Chocolate: A Sweet History


Do you love chocolate? Did you know that in some form or another, it has been around for 2,000 years, and some even say about 4,000 years? It comes from the pods of the cacao tree.

Heart-shaped boxes filled with yummy treats are favorite gifts on Valentine’s Day. Chocolate lovers typically have a favorite type of chocolate, whether it’s creamy filled chocolates, candy bars, or chocolate “kisses.” Giving chocolates became linked to Valentine’s Day as early as the 1800s.

But, did you know that the tradition of giving chocolates is way older than that? In fact, it’s ancient!!

Chocolates and other sweet treats have been offered as gifts for a long time…for centuries in fact! Ancient Aztecs and Mayans celebrated chocolate and considered it a very special treat. Drinks made of cacao beans would be given as presents to people of high status. Chocolates also would be offered to the gods as a token of appreciation. Cacao beans were even used as a form of currency at one point.

During the 17th century, more and more people started eating chocolate in Europe. Chocolate “houses” – shops that made chocolate, opened in London, England, and wealthy aristocrats in France also treated themselves with chocolates.

Chocolates were becoming more and more popular, but the sweet treat was not linked to Valentine’s Day until nearly 200 years later. In the mid-1800s, an Englishman named Richard Cadbury was looking for a way to make chocolates even more popular than it already was. He invented a way to make drinking chocolate tastier and created “eating chocolates.” These were packaged in fancy boxes. Eventually, Cadbury started to put pictures of cupids and roses on the boxes. He even designed boxes in the shape of hearts that could be saved as mementos. These soon became part of Valentine’s Day celebrations.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Milton Hershey was experimenting with chocolates as well. Hershey began as a caramel maker, but started covering the caramels in chocolate in 1894. Hershey would go on to develop one of the most successful brands of chocolate in the United States, which included the famous Hershey bar. In 1907, Hershey launched production of tear-drop shaped “kisses.” (The chocolates were given their unusual name because of the “smooching” noise made by the chocolate when being manufactured.) The kisses became wildly popular and made for affordable gifts on Valentine’s Day.

Many other chocolate manufacturers soon began packaging their chocolates in special boxes for Valentine’s Day. Russell Stover and Whitmans are two such manufacturers who have long specialized in heart-shaped boxes or other decorative Valentine’s gifts.

Traditionally, men have gifted women with boxes of chocolates for Valentine’s Day. However, that role is reversed in other areas of the world. For example, in Japan, women give gifts – namely chocolates – to the men in their lives to express love, courtesy or social obligation. This tradition first began in 1936 when a candy-maker, Morozoff Ltd., ran the first ever Valentine’s Day ad in Japan through a local English newspaper. By the 1950s, other Japanese candy makers were doing the same.


True or false?

1. The cacao tree was native to what is now Mexico.

True. The Olmec culture was the first great civilization of Mesoamerica, and was very influential on later societies, such as the Maya and the Aztec. It is present day Mexico.

2. Chocolates are made from the fruit for the cacao tree.

True. It takes 400 cocoa beans to make one pound.

3. The Latin name for Cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, means “sweet food.”

False. The Latin name for the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, means “food of the gods.”

4. Chocolate was served as a drink for thousands of years.

True. It was bitter, and mixed with peppers.

5. Valentine’s Day is the holiday when the most chocolates are sold in the United States?

False. Easter is when the most is usually sold. 


Other facts:

• While 35% of chocolate production takes place in Europe, the United States produces almost 30%.

• Hershey’s is the largest chocolate producer in the United States, while New York City is home to many famous chocolate shops.

  Switzerland started making chocolates in the 17th century and the Swiss are the largest consumers of chocolate per capita.

  Belgium is one of the largest producers and much of the chocolates are still made largely by hand.

•Two-thirds of the cocoa used in making chocolate is from West Africa.

• M&Ms were created in 1941 as a means for soldiers to enjoy chocolates without them melting.


By Karen Rice, Official Kids Mag