How did chocolate get to France?

Before talking about the arrival of chocolate in France, we need to go much further back in time, in search of the first traces of cocoa cultivation: analyzes carried out over the centuries show that the first cocoa crops developed in the Mesoamerican area, starting from second millennium BC. It was above all among the Maya that the cocoa plant experienced a real boom, starting from the sixth century, but not so much for its taste: among the Maya, as among the Aztecs, cocoa was the object of a cult, their god Ek Chuah is associated with him.

The Maya consumed this food in the form of a drink made from the seeds of the cocoa tree, which they called “cacau”. The Aztecs will call their cocoa bean drink “xocoalt”, which will later take the name “chocolate”. In addition to its therapeutic virtues, cocoa is also used as a currency in these civilizations, for bartering.

Chocolate, brought to Europe by the Spaniards

The first European contact with cocoa came at the beginning of the 16th century, when the conquistador Hernán Cortés imported it to Spain in 1528. However, another navigator had already crossed paths with these strange beans: Christopher Columbus. First, during a trip in 1494, Native Americans offered the Italian explorer, who was about to return home, cocoa beans, the value of which was important to them, as they used them as currency. .

Not very intrigued, Columbus throws the beans overboard, mistaking them for goat droppings. During his fourth trip, in 1502, he discovered the island of Guajana, in the north of Honduras: there, the natives made him taste the famous “xocoalt”, this drink made from chopped cocoa beans and water, which he does not everyone likes it. We will therefore have to wait for the return to Spain of Hernan Cortés, who brings back products hitherto unknown, such as corn, peppers or even tomatoes … but also cocoa.

He praises the merits of the latter to Charles V, assuring him that “a cup of this precious drink allows a man to walk a whole day without eating”. Just that ! Thereafter, from the end of the 16th century, cocoa was brought to Spain by cargo. The raw material is transformed into a drink, but it remains an extremely expensive product. On the other hand, it is highly regarded by the Spanish aristocracy and clergy.

It was in 1615 that chocolate arrived in France, during the marriage of Anne of Austria, daughter of King Philip III of Spain, to Louis XIII, in Bayonne.

A royal sweetness

From that moment on, chocolate was all the rage at Corte, always in the form of a drink. Louis XV in particular is said to have been a big fan of this cocoa-based drink, which he sometimes made himself.

It was under his reign that the first machines for the production of chocolate were developed and that clothing workshops were born in Paris. In 1770, Marie Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI, arrived at the Palace of Versailles with her chocolatier. The latter became “Chocolatier de la reine”, the first chocolatier in the history of France, and invented recipes, such as chocolate with orange blossom, praline or sweet almond.

Democratization of chocolate and change of shape

To make it taste better, we started to get into the habit of flavoring the cocoa drink with sugar, pepper or even spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. Several recipes are developed, which vary by country. But the history of chocolate will experience a real turning point in the nineteenth century: in 1828 the Dutch chemist and industrialist Conrad Van Houten developed a production process that made it possible to obtain cocoa powder, the boxes of which quickly spread throughout Europe.

It was then an Englishman, Joseph Fry, who allowed chocolate to change from its liquid to solid form: in 1847 he invented the first bar of chocolate, adding cocoa butter to Van Houten’s chocolate powder. The result: chewable chocolate!

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