All the Flavors of the Past…and Present: 17 Cacao Facts

by Tabitha Smith
Chocolate has a rich history of savoriness and darkness, blended together to bring you the succulent tastes you enjoy today. Here are 17 facts you didn’t know about this confectioner’s delight.

  1. Chocolate originates from the seeds of cacao fruit. Most people already know that chocolate comes from these “cacao beans”, but did you know they look a bit like this;


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Yes, this is what your beloved chocolate looks like as a little baby cacao seed.

2. The term “cacao” generally refers to the plant and its beans before processing. “Chocolate” is what we all know and love, the refined products created from those decadent beans pictured above. And finally, “cocoa” is the proper term for any powdered form of chocolate. Unless you happen to be British, in which case powdered chocolate is “cacao”.

3. Milk chocolate was invented in 1875 by Daniel Peter from Switzerland. He spent eight long years experimenting with concept of adding milk to chocolate. Once he finally created the velvety goodness we consume today, Peter sold the creation to his neighbor, Henri Nestle.


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4. The Latin name for the cacao plant means “food of the gods”, Theobroma cacao.

5. The Mayans and Aztecs were not the first Mesoamerican civilization to utilize the cacao seed. The Olmec lived primarily in the Gulf of Mexico, and much of their culture was lost to time. However they did influence cultures such as the Aztecs and Mayans. The Olmec have the privilege of being known as one of the oldest cultures known to have mentioned cacao, calling it kakawa in their native language, Mixe-Zoquean.  This was three to four millennia ago!

6. The Mayans worshiped a god of cacao, Ek Chuah. Chocolate, usually in the form of a bitter drink, was only served to rulers, warriors, priests, and nobles at sacred ceremonies.


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7. Aztecs traded with Mayans for the coveted bean, eventually using the cacao seeds as currency. By the year 1500, a turkey hen was worth 100 cacao beans.

8. Once the infamous Cortez of Spain arrived in search of gold and silver, his men discovered the cacao bean. After adding cane sugar for sweetness, first Spain, then France, and finally the rest of Europe decided they couldn’t get enough of this delicacy and established colonial plantations. Diseases depleted the Mesoamerican slave pool and so African slaves were imported to continue the work. Death by chocolate was never sweet.


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9. Xocolatl was a bitter drink enjoyed primarily by the Aztecs. Dyed red, bitter and spicy, the drink was thought to increase libido, perhaps originating the modern association of chocolates and love. Click on this link to try it for yourself.

10. In 1828 a Dutch chemist named Coenraad Johannes van Houten invented the cacao press. It squeezed all of the fatty cacao butter out of the cacao seeds, leaving behind a dry cake that was then crushed into cocoa powder to be mixed with other ingredients and liquids to make solidified and edible chocolate.


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11. The late 1800’s and early 1900’s generated a chocolate boom that is still being felt today, led by family companies such as Cadbury, Hershey and Mars.  

12. American’s alone eat over 11 pounds of chocolate per person per year.

13. Currently 40-50 million people depend on cacao farming for their livelihood, producing 3.8 million tons of cacao each year. 

14. Chocolate productions reached a record 7.1 million tons in 2015!


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15. Many modern cacao farms, particularly along the Ivory Coast, use slave labor, or pay wages so low for work in extreme conditions that it amounts to slavery.


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16. Nestle first introduced chocolate chips in 1939

17. In the movie “Psycho”, Alfred Hitchcock used chocolate syrup as blood.

The dark past and present of chocolate is tempered by sweetness, but still lends a bitter aftertaste. The Chocolate Clinic does what it can to make the future of cacao sweet again. So can you, just by taking a few seconds to ask where and how your favorite chocolate is born.


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Simon del Hierro says:

    Recent discoveries have shown that cacao actually was first used, processed and consumed in Ecuador.


    1. Thank you for that information. Ecuador, in my opinion, produces the best cacao


  2. Thanks for an informative post!


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