A brief history of chocolate

At this time of year sales of chocolate soar as even the less sweet-toothed among us indulge in a seasonal treat. Here’s a brief history of chocolate’s rise in popularity to whet your appetite…
When the first cacao beans arrived in Europe in 1585 few could have guessed how chocolate fever would engulf the whole of Europe. Available only in liquid form it was revered by the gentility who would drink it hot and sweet and infused with cinnamon. By the time it reached London it was claimed to have miraculous panacean qualities including being a cure for consumption, reversing ageing and boosting fertility. Famous diarist Samuel Pepys stated it was the perfect cure for a hangover. In London however it did not remain the preserve of the wealthy and was enjoyed in coffee houses across the city in a milky brew.
In 1828 the world’s relationship with chocolate would change forever with the invention of the cocoa press by Dutchman Conrad van Houten. As cocoa beans contain so much fat the flavours could only be enjoyed in liquid form, but van Houten’s press removed two thirds of the fat content, and with the addition of potassium carbonate to make it more digestible, it became darker in colour and lighter in flavour in a process still known as “dutching”. Then in 1847 Francis Fry discovered that by adding extra cocoa butter and sugar the chocolate could be moulded – and so the now more familiar chocolate bar was born. The new chocolate bar was revealed at The Great Paris Exhibition of 1851.
In 1886 another Quaker family – the Cadburys – also moved into large-scale chocolate production. By 1887 Fry’s was the biggest manufacturer of chocolate in Britain, being sole suppliers of chocolate to the navy and Cadburys having the Royal Warrant to supply Queen Victoria. In 1899 Queen Victoria commissioned the Fry, Cadbury and Rowntree families to produce a special chocolate box for every one of her troops serving in South Africa to mark her Diamond Jubilee. As all three families were Quakers – and therefore pacifists – they refused to accept any payment. In 1900 123,000 servicemen were all given a half-pound box of vanilla chocolate to commemorate the Jubilee celebrations.
Mass production of chocolate bars made them pretty much affordable for everyone in the following decades. It was a market that went from strength to strength until the rationing of sugar during World War Two brought a sudden halt to the confectionary business – production of ration chocolate continued, which was made with milk powder so bore little resemblance to the more familiar creamy bars. When sweets were de-rationed in April 1949 demand outstripped supply by so much that they were put back on ration after just four months. It wasn’t until September 1953 that sweet-toothed Brits could once again indulge in their favourite bars, with the confectionary market soaring from £100m to £250m within the first year.
Over the following decades – and even with continued discussions about the need to reduce our sugar intake – chocolate has still remained one of the biggest areas of the confectionary market with sales soaring to £4.3bn by 2014. So it seems our relationship with chocolate looks set to grow and grow – so crack open the Easter eggs!
Did you know…
Providing that glorious melt-in-the-mouth moment is a unique design feature that has been engineered by chocolatiers when they realised that making hot chocolate in the mouth rather than on a stove was a much more desirable experience.

The solidity of chocolate is a result of the type of cocoa butter crystals formed in the chocolate-making process. By developing chocolate with the highly dense fat, the manufacturers generated crystals that melt at 34°C and so only melt in your mouth and not on the shelf. This can also explain why the chocolate tasted on a holiday in warmer countries is so different from ours. To prevent chocolate melting on the shelf American chocolate uses fat-reduced milk that creates a more cheese-like flavour. This might sound unpleasant but despite our increased globalisation the preferred taste of chocolate still remains uniquely regional. Hence the growing market for American chocolate brands in this country as expats track down a taste and reminder of their youth.
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