Before chocolate existed, there was cocoa: a bitter drink made from the beans of the Theobroma cacao tree, treasured by the Maya, Aztec and Olmec peoples of Central America.
Spanish colonists were intrigued, and added spices and sugar to make the drink less bitter. The beans were shipped back to Europe, where cocoa went on sale in the late 16th century. At first, it was a luxury drink for the rich, but its price fell and it went mainstream. Rising demand led to cocoa plantations being established around the world.
People tried many ways of preparing cocoa, but the big innovation came in 1828, from Dutch father and son Casparus and Coenraad van Houten. They worked out how to separate cocoa into solids and fat. This made it easier to produce the drink, but also allowed further processing to make a solid bar of chocolate.
Other industrialists of the 19th century – Rowntree, Cadbury, Lindt, Nestlé, Hershey – developed specialised processes for making their own brands of chocolate. And brands they were: chocolate was marketed with great ingenuity. It has been sold as a tasty treat, an energy booster, a health food, an aphrodisiac and more.
And we bought it. Chocolate is now a huge global industry.