Chocolate has meant many things to many people. For the Aztecs, it was used as money. Spanish Monks drank it to promote good health. To the French, it was a sign of wealth and good taste. Chocolate is the national dish in Switzerland. Booming industries that started from a few family-owned businesses are symbols of the American dream. Nobody knows when chocolate candy was first invented. Cacao beans (used to make chocolate) grew wild on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, and the Indians there used cacao to make a spicy drink flavored with chili and pepper. They called the drink "chocolatl," which means "warm drink." When Christopher Colombus first landed in the new world, he was greeted by the Aztec Indians. Their leader, Monteczuma, loved chocolatl so much that he drank fifty goblets a day (and threw away the golden goblets when he was done with his chocolate, the real treasure!). In fact, the Aztecs valued cacao so much that they used the beans as currency.
The Spanish made their own improvements on the New World drink—they replaced the chili with sugar and vanilla. In 1615, Princess Anna of Austria served the drink at her royal wedding. Soon after, chocolate became all the rage among the fashion-conscious French. By the mid-1700’s, chocolate houses that served the "excellent West India Drink" in pots were common in Paris, London, and Venice. Also, by this time, bakers would experiment with cocoa in cakes and rolls. Modern chocolate as we know it is hard, slightly crumbly, and melts in your mouth. This is all a result of special processes that were developed in the 1870’s. Especially important was the process developed by Henri Nestle (does that last name sound familiar?) who wanted to make his chocolate extra rich by adding milk to it- hence the creamy milk chocolate that we eat today!
Chocolate came back to America relatively late—the first chocolate house opened around 1755. Just as in Europe, only the wealthy could afford the luxury until the industrial revolution in the late 19th century. One entrepreneur needed something to help his struggling caramel business. He developed a chocolate coating that was so tasty that he stopped making the caramels and switched to manufacturing purely chocolate bars instead. And so, in 1895, Milton S. Hershey first began to distribute his vision of "food of the future--" the Hershey Bar! These days Americans eat 100 pounds of chocolate every second. As the world keeps changing, so too will chocolate: Hershey developed a heat-resistant chocolate for soldiers in the Gulf War, and every American space shuttle has had chocolate aboard. One thing will stay the same, though: even at the current rate of production of 600,000 tons a year, people will never be able to get enough chocolate!