For much of my childhood, I disliked chocolate. This probably is because of when I was very young, I once over-ate from a bag of chocolate to the point of being sick. However, I now enjoy chocolate immensely and typically will snack on it at least once or twice a week, sometimes every day. But chocolate as most of us know it now is very different than how it was consumed in centuries past. Chocolate bars and chips, as well as milk chocolate, are inventions only about one hundred fifty years old. For my debut post for History Weekend, let’s look at the history of the chocolate bar:


Credit: 4028mdk09, Wikimedia Commons

Chocolate is a ancient food, and was developed by humans in Central America possibly as early as 1,900 BC. Extracted from cacao seeds, for millennia chocolate, or cocoa, was consumed as a drink. When Hernan Cortes arrived to conquer the Aztec Triple Alliance in 1519, he and his entourage purportedly saw emperor Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin being served large quantities of chocolate drink by servant women. While Christopher Columbus had brought cacao seeds back to Spain decades before, it was Cortes who popularized the drink back in Spain.

For the next one hundred years, the Spanish upper-class enjoyed cups of hot cocoa to the envy of the rest of Europe, which was shut out from buying and consuming chocolate. But the Spanish couldn’t hold on to the secret forever, and other European colonial powers, such as the Netherlands, France, and England, eventually broke into the monopoly and started drinking chocolate as well.


Credit: Enstropia, Wikimedia Commons

Fast forward two hundred years to Britain in the 1840s. At this time, most chocolate in Britain is purchased from companies based in France and Switzerland. In 1847, Joseph Fry, the owner of a chocolate factory in Bristol, England, experiments by taking “Dutch cocoa,” which is cocoa with half of the fat, or cacao butter, removed, and mixing the cacao butter back in. He ends up with a paste which he can then mold into a hardened bar. The chocolate bar is invented.

In the 1870s, another key development in chocolate is introduced: milk chocolate. In 1875 or 1876, Daniel Peter, a Swiss chocolatier, adds Henri Nestle’s powdered milk to chocolate bars, creating milk chocolate. A third Swiss chocolatier, Rudolf Lindt, in 1879 invents a process called conching, which mixes cacao butter evenly into the chocolate, and creates a smoother and tastier chocolate.

Today, people all over the world enjoy chocolate bars and other hard chocolate countries made by companies that emerged in the 19th century: Nestle, Lindt, Cadbury, and Hershey, among others. From its origins as a drink in Central America, to a rare, royal delicacy tasted by the Spanish elite, to the hard candy bars made from seeds harvested in West Africa, chocolate has come a long way. Think of that the next time you bite into a bar.


Thank you to my sister Katie for this history idea!