Monday, July 19, 2021

History of Spain and cocoa

According to the official account of Columbus’ trip to Guanaja (today one of the islands of Honduras) in 1502, the Spaniards encountered a canoe with some ‘strange people’ carrying ‘some kind of almonds’ that seemed very valuable to them. Later he received the gift of a cup of chocolate.

When Cortes arrived seventeen years later the cacao beans were being used as food and a form of currency. It was reported that a slave could be bought for one hundred cacao beans. At the time, two hundred small cacao beans were worth one Spanish real.

Columbus at first, then Cortes, discovered in the Americas the cocoa plant, but only Cortes brought the seeds to Europe. Upon his return to Spain in 1528, Cortez presented cocoa beans and the recipe for chocolatl to King Charles V, while adding sugar (an unknown substance to the Mayans and Aztecs) to the bitter beverage.

From this moment onwards, due to frequent trade with the American colonies of the Spanish, chocolate began to be introduced in the old continent as a beverage.

The Spanish helped develop cacao plantations in Mexico, Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru, Jamaica and Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic).

As a beverage, the Spaniards disliked the bitter brew. At first they followed the recipe of the Aztecs, with further addition of chili and hot spices. Then, with the addition of sugar, cinnamon and vanilla, the cocoa taste became sweet and soft. The Spaniards also started to drink the brew hot.

To obtain the foam on top of the beverage, they no longer poured the brew from one vessel to another, but beat the hot drink with a so-called molinillo, a large, wooden swizzle-stick.

The Spanish could not hold onto their secret forever, and chocolate quickly spread across the rest of western Europe. Chocolate—then still exclusively in the form of a drink—appeared in France, and then England, in royal courts and special “chocolate houses” that served the social elite.

Nearly 100 years after Columbus' first voyage to the Americas, cocoa was finally shipped in bulk to Spain to be sold on the open market. This would lead to an explosion of trading and innovation inspired by the unique cocoa bean.

Cacao production has since spread all over the world but the cacao from these original regions still produces the most highly prized variety of cacao bean. The first ever chocolate processing plant was set up in Spain in 1580. From then on, the popularity of chocolate gradually spread to the other European countries.
History of Spain and cocoa

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