When you think of chocolate, what comes to your mind?
Perhaps one of the top chocolate brands in the world as listed by Global Brands magazine including the countries that produce them:
- Ferrero Rocher (Italy)
- Guylian (Belgium)
- Patchi (Lebanon)
- Ghirardelli (United States)
- Toblerone (Switzerland)
- Cadbury (United Kingdom)
- Lindt and Sprungli (Switzerland)
- Mars (United Kingdom)
- Snickers (United States)
- Kitkat (originally United Kingdom, now United States)
- Galaxy (originally United Kingdom, now United States)
However, an important chocolate player is missing from this list. In fact, I would call them the most important chocolatier of all time, because we wouldn’t have these decadent treats without them.
America’s neighbor to the south: Mexico.
More specifically, the Olmecs.
Ancestors of the Aztecs and Mayans, the Olmecs were the earliest known Mesoamerican civilization and had settled off the Gulf of Mexico. As far back as 1,000 BC, the Olmecs cultivated cacao beans (pronounced “kakawa”). Using these beans, they produced a bitter beverage drank by royalty and soldiers and during special ceremonies. Honey, vanilla and chilis created the traditional Mesoamerican cacao drink— very different than the sweet bars and truffles produced by the global candy brands today. Cocao became so valuable that the beans were used as currency throughout Mesoamerican civilizations and even inspired counterfeiters to create fake beans out of clay or avocado seeds.
When the Spanish conquered the Mesoamericans, they appropriated their production of the cacao, which they called “cacahuatl” meaning “cacoa water” in the Aztec Nahuatl language. Europeans eventually renamed the drink using a Mayan word “chocol” for hot and the Nahuatl word “atl” for water. Through the centuries, “chocolatl” morphed into the current day spelling of “chocolate.”
The Conquistadors and missionaries sent chocolate back home to Spain where it spread throughout Europe. Each country experimented with chocolate using their own cooking techniques and mixing in their culture’s spices. They tried various ways to process cocoa beans until eventually our Hershey’s bars and Godiva truffles were born.
Next time you enjoy a cup of hot chocolate, lift it up and toast to the Mexicans and their ancestors whose discovery has given us a treat worthy of the gods.