A box of chocolates is one of the most popular presents for Valentine’s Day, yet chocolate is not just for the 14th February. On a cold winter’s day, there’s nothing better than a drink of hot chocolate, something that people have been doing in Central and South America for at least three thousand years.
Chocolate is a food derived from the beans of the tropical cacao tree, Theobroma cacao. This plant is originally from the understory of the tropical and subtropical rainforests of Mexico, central and the northern part of South America. It is an evergreen tree that grows from 5 to 10 metres tall. Theobroma means ‘food of the Gods’ and cacao is derived from the word xocolatl in the Aztec language Nahuatl; xococ and atl, meaning bitter and water, respectively.
Although people have been drinking chocolate for millennia, it only became popular in Europe in the seventeenth century, with the first bar of chocolate only appearing in the mid 19th century. Originally the drink was bitter and it was only after it reached Europe that sugar and milk were added to make something similar to modern drinking chocolate. Since then, chocolate has become increasingly more popular in our society and it has also been used to treat a variety of illnesses, from fevers to stomach aches and even tuberculosis.