolate grinder. This allowed mass-production of cocoa products. Consequently, chocolate depreciated in value and was no longer a delicacy.
  • Coenraad Van Houten, a Dutch chemist, created the cocoa press. It expelled the cocoa butter from the powder, which is today’s cocoa. This allowed chocolatiers to experiment more with chocolate by playing with the butter to powder ration.
  • In 1847, Fry Company of Bristol introduced the first edible chocolate. A year later, the first chocolate bar hit the market.
  • In 1875, Daniel Peter, another Swiss and son-in-law of Henri Nestle, was the first to add milk to chocolate, and voilà, milk chocolate was born.

Now, chocolate is a key player in global trade; it is the third most exported agricultural commodity in the world. No one can deny that it made our life sweeter.

It is the go-to dessert for special occasions and for expressing affection and love. With Valentine’s day approaching, I’m sure you are going to buy your significant other a box of chocolate. But, why go traditional? Let it be a day of celebration, celebration of love and… chocolate!

So go ahead and offer your loved one a treat worthy of Gods by booking one of our Desserts & Pastry Private Chefs.