It originates from a Nahuatl word meaning “bitter water”) comprises a number of raw and processed foods that originate from the seed of the tropical cacao tree. It is a common ingredient in many kinds of confections such as chocolate bars, candy, ice cream, cookies, cakes, pies, chocolate mousse, and other desserts. It is one of the most popular and recognizable flavors in the world.
Chocolate was used by the Mesoamerican civilizations, using seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree, which was cultivated by many pre-Columbian civilizations such as the Maya and Aztec. The seeds were ground and mixed with water for use as a basic component in a variety of beverages, both sweet and bitter, which were reserved for only the highest noblemen and clerics. Chocolate is made from the fermented, roasted, and ground beans taken from the pod of the tropical cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, which was native to lowland tropical South America, Central America and Mexico, but is now cultivated throughout the tropics. The beans have an intensely flavoured bitter taste. The resulting products are known as “chocolate” or, in some parts of the world, cocoa.
Today, chocolate commonly refers to bars made from the combination of cocoa solids, fat, sugar and other ingredients, which has a melting point just below body temperature. It contains alkaloids such as theobromine and phenethylamine, and has numerous physiological effects on the body: it has been linked with seratonin levels in the brain, and in some animals it is even toxic.
Chocolate is often produced as small molded forms in the shape of squares, animals, people, or inanimate objects to celebrate festivals worldwide. For example, there are moulds of rabbits or eggs for Easter, coins for Hanukkah, Saint Nicholas (Santa Claus) for Christmas, and hearts for Valentine’s Day. Chocolate can also be made into drinks (called cocoa and hot chocolate), as originated by the Aztecs and the Mayas. In England, Samuel Pepys records in his diaries at least two entries relating to “jocolatte” as early as the 1660s. Later, in 1689 Hans Sloane developed a milk chocolate drink in Jamaica initially used by apothecaries, but later sold by the Cadbury brothers.