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The story of chocolate

Once upon a time there was cocoa

It is interesting to remember that behind a praline enjoyed sitting in front of the television hides a story 4000 years old – almost a fairytale, in fact, made up of legends and amazing anecdotes.

The legend of the god of cocoa, Quetzalcoatl

King Quetzalcoatl reigned over his people in a little corner of paradise called Tula. Life was there gentle – and opulent. According to the legend, Quetzalcoatl was given cocoa as a gift from the gods. When Tula was invaded, the jealous invaders poisoned Quetzalcoatl, who lost his mind and disappeared one fine day at sea. In around 1300, the Toltecs, followed by the Aztecs, established their community in Mexico, where they worshipped the god Quetzalcoatl, believing in the return of their king and the god of cocoa.

The explorer Hernando Cortes becomes the god of cocoa

In 1519, Hernando Cortes landed in Mexico, searching for gold on behalf of Spain. The natives thought that their king and god of cocoa had returned. Cortes did not make the same mistake as his famous predecessor, Christopher Columbus, and immediately understood that while he had not found gold, he had discovered riches. Indeed, he became the god of cocoa by introducing it to Spain in 1528. As Flanders was under Spanish domination at the time, Belgium became the hub for chocolate in Europe. The great story of Belgian chocolate had begun.

A decadent drink?

For a very long time, chocolate only existed in the form of a red, bitter and spicy drink that the natives called Xocoatl. It was the Spanish monks in Mexico who brought the drink into line with European tastes by adding cane sugar, vanilla and sometimes a clove. They kept this recipe secret, making chocolate a Spanish monopoly until Antonio Carletti gave the game away in publishing the journal of his journey in 1606 in which he revealed the secret that had been so jealously guarded until then. In France, it was Anne of Austria who brought the drink to the Court. It was received triumphantly and immediately became a craze, with chocolate very quickly adopting a sensual and decadent character. Chocolate was also said to have aphrodisiac qualities. The church became involved, but very quickly stopped its investigations that were upsetting chocolate-lovers who, at the time, were still exclusively monarchs, aristocrats and noblemen.

Chocolate in all its forms

In 1828, Coenraad Van Houten invented the cocoa press, which separated the solid cocoa (“cake”) from cocoa butter. This “cake” could be pulverised into powder, and hence chocolate powder was invented. Four years later, it was Franz Sacher’s turn to make a contribution when he came up with his famous chocolate cake. But we owe the most spectacular advance to J.S. Fry & Sons, who introduced the first chocolate bar in 1846. Now chocolate was more than just a smooth, frothy drink. Next on the market came the arrival of milk chocolate when Daniel Peter had the idea of adding powdered milk to chocolate. By 1875, the great chocolate-makers were starting out, such as Neuhaus, Godiva, Lindt, Suchard, Fauchon and others. One of these pioneers, Jean Neuhaus, invented the chocolate with filling in 1912. The Belgian praline was born. In 1936, Art de Praslin joined the development of this chocolate delicacy, demonstrating an inventiveness to create an increasingly rich range with flavours that became more and more varied.