Chocolate is one of America’s favorite desserts with 90% of people claiming to love this sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet treat. You eat it in candy bars, cakes, muffins, and even mix it with your milk, coffee, and liquor. At this point, chocolate should be one of the major food groups!
While a vast majority of people love chocolate, few actually know its fascinating origin story. If only high school history class was this tasty and fun!
Chocolate arrived in Spain! Europeans sipped it as a drink at dedicated chocolate houses, which were kind of like coffee shops. Unfortunately, the increased demand for chocolate also caused plantations to pop up, which were worked by mistreated and underpaid slaves.
Walter Baker & Company became the first chocolate company in the newly formed United States. It was started by James Baker and John Hannon in Massachusetts and both of these gentlemen had a keen eye for business. In fact, the chocolate drinks and cocoa were marketed with a money-back policy if the customer wasn’t 100% satisfied.
1775 – 1783
Rather than receiving currency, chocolate powder was provided as payment to some soldiers during the Revolutionary War. They could mix it in their canteens and get a little jolt of caffeine after long days of battle.
John Cadbury started selling chocolate drinks and hot cocoa at his shop in Birmingham, England. He made these himself using a pestle and mortar and sold them as an alternative to alcohol, which was taboo in Quaker society.
A Dutch chemist named Coenraad Johannes van Houten invented the cacao press, which mixed cacao beans with alkaline salts. The end result was a powder that could be mixed with water and used to create not only chocolate drinks, but also edible treats.
A British company named J.S. Fry & Sons created the world’s first chocolate bar. This candy bar had an extremely bitter taste and a less-than-marketable name – “Chocolat Delicieux a Manger.” Later on, J.S. Fry & Sons started selling tastier chocolate candy bars like the Fry’s Crunch and the Chocolate Cream.
Domenico Ghirardelli opened his cocoa store in San Francisco. Ghirardelli was the second chocolate shop in the United States behind Walter Baker & Company.
Cadbury, the #1 producer of chocolate in the United Kingdom, started selling and marketing boxes of chocolate candies. The pretty packaging helped increase sales on chocolate in England.
Daniel Peter, a chocolatier in Switzerland, created milk chocolate. This well-loved flavor was made by mixing chocolate powder with dried milk powder. Since it’s less bitter than dark chocolate, it also helped chocolate really catapult to stardom! Later, Peter went on to help start Nestlé with Henri Nestle.
Rudolf Lindt, the man behind Lindt chocolate, invented the conch machine. This was a large vessel that had a granite roller and mixing arms. It could make a ton of chocolate at one time, creating a smooth, velvety texture that could be easily mixed with other ingredients.
You can’t celebrate Easter without chocolate bunnies, which hopped their way into Germany in the mid-19th century. Robert Strohecker created a five-foot-tall chocolate mold as a promotional item in his drugstore, and it was so popular, he followed up with miniature rabbits.
Americans were starting to capitalize on the fast-growing chocolate industry. Milton Hershey paved the way with his famous chocolate empire in Pennsylvania. Each Hershey’s chocolate bar was wrapped by hand in foil and was reasonably priced, so even the lower class could enjoy a sweet treat!
While Nestlé had already been in business for 60 years, this marks the first time they started selling chocolate. Today, you can enjoy a ton of amazing candy bars in their product line including: Butterfingers, Crunch Bars, and Baby Ruths.
Hershey’s changed the game with the Hershey’s Kiss, and it’s a treat that remains a fan favorite to this day. In 2019, a survey found that about 10% of the population ate a Hershey’s Kiss in the past 30 days.
Jean Tobler started Toblerone in Switzerland. This chocolate bar is one of the first to mix a ton of different ingredients including: chocolate, honey, nougat, and almonds.
The Mars family started Mars, Inc. Their very first candy bar was the Snickers, which was named after their family horse! Over time, they added other iconic chocolate candies to their product line, including M&M’s, 3 Musketeers, and Twix.
Candy bars had the market on chocolate, but Nabisco changed things up with the release of the Oreo. This biscuit cookie was originally sold to a grocer in New Jersey, but it was so popular, other stores wanted it on their shelves.
Jules Sechaud, a Swiss chocolatier, created chocolate bonbons. These are tiny chocolate balls that were filled with fruit, cream, or nougat. They’re the perfect size to be packaged in chocolate boxes, especially the ones sold for Valentine’s Day.
Hostess, which was known as Continental Baking at the time, started mass-producing their iconic chocolate cupcakes. These had the same creamy vanilla filling and swirled icing that we love snacking on today!
An amateur chef in London accidentally mixed hot cream with a bowl of chocolate instead of a bowl of sugar and eggs. He created ganache by accident, and when it hardened, he rolled it into a ball, covered it in cocoa powder, and served it as the first version of truffles.
The National Biscuit Company, which later became Nabisco, released the chocolate wafer. This waffle-shaped cookie was part of a tin that also contained ginger cookies and sugar wafers. Yum!
Godiva started in Belgium. The company quickly became known for offering a premium line of chocolate candies, taking inspiration from the aromas, spices, and foods of other cultures. Today, this brand is a favorite for Christmas gifts.
H.B. Reese lived in the perfect place to make candy – Hershey, Pennsylvania! He had the genius idea of combining chocolate and peanut butter and selling them under the name “Penny Cups.” Hershey’s later bought his recipe and renamed them “Reese’s” after the creator.
The chocolate chip cookie was accidentally invented by Ruth Wakefield in Massachusetts. Nestlé bought her recipe a few years later and named their cookie dough “Toll House” after the inn where Ruth originally made the cookies.
Jell-O came out with a chocolate pudding mix. They named it “Walter Baker’s Dessert” after the first chocolate shop that opened in the United States.
Break off a piece of that Kit Kat bar! The chocolate crisp candy first hit shelves in York, England. In 1988, the recipe was bought by Nestlé and sold at grocery stores in the United States. Today, the company sells approximately 192 million Kit Kats every year!
Historians aren’t quite sure when white chocolate was invented, but most believe Nestlé was the first to manufacture this treat. It was made as a way to use excess milk powder that was no longer in demand after World War I.
Chocolate was used as rations in World War II. Hershey’s provided specially made chocolate bars to the troops named “Ration D.” They were touted as “survival ration bars,” giving soldiers a little boost on the battlefield.
Forrest Mars came out with a unique chocolate candy that could be eaten on the go. M&M’s were tiny chocolates that had a colorful candied shell. Soldiers loved them since they melted in their mouth and not in their hands!
Canadian children sure love their chocolate! A group of kids in British Columbia and Victoria went on strike and boycotted candy stores after the price of a chocolate bar went from 5 cents to 8 cents. Their efforts paid off as many shopkeepers found ways to lower the cost of their candy.
Chocolate fondue was invented by a restaurant owner named Konrad Egli in New York City. Now there are entire restaurants, like the Melting Pot, dedicated to the art of dipping fruit, bread, and cookies into chocolate!
Lorraine Lorusso owned a gourmet sweet shop in Chicago called the Stop n’ Go. She had an idea for something new – chocolate-covered strawberries! The customers loved them, and we still enjoy these delicacies to this day.
Nabisco released Chips Ahoy! These cookies go hand-in-hand with a cool glass of milk and were originally advertised as tasting just as good as the homemade variety.
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” was published, proving just how much everyone loved chocolate! This book, which was written by Roald Dahl, was adapted 8 years later into a beloved movie starring Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka.
A ton of chocolate bars were released in the 70’s, but they were only popular during the decade and then totally disappeared. Some of the most popular were Nestlé’s Choco-Lite, which had a funky font reminiscent of the era, and the Clark Crispy Bar, which had a colorful wrapper that looked just like a shag carpet!
Michele Ferrero started Ferrero Rocher in Europe. The name comes from a combination of the founder’s last name and the French rocher, which means “rock” or “boulder”. The “rock” part of the name was inspired by the distinct round shape of these chocolate hazelnut truffles.
Nestlé got creative with the Wonderball, which were chocolate balls filled with candies, toys, or stickers. When the prizes proved to be a choking hazard, Nestlé was forced to take the Wonderball off shelves.
A chocolate company named Valrhona invented blonde chocolate. This type of chocolate is made by roasting white chocolate and stirring it constantly so it doesn’t burn.
Cadbury released the world’s most expensive candy bar, “Wispa Gold.” This chocolate bar cost a whopping $1,600 and was packaged in a gold leaf wrapper that was put up at an auction. When no one bid on it, Cadbury rethought their game plan and came out with a less pricey version.
Frito-Lay is known for their salty snacks, but even they can’t resist the allure of chocolate! The company released Chocolate-Dipped Potato Chips for a limited time at Target stores.
Move over, milk chocolate! There’s a new type of chocolate in town, and it’s named Ruby. This pink-colored chocolate tastes very close to berries and is predicted to become a food trend in the near future.
Hot chocolate bombs became a big fad among foodies. These cocoa balls explode when they are in hot water or coffee, creating a sweet chocolatey taste. Sales from these treats were even able to keep a chocolate store in Florida open during the COVID-19 pandemic!
Why is it Called Chocolate?
The word “chocolate” has a bit of an unclear origin story, but many experts believe one of three stories.
- It comes from the word “xocatl,” which is the Latin name for “bitter water.”
- It comes from “cacahuatl,” the Aztec word for “cacao water.”
- It comes from the Mayan word for “hot,” chocol, and the Aztec word for “water,” atl.
Whatever the case, just hearing the word “chocolate” can make your mouth water and your tummy grumble. People absolutely love chocolate candy, cookies, drinks, and other treats!
Where Does Chocolate Come From?
Chocolate comes from the ancient Olmecs, Mayans, and Aztecs who lived in Mexico. Around 1900 BC, these civilizations discovered cacao beans, which are seeds naturally produced by fruit trees known as Theobroma.
Surprisingly, chocolate was consumed as a ceremonial drink rather than eaten in the form of candy bars, cupcakes, or ice cream. The Mayans drank it during celebrations and thought of it as a gift given to them by the gods. Some Mayans even had it during every meal, mixing in honey, water, cornmeal, and chili peppers!
The Aztecs and Olmecs then took it a step further, using chocolate as currency to buy food, tools, fabric, and other goods. They saw cacao beans as more valuable than gold!
When Was Chocolate Discovered?
The Europeans discovered the joy of chocolate in the 16th century. It was exported from Mexico to Spain and soon made its way to other countries like Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, and most notably, Switzerland.
As was the case in Mexico, the Europeans primarily drank chocolate rather than eating it as a dessert. They created their own recipe for their drinks, mixing in cane sugar, cinnamon, and other sweet spices. They even built chocolate houses where they could socialize as they consumed their chocolatey drinks.
In addition to drinking chocolate, the Europeans used it medicinally as a natural remedy. Chocolate was prescribed to treat upset stomachs, insomnia, and was even used as an aid for pregnancy. It would be another 200 to 300 years before anyone thought of it as a dessert!
How Did Chocolate Become Popular?
Chocolate eventually became popular as not just a drink, but also as an edible treat or dessert. Credit goes to Joseph Fry who created the world’s first chocolate candy bar using cocoa butter, cocoa powder, and sugar in 1847.
J.S. Fry & Sons kicked off the industry, and soon enough, other chocolatiers started experimenting with their own recipes. Fry’s chocolate was a bit too bitter, so the goal was to come out with something that was sweeter and more palatable.
Here are a few key moments that helped change the way we eat chocolate:
John Cadbury bought J.S. Fry & Sons and started selling elegant boxes of chocolate in the United Kingdom.
Daniel Peter invented milk chocolate in Switzerland.
Rudolf Lindt created the conch machine, which mixed all the cacao beans into a smooth texture that could easily be mixed with other ingredients.
Cadbury, Peter, and Lindt deserve credit for bringing yummy chocolate to shops throughout Europe. These connoisseurs helped create a market for treats that is still thriving to this day!
What Are the Different Types of Chocolate?
When chocolate was first discovered, it was in a pure, natural form and wasn’t mixed together with other ingredients. That all changed when it became a popular treat for the public to enjoy!
Today, there are five types of chocolate you can enjoy:
- Dark chocolate
- Milk chocolate
- White chocolate
- Blonde chocolate
- Ruby chocolate
Year Discovered: 1900 BC
Dark chocolate, also known as plain chocolate, is the natural, plant-based product that was originally discovered in Mexico and consumed as a drink. It has a higher percentage of cacao and is often praised for its health benefits. Experts recommend eating dark chocolate with a cacao percentage of 70% of higher, which provides antioxidants and improves your heart health.
Year Invented: 1876
Milk chocolate is made using powdered, liquid, or condensed milk. It’s a sweet type of chocolate and is easily the most popular with people all over the world. Hershey’s is the largest producer of milk chocolate in the United States, making about 70 million milk chocolate bars every single day.
Year Founded: 1936
White chocolate is made of sugar, milk, and cacao butter. It doesn’t contain any pure cacao beans, which is why it is sometimes not even considered chocolate. People don’t always gravitate toward this sweet flavor, which is why white chocolate only makes up 15.5% of the country’s overall chocolate market.
Year Founded: 2006
Blonde chocolate is the cousin of white chocolate. The only difference is it’s made by roasting white chocolate chips between 200°F and 275°F. It’s also often mixed with pretzels or peanuts for a little bit of crunch! Hershey’s Gold is the most famous blonde chocolate bar, using caramelized white chocolate for a super sweet taste.
Year Founded: 2017
Ruby chocolate is the newest type of chocolate on the market today. It’s got a distinct pink color and has a sweet, yet sour taste that tastes like berries. A Belgian company named Callebaut discovered the ruby cacao bean in Brazil, Ecuador, and the Ivory Coast. Kit Kat, Nestlé, and many other candy makers are working on deals with Callebaut to make ruby chocolate part of their product lines.
What Are the Most Famous Chocolate Brands?
Some of our favorite chocolate treats, from Hershey’s to M&Ms, are over 100 years old. Here’s a quick look at the history of these well-known chocolate candies!
Year Founded: 1866
Founder: Henri Nestlé
- Nestlé Crunch
- Baby Ruth
- Wonka Bar
- 100 Grand
Before Nestlé owned the Butterfinger, it was a product of the Curtiss Candy Company. They tried to market the candy by, no kidding, attaching the bars to parachutes and dropping them from a plane in New York City!
Year Founded: 1894
Founder: Milton Hershey
- Hershey’s Kisses
- Kit Kat
- Almond Joy
- Mr. Goodbar
- Milk Duds
- York Peppermint Patties
The Hershey Company started off selling caramels. However, that all changed when Milton Hershey saw a German chocolate display at the World’s Columbia Exposition in Chicago. He switched his business model and basically took over the chocolate market in the United States.
Year Founded: 1908
Founder: Jean Tobler
Toblerone started off as a treat for Swiss royalty. The famous logo is shaped to look like the Matterhorn, which is a pyramid-shaped mountain between Switzerland and Italy.
Year Founded: 1824
Founder: John Cadbury
- Dairy Milk
- Creme Eggs
- Chocolate Bunnies
- Boost Bites
- Dinky Deckers
- Wispa Gold
Cadbury played a major role in the history of chocolate. The company was the first chocolatier to market the candy in heart-shaped boxes for Valentine’s Day!
Year Founded: 1845
Founder: Rudolf Lindt
The making of chocolate has unfortunately had negative effects on the planet. Lindt is working to change things by sustainably cultivating the cacao beans and providing clean water and education to farming communities.
Year Founded: 1852
Founder: Domenico Ghirardelli
For a brief time, the company tried to change their name to “Ghirardely.” This was just as difficult to spell and even more difficult to pronounce. Eventually, they dropped it and went back to the founder’s last name.
Year Founded: 1911
Founder: Franklin Mars
- Milky Way
- 3 Musketeers
M&M’s were created by the founder’s son, Forrest Mars, in 1941. They were originally packaged in cardboard tubes since it made them easy to pour.
Year Founded: 1926
Founder: Pierre Draps
The Godiva chocolate company was named after a famous legend about a noblewoman named Lady Godiva. The story goes that she rode naked through the streets in Coventry to encourage her politician husband to lower taxes for the people. Whatever works!
Year Founded: 1982
Founder: Michele Ferrero
The Ferrero family must have really loved hazelnut! Michele’s son, Pietro, went on to invent Nutella in the Fact! 1940s.
What is the Number 1 Chocolate in the World?
Mars, Inc. is one of the bestselling chocolate companies on the planet. They make about $18 billion in candy sales every year. Ferrero Rocher is a close second, producing about 4.6 billion pieces every year throughout the world.
A Brief History of Other Chocolate Treats
It’s not all about chocolate candy! Cookies, truffles, bonbons, cake, and other tasty treats also have an incredibly fascinating history. Take a look!
Back when chocolate was first discovered, it was consumed as a drink. Hot chocolate is our modern alternative and is a lot sweeter than those early beverages. It may not be thought of as a “food of the gods,” but it is rather tasty on a winter’s day!
Think of chocolate milk as the flipped version of milk chocolate. This drink was invented by an Irish botanist named Hans Sloane in the late 1700s since he found milk to be “nauseous” on its own. You can make your own chocolate milk by stirring chocolate powder or syrup into a glass.
Ice cream was invented a long time ago in ancient China, but chocolate ice cream wasn’t around until later. A recipe was published in a cookbook named “The Modern Steward” that was sold in Naples, Italy in 1692. At the time, chocolate was largely consumed as a drink, so this was an innovative step forward in the world of desserts!
The first chocolate cake/cupcake recipe is rumored to have been printed in a cookbook by Eliza Leslie. The cakes called for grated chocolate and nutmeg and had an earthy, sweet flavor. Leslie was a true innovator in that she published this recipe well before chocolate candies were even being sold in Europe!
No, it’s not named after the animal! “Mousse” is the French word for “froth” or “foam.” This dessert was first enjoyed in Europe, but eventually made it to the United States at a food expo in Madison Square Garden in 1892.
World Fairs are responsible for introducing a ton of desserts to the world. Brownies are one such treat, being served for the first time at the World Columbian Exposition in 1893. Chefs at Chicago’s Palmer House Hotel made them from scratch using chocolate, walnuts, and an apricot glaze.
Chocolate Covered Pretzels
The exact year is a bit of a mystery, but many sources credit a Garman Baker named Herr Liebniz for inventing chocolate-covered pretzels. The pretzel had been a well-loved snack in Germany since 610 A.D. for Christians to eat during Lent. Dipping them in chocolate created the salty-sweet combo many of us can’t resist!
Bonbons were created by a Swiss chocolatier named Jules Sechaud in 1913. They were used to fill up chocolate boxes, including the heart-shaped ones for Valentine’s Day. Today, bonbons are filled with brittle, nougat, caramel, butterscotch, marzipan, or in some cases, liqueur.
Chocolate truffles are a favorite due to their mouthwatering taste. The first were created by an amateur chef the 1920s. He accidentally poured hot cream into a bowl of chocolate rather than the intended sugared egg. Just like that, a new dessert was born!
The National Biscuit Company, which later became Nabisco, introduced the chocolate wafer in 1924. They released these desserts as part of a tin that also contained sugar wafers and ginger cookies. People love chocolate wafers to this day, especially for dunking in their morning coffee!
Chocolate Chip Cookies
The chocolate chip cookie was invented totally by accident in the 1930s! Ruth Graves Wakefield was preparing cookies for guests at a quaint inn in Massachusetts and ran out of baker’s chocolate. She used chocolate chips instead, sold her recipe to Nestlé, and the rest is history!
Chocolate Covered Strawberries
Lorraine Lorusso was a female entrepreneur in Chicago who ran a small gourmet store called the Stop n’ Shop in the 1960s. To bring in new customers, she dipped fresh strawberries in chocolate and sold them from a display case. They were a huge hit and now chocolate-covered strawberries are a beloved treat!
The Bottom Line
Snickers, cupcakes, truffles, Twix, Cadbury eggs… it’s hard to choose one favorite chocolate treat!! We crave each one on different days, depending on our mood. No matter what you choose, you owe it to the chocolatiers of the past to put love into every bite!
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