The History of Chocolate and Chocolate Gift Baskets

When it comes to candy and chocolates, we often don’t think about where they came from, we just enjoy them! But chocolate has a rich history (pun intended!) and after you learn a little about it, that next chocolate gift basket you receive will mean a whole lot more. Or if you give a chocolate gift basket to someone else, you can fill them in on a little back story that they may find fascinating!
Most people know that the bulk chocolate you find at stores comes from the cacao bean. Its cultivation goes way back to Mesoamerican times in the 1400s. Some of the first uses for it were to create a bitter chocolate drink that had water and chili peppers added to make it spicy. The Aztecs and Mayans both did so. They also traded their cacao and had conquered people to pay tribute in these beans.
In Europe however, they did not hear about this drink until the 16th century. Christopher Columbus brought cocoa beans to Spain and then it was introduced more widely around Europe from there. Sugar and milk were added to lessen the bitterness of the beverage. Others replaced the spice of chili with vanilla.
For hundreds of years the process of making liquid chocolate didn’t change. Then when the Industrial Revolution hit, there was a new way to make chocolate into a solid. Mechanical mills were put into heavy use to create the kind of bulk chocolate we know today. J.S. Fry & Sons was the first company to make edible, solid chocolate, followed closely by Cadbury just 2 years later. Yes, that’s the Cadbury we all know and love today and associate with lovely, hollow chocolate eggs!
In the 1870s, chocolate was being created by a man named Henri Nestle, who helped remove the water from the milk so it wouldn’t mildew. Then a man named Rodolphe Lindt invented conching, a process that made sure the liquid was blended smoothly, which gave Milton Hershey the ability to mass produce chocolate bars that everyone could afford. If all of these last names sound familiar, they should! Now you realize just how old some of the major chocolate companies really are!
So the next time you get that chocolate gift basket, think about how far back the history of it goes. While the choices of chocolate today are vast and plenty compared to back then, it’s still been around for hundreds more years than most people realize!