The History of Chocolate Is Really, Really Fascinating

Where did your favorite sweet treat actually come from? Get the delicious facts here.

Close up of chocolate pieces on wooden backgroundPhoto: Shutterstock / Picsfive
Photo: Shutterstock / Picsfive

Whether you’re gearing up for Halloween, Christmas, Easter or something in-between, chocolate is probably on your mind. After all, who can resist that first deliciously blissful bite of a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar? While you usually just think of your favorite sweet treat in passing–perhaps while you’re popping it in your mouth–it turns out that chocolate actually has a pretty interesting past, and we’re breaking it down. So grab some candy–for research, of course–and read our cheat sheet of the history of chocolate.

1000 B.C.: Cacao Is Discovered in Ecuador

Scientists believe one of the earliest uses of the beans was in 1000 B.C. in Latin America, where people made a bitter hot chocolate-type beverage. Who knew our favorite childhood drink was so old?

400-900 A.D.: The Maya Use It as Currency

The Maya, especially the wealthy ones, eat cocoa, but they also use it to trade and barter for goods. For example, 10 beans would buy you a rabbit. Fun fact: The Maya also have a cacao god, and some people are even buried with jars full of cocoa.

1600s: Chocolate Is the Original Coffee

After cacao spreads across the ocean to Europe, people begin to praise what they believe are the benefits of eating the beans, namely the caffeine hit and that it’s an aphrodisiac. Machines are invented to speed up the production of chocolate, and people begin eating and drinking it for energy. It’s the beginner’s version of coffee.

1850s: Enter the Chocolate Bar

It isn’t until the 1850s that people begin eating chocolate bars, thanks to an Englishman named Joseph Fry and his company, J.S. Fry and Sons. He discovers that using more cocoa butter creates a solid form of the delicious bean, and voila: The chocolate bar is born.

1861: Chocolate Becomes a Valentine’s Day Treat

You know the well-loved and well-known heart-shaped boxes of truffles that every woman loves to get for Valentine’s Day? Richard Cadbury (the Creme Egg guy), whose British family manufactured chocolate, creates the first one.

1879: A New Machine Arrives to Make Modern-day Chocolate

The first chocolate bar was rough and grainy. But in the late 1800s Rodolphe Lindt invents the conche machine, which rolls and refines the cocoa to create the creamy texture we’ve come to enjoy today.

1895: The Hershey Bar Is Born

In 1895, Milton Hershey produces the first Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar, followed by Hershey’s Kisses. This is also the time when cocoa production costs drop, making chocolate much more accessible to the entire population.

1930: White Chocolate Arrives on the Scene

Nestle begins making white chocolate (originally named Galak) primarily from cocoa butter, sugar and milk. And we are so glad it did!

Today: Americans Consume 20 Percent of the World’s Cocoa

The average American will eat about 12 pounds of chocolate this year, and we are seeing all sorts of new, exciting cocoa creations. From embracing fair trade and organic bars to producing crazy confections like chocolate mixed with bacon and jalapenos, the chocolate industry is thriving and growing every year.

That’s a lot of work to get to that chocolate bar you’re unwrapping or those chocolate chips you’re putting in your next batch of cookies. The history of chocolate is definitely something to chew on.

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Amanda Tarlton
As both a freelance lifestyle writer and editor for a national teen magazine, Amanda spends most of her time creating #content. In those (rare) moments when she's not at her desk typing furiously, she's likely teaching a hot yoga class, reading the latest chick-lit or baking a batch of her famous scones.