The first people who were familiar with cacao were the Olmecs in Central America, over 3000 years ago. They discovered by chance that cocoa beans (which they also called “sun beans”) had a different taste when their pods didn't burst and they did not dry on the trunk but instead fell on the muddy floor, started to ferment in the humidity of the virgin forest and went rotten. However, the beans did not look particularly appetizing on the damp, muddy floor.
The chocolate consumed by the Mayas was very different from the kind we know today. It was mainly used as a drink and was a privilege reserved for kings and gods.
Chocolate had great value for the Aztecs. It was a luxury foodstuff for the nobles and other privileged groups. The Spanish very quickly became aware of the importance of cacao for the Mayas and the Aztecs. To start with they found the drink unpalatable and they mainly preferred it hot, like the Mayas. The Spanish started to sweeten the chocolate with cane sugar and substitute it with spices like pepper and cinnamon.
In 1544 Mayan monks and nobles took chocolate with them as they travelled to the Royal Court of Spain. When it was introduced to Europe, the French wars of religion were being waged. Chocolate became known in the French court following the marriage of the King of France to the daughter of the King of Spain, and the craze for it then swept across the continent.
Chocolate comes from the cacao tree, which favours warms climates and is mainly found in Africa and America. The Côte d'Ivoire is the world's largest cacao producer.
Chocolate production: Once the beans have been removed from the pod (the fruit of the cacao tree), they are dried and then roasted in large metal spheres: it is this process that releases the flavour of the chocolate. Next the beans are ground in a machine and cocoa butter is extracted. This leaves a fluid, bitter paste known as cocoa paste, to which various ingredients are added (for example milk and sugar) to give the desired taste...
And it is all mixed together.
There are three main types of chocolate:
Dark chocolate consists of at least 43% cocoa paste, to which sugar and cocoa butter are added.
Milk chocolate contains at least 35% cocoa paste, which is mixed with powdered milk and sugar.
White chocolate does not contain any cocoa paste, only cocoa butter (a fatty substance obtained by pressing the cacao after the beans have been ground), which is mixed with milk and sugar.
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