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A History of Chocolate

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In this month’s box, we’re featuring Ghirardelli’s gooey milk chocolate and caramel squares. And let us just say: It involved a lot of hard work by the entire Birchbox team. In addition to rigorous taste testing, we did a little digging into the history of this sweet treat—and ever since we learned that it’s technically a superfood, we’re indulging guilt-free. Here, a look back at chocolate through the ages.

600 B.C.E. The Olmecs, an ancient tribe from the tropical lowlands of South Central Mexico, are the first to domesticate the plant—and to give it a name: kakawa.

300-900 C.E. The ancient Mayans elevate cacao to cult status. The cacao tree plays a significant role in their creation story and the beans, ground into a paste and mixed with chilies, spices, and water, are thought to have restorative, mood-boosting properties.

1200 During the rule of the Aztecs, cacao is a form of currency (one gets you a tomato; for 30, you can buy a rabbit) and a staple of Emperor Montezuma’s diet. The ruler is rumored to consume 50 cups a day.

1528 ConquistadorHernán Cortés returns to Spain from Mexico, cacao beans in tow, and touts the frothy Aztec drink for its ability to build resistance and fight fatigue. 

1600s Chocolate houses pop up throughout the Old World. Europeans add a twist to the traditional drink, serving it hot with milk, sugar, eggs, and spices. 

1770s During the Revolutionary War, chocolate is included in American soldiers’ rations and offered in lieu of monetary wages. (Wondering if we can get paid in chocolate at Birchbox?)

1828 Dutch chemist Conrad Van Houten invents the cocoa press, which separates cocoa butter from chocolate liquor—and gives rise to cocoa powder.

1852 One of our favorite chocolatiers, Ghirardelli, gets its start providing sweet treats and sundries to luxury-starved miners in California. Founded by Italian-born candymaker Domenico Ghirardelli, the confectionery is originally known as Ghirardely & Girard. 

1913 In Switzerland, Jules Séchaud develops a process for molding and filling chocolates. 

1999 Ghirardelli launches its filled Squares™ chocolates, including our favorite: milk chocolate and buttery caramel. 

2011 A study conducted by the Hershey Centre for Health & Nutrition reveals that dark chocolate and cocoa powder have more antioxidants than some fruit. The result: Chocolate joins acai and goji berries as a superfood.

—Geraldine

Learn more about Ghirardelli Milk + Caramel SQUARES and explore our other must-have picks for February in the Birchbox Shop.

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