Would you rather eat your chocolate, or drink it? (Thinkstock)
Would you rather eat your chocolate, or drink it?
Lexile

When most of us hear the word chocolate, we picture a candy bar, a box of bonbons or an Easter bunny. And the verb that comes to mind on consuming chocolate is probably "eat," not "drink." And the adjective used to describe it would be "sweet."

But in fact, for about 90 percent of its long history, chocolate was a beverage, and no one would have called it sweet.

Its the best-known food that nobody knows anything about," says Alexandra Leaf, a self-described "chocolate educator" who runs a business called Chocolate Tours of New York City.

Experts use the term "cacao" to refer to the plant from which chocolatethe foodis made. Scientists trace the origin of the word "chocolate" to the Aztec word xocoatl," which referred to a bitter drink brewed from cacao beans. Many modern historians have estimated that chocolate has been around for about 2,000 years or even longer.

It's hard to pin down exactly when chocolate was born, but it's clear that it was cherished from the start. For several centuries in pre-modern Latin America, cacao beans were considered valuable enough to use as currency. One bean could be traded for a tamale, while 100 beans could purchase a good turkey hen, according to a 16th-century Aztec document. Both the Mayans and Aztecs believed the cacao bean had magical properties.

Sweetened chocolate didn't appear until Europeans discovered the Americas and sampled the native cuisine. Legend has it that the Aztec king Montezuma welcomed the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes with a banquet that included drinking chocolate.

By the 17th century, chocolate was a fashionable drink throughout Europe, believed to have nutritious and medicinal benefits. But it remained largely a privilege of the rich until the late 1700s, when it became mass-produced. In 1828, a Dutch chemist found a way to make powdered chocolate, and the first chocolate bar was created in 1847. By 1868, the chocolate company Cadbury was marketing boxes of chocolate candies throughout England.

In America, chocolate was so valued during the Revolutionary War that it was included in soldiers' rations and used as wages. Today chocolate manufacturing is a more than $4 billion industry in the United States, and the average American eats at least half a pound of the stuff per month.

In the 20th century, the word "chocolate" expanded to include a range of affordable treats with more sugar and additives than actual cacao in them. But more recently, there's been a "chocolate revolution," Leaf says, fueled by an increasing interest in high-quality, handmade chocolates and sustainable, effective cacao farming and harvesting methods. Major corporations like Hershey's have expanded their artisanal chocolate lines by purchasing smaller producers known for premium chocolates, such as Scharffen Berger and Dagoba, while independent chocolatiers continue to flourish as well.

"I see more and more American artisans doing incredible things with chocolate," Leaf says. "Although, I admit that I tend to look at the world through cocoa-tinted glasses."

Critical thinking challenge: How did mass production allow more people to enjoy chocolate?

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COMMENTS (95)
  • NeilanBret-DiB
    2/06/2015 - 09:31 a.m.

    I would rather eat it because you can savor it and if you drink it you get a stomach ach because it goes down a lot faster.

  • FelicianoFernando-DiB
    2/06/2015 - 09:32 a.m.

    For about 90 percent of its long history chocolate has been in liquid form, chocolate milk, chocolate syrus etc.. Today chocolate manufacturing is a more than $4 billion industry in the United States, and the average American eats at least half a pound of the stuff per month. I am one of those.

  • HarperChristopher-DiB
    2/06/2015 - 09:36 a.m.

    This article is good because I love chocolate and the Aztecs were a smart civilization and it must be so cool to use beans as a currency they could get a lot of things

    • treyb-Che
      2/06/2015 - 02:00 p.m.

      I love this article because I love chocolate to but I don't want to drink it and the Aztecs are smart civilization in it Is real cool and who made chocolate

  • jd9580
    2/06/2015 - 09:57 a.m.

    I personally do not like that much chocolate, but I think it would be an interesting experience to try all the different types of chocolate from different eras. I find it quite surprising that chocolate was not consumed in a solid form until 1847. Now in days we think that chocolate is so abundant, but in Social Studies I read an story about the shortage in cacao. Many chocolate countries have left notices saying that we are running short ob supplies for making chocolate due to people eating to much chocolate. It was a really interesting story, and I would suggest you check it out sometime.

  • brandonjaclin
    2/06/2015 - 10:37 a.m.

    It allowed people to enjoy chocolate more because it is now manufactured to every country on the planet and it allows us to enjoy sweet chocolate instead of bitter chocolate

  • bridgetteg-DiB
    2/06/2015 - 10:39 a.m.

    i would rather eat it because if you drink it, it might not be as good as eating it but than again it would last longer by drinking it

  • bridgetteg-DiB
    2/06/2015 - 10:39 a.m.

    i would rather eat it because if you drink it, it might not be as good as eating it but than again it would last longer by drinking it

  • ninag-DiB
    2/06/2015 - 10:40 a.m.

    i would per fur to eat my chocolate then to drink it because i can have more of the chocolate taste than to drink.but the drink would last longer than the candy

  • nicholas.jones07
    2/06/2015 - 12:36 p.m.

    I would rather drink my chocolate. I think if you took chocolate while it is melted and added sugar, it would taste great. I believe that the Aztecs were some pretty smart people to come up with chocolate.

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