October 10, 2022
Chocolate, for most, is a word that means happiness. The average person in the United States eats around 20lb of chocolate each year, and with the rise of artisanal brands and trendy flavors, we've become spoiled for choice. But as Alexandra Leaf, the owner of Chocolate Tours of New York City, rightly puts it, "Chocolate is the best-known food that nobody knows anything about."
So, let's go back in time to look through chocolate’s rich history.
Anthropologists believe cacao was first eaten in Puerto Escondido, Honduras, around 4000 years ago. When the earliest known civilization, the Olmec people, saw the strange-looking plant, they could (miraculously) see its potential. The initial adaptation was as an alcoholic drink made from the sweet pulp surrounding the bean. The drink prompted further exploration of the plant, and soon, the more bitter beans inside the plant were being tested too. Despite the bitter taste, historians agree the ingredient was cherished from the start, often used throughout history as a delicious currency. The first evidence was between 250-900 CE (during the Mayan period) when cacao was used to buy goods and pay taxes.
From 900AD, the Mayan and Aztec people began using the dark cacao beans inside the fruit to make a chocolate drink. They first roasted the beans, ground them down into a powder, and added water, herbs, honey, and spices. They then frothed the drink by pouring it back and forth between two cups. It was believed that the cacao plant was a nourishing aphrodisiac – probably the reason Montezuma, the Aztec emperor, drank up to 50 glasses a day!
After finding remnants of these drinks on 1000-year-old vase fragments in New Mexico, archaeologists confirmed that chocolate was also being traded into North America.
Based on a 1668 note in his diary, English trade merchant John Hull may be one of the first to import cacao to Europe. Around this time, along with coffee and tea, drinking chocolate became popular in both colonial America and Europe. Back then, it was much thicker and spicier than we take it today. And because it had no sugar, it was deeply bitter.
Surprisingly, even though bitter drinking chocolate was much more popular with Americans, they weren't responsible for solid chocolate. It wasn’t until 1847, when Fry & Sons Chocolate Company in Bristol created a chocolate bar from cocoa powder, cocoa butter, and sugar, that chocolate bars were born. They weren’t well received – customers didn’t love the course and gritty texture.
Daniel Peter was a Swiss candlemaker who thankfully decided to switch careers. He spent eight years experimenting with ways to add the creaminess of milk to chocolate. He found the water would split the mixture until he found the answer – condensed milk, a new product from Nestle.
Since PTL is based in New Zealand, it’s interesting to note that our chocolate market has been influenced by two iconic pioneers. The first was Richard Hudson, who opened his Dunedin bakehouse before partnering with the British company Cadbury to build our first chocolate factory. Only 12 years later, James Henry Whittaker started making chocolate in Christchurch and selling directly to customers from his horse and cart.
In 2020, the United States chocolate industry made an estimated 47 billion USD, which is expected to grow to $59 billion by 2027. Snickers was the all-time favorite chocolate bar in 2022, and companies like Hershey and Mars continue to rule the industry. However, there has been a welcomed rise in artisanal brands over the past two decades. Chocolate lovers are now seeking out sustainable, decadent, and unique products. For example, Xocolatl from Atlanta, Georgia, and Vosges Chocolate from Chicago, Illinois, are just two of many making a splash.
Sometimes referred to as food from the gods, chocolate has always been considered a luxury. To make the most of its delicious properties, it’s important to focus on the process. From drying and roasting to melting the chocolate, a great product is made with the utmost care. PTL’s V20 melter has been designed to optimize the melting process and is based on decades of experience working directly with manufacturers to ensure their chocolate is always top quality.
Want to see the V20 in action and learn how it can fit into your production line? Book a demo now.