Spanish Chocolate assortment. Juan Manuel Sanz / © ICEX
The etymology of the Spanish word chocolate is a subject of controversy, but it was definitely the name given by Spaniards to a drink made by the Aztecs (a pre-Colombian native people which, after traveling from the north of the territories that today form Mexico, founded the city of México-Technotitlán in an area of valleys), the result of crushing cocoa beans and mixing them with water, pepper and achiote seeds (a natural colorant) and sometimes with maize and fruit.
The flavor of this original chocolate was bitter and spicy and was probably not much liked by the newcomers but, once it occurred to them to mix in some sugar to counter the bitterness, everything changed and chocolate fast became a fashionable drink, first in the colonies then back in the homeland, in Spain. In 1589, Padre Acosta wrote, "The main use for cocoa is in a beverage called chocolate... it is the most highly-esteemed drink and is offered by Indians and Spaniards alike to their most important guests; the Spanish women living in the country are ecstatic about black chocolate".
A Valuable Commodity
In fact, by the 17th century, chocolate had become an essential afternoon drink for Spanish aristocratic women, and the custom was soon to spread amongst the upper classes all over Europe. It was also very popular amongst ecclesiastics, who debated for much of the century about whether or not drinking chocolate broke the fasts practiced by Catholics at certain times of the year.
The rising popularity of chocolate was closely linked to that of sugar, as was the case with other drinks originating in the colonies, such as coffee and tea, which also gained a greater following once they were sweetened. Chocolate gradually stopped being mixed with pepper, and other ingredients such as milk and vanilla were added instead.
The increasing demand for cocoa led the Spaniards to set up plantations outside Central America, mainly in Venezuela. Between 1730 and 1784, the Real Compañía Guipuzcoana de Caracas (The Real Compañía Guipuzcoana de Caracas was set up in 1728 on the basis of a warrant issued by King Philip V. For years, the company held the monopoly of trade between Venezuela and Spain. Tobacco and cocoa were amongst the main exports sent to Spain from Venezuela) exported to Spain no less than 43,000 tons of cocoa, which for many years was one of the main commodities in international trade.
Technological progress in the 19th century helped improve the extraction of cocoa butter and raise the quality of chocolate in general, allowing it to be consumed not only as a beverage but also in bars and bonbons.
In Spain, chocolate is produced today both industrially and on a small, artisan scale. The variety is enormous - chocolate bars and couvertures, powders to make the traditional hot or cold drinks, black, white and milk chocolate and endless types of candy, characterized by great creativity and imaginative presentations. And the Spanish chocolatiers often use locally-produced fruits and nuts as added ingredients.
Chocolate has always been considered to have medicinal properties. It has recently been discovered that it is very rich in natural anti-oxidants which protect the heart and circulation system.
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16th (figures do not include industrial cocoa and industrial cocoa products). Source: FAO.
416 (figures do not include industrial cocoa and industrial cocoa products). Source: Alimarket.
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