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History of Cocoa

While cocoa can now be enjoyed in an endless array of products around the world, this delicacy has history that's equally rich and compelling.

Origins in the New World

The Greek name for cocoa—Theobroma—literally means, “food of the gods.” This valuable crop played an important role in many ancient South American cultures.

In its earliest forms, the Mayans used cocoa to create a ritual beverage that was shared during betrothal and marriage ceremonies, providing one of the first known links between chocolate and romance.

For nearly 100 years after the Spaniards were introduced to chocolatl, the coveted drink of New World inhabitants, they kept the secret of its production to themselves. In the same years as Shakespeare wrote his final plays, the missionary and theologian José de Acosta wrote about cocoa from Lima, Peru, saying, “It is so much esteemed among the Indians that it is one of the richest and the greatest traffickes of New Spain.”

Chocolate Goes Mainstream

After a century, Spain lost its monopoly on the European chocolate market. By the mid-1600s, the drink made from the little brown beans had gained widespread popularity in France. It was praised as a delicious, health-giving food enjoyed by the wealthy. One enterprising Frenchman opened the first hot chocolate shop in London and by the 1700s, these “chocolate houses” were a common sight in England.

By the 18th century, every country, from England to Austria, was producing confections from the fruit of the cocoa tree. During this period, the introduction of the steam engine mechanized cocoa bean grinding, reducing production costs and making chocolate affordable to all.

Chocolate Today

From German chocolate cake to Swiss cocoa, today, people around the world enjoy chocolate in thousands of different forms, consuming more than 4.5 million tons of cocoa beans annually. Throughout its evolution, one thing has remained constant—chocolate has never lacked an avid following of people who love the “food of the gods.”

The work of the World Cocoa Foundation and its partners help to ensure that this valuable crop is sustained and enjoyed for many generations to come. Learn more about our impact within the cocoa community here.

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