Dark Chocolate

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Dark chocolate history goes back at least 3000 years. What began as a bitter drink in the pre-historic tropics of South America has become one of the world's most popular treats. For most of this time, dark chocolate was the only form. So chocolate history is really the history of dark chocolate.

Native American Drink

Throughout the tropical areas of Central and South America, a room-temperature drink made from cacao seeds has been enjoyed for several thousand years, with the earliest documented usage between 1400 to 1100 BC. Pre-columbian societies, through the Maya and Aztec, used the drink for ceremonial and medicinal purposes, and also as a luxury for the elite.

Mayan glyph for cocoa
This drink was very bitter, and was laced with various additions such as vanilla, chili pepper, sometimes alcohol, other spices, and corn meal. It was served warm, with no sugar or other sweetener, and would not be particularly recognizable today.

Spanish Discovery

Columbus was exposed to the native chocolate drink, but was unimpressed. It was not until Hernando Cortez arrived that the value and possibilities in Spain were recognized.

Meeting of Cortez and Montezuma
The Spanish added cane sugar, or sometimes honey, to the formula, and also started serving the drink hot. For almost 100 years the secrets of chocolate belonged exclusively to the Spanish, but then spread throughout Europe. At first, chocolate was available only to royalty and the nobility, but was later made available in coffee and chocolate houses to any who could afford the expensive luxury.

London chocolate house, ca 1708
Until this point, all chocolate was dark chocolate, so the history of chocolate was dark chocolate history. It wasn't until 1689 that milk was added to the chocolate drink by Hans Sloan in Jamaica.

19th Century Change and Innovation

During the 19th century, chocolate changed from a dark chocolate drink available only to the rich to the inexpensive, mass-produced, eating chocolate that we enjoy today. The development and growth of large plantations and markets, and the industrial revolution and mass production techniques, led to chocolate that was inexpensive enough to be available to everyone, and developed some of the names we are still familiar with today.

Original Lindt factory
In 1828, the Dutch chocolate maker Conrad van Houten invented a hydraulic press to make cocoa powder, and an alkanizing process used to mellow the taste, and to make the powder easier to mix with water. This process is now known as the "dutch process" or "dutching process".

In 1847, Fry and Sons of England created the first solid eating chocolate using a process similar to that used today. This product was, of course, a dark chocolate.

Model of Lindt's conche
Cadbury's began business operations in England in 1860. Tobler was making hand-made chocolates in Switzerland in 1864. By 1876 the Swiss were adding dry milk to the formula to make milk chocolate. Lindt invented the conch in 1879. Milton Hershey began operations in 1894. And in 1899, Lindt and Sprüngli were formed, and Tobler opened its first factory.

Modern Times

In the 20th century, mass distribution greatly increased the range and world-wide popularity of chocolate, with milk chocolate becoming the "primary", most popular form.

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But, by the late 20th century, and into the early 21st, dark chocolate, the original, has been regaining popularity.

Dark Chocolate Lowers Blood Pressure
Dark chocolate -- not white chocolate -- lowers high blood pressure, say Dirk Taubert, MD, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Cologne, Germany. Their report appears in the Aug. 27 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association. But that's no license to go on a chocolate binge. Eating more dark chocolate can help lower blood pressure -- if you've reached a certain age and have mild high blood pressure, say the...
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