There are few foods that people feel as
passionate about -- a passion that goes
beyond a love for the "sweetness" of
most candies or desserts: after all, few
people crave caramel, whipped cream, or
bubble gum. Chocolate is, well,
different. For the true chocoholic, just
thinking about chocolate can evoke a
pleasurable response. You may want to
grab a bar or make a nice cup of hot
cocoa before you begin exploring here.
Candy bars, milk shakes, cookies,
flavored coffee—even cereal and
medicine! Chocolate is a key ingredient
in many foods. In fact, it ranks as the
favorite flavor of most Americans. And
yet, few of us know the unique origins
of this popular treat.
The story of chocolate spans more than
2,000 years and now circles the globe.
The tale began in the tropical
rainforests of Central and South America
where cacao (kah KOW) first grew.
Chocolate is made from the seeds of the
But the journey from seed to sweet is a
long one, spanning many centuries and
requiring many processes.
The tasty secret of the cacao (kah KOW)
tree was discovered 2,000 years ago in
the tropical rainforests of the
Americas. The pods of this tree contain
seeds that can be processed into
chocolate. The story of how chocolate
grew from a local Mesoamerican beverage
into a global sweet encompasses many
cultures and continents.
The first people known to have made
chocolate were the ancient cultures of
Mexico and Central America. These
people, including the Maya and Aztec,
mixed ground cacao seeds with various
seasonings to make a spicy, frothy
Later, the Spanish conquistadors brought
the seeds back home to Spain, where new
recipes were created. Eventually, and
the drink’s popularity spread throughout
Europe. Since then, new technologies and
innovations have changed the texture and
taste of chocolate, but it still remains
one of the world’s favorite flavors.
Harvesting Cacao is Hard Work
We tend to think of chocolate making as
an assembly-line process. Most people
picture automated presses plopping out
candies onto conveyor belts at speeds
unmatched by humans.
But before cacao reaches the machinery
of a chocolate factory, it must first
pass through the hands of a farmer.
Making chocolate takes years of manual
Like most agricultural crops, cacao must
be closely monitored by farmers. They
regularly walk their fields and check
for pests, molds, and diseases that can
potentially wipe out a whole harvest.
In addition, a farmer must spend three
to five years caring for young cacao
trees before they’ll produce their first
Cacao harvesting is done by hand.
Unlike many contemporary crops, cacao
can’t be harvested by machines. Each
thick pod growing off the trunk and
branches of the cacao tree must be
plucked by hand.