Photo Cred: Chef Adjoa Kittoe
Chocolate is one of the world’s most beloved sweets. It stems from the cacao bean, a seed native to the Amazon forest. As early as 1250 BC, South American cultures, like the Aztecs, Mayans, and Olmecs, cultivated the crop regularly.
These communities revered cocoa, considering it a “food of the Gods”. The naturally bitter bean was roasted and ground, and combined with spices like chilis, thickeners like cornmeal, and water to create xocolatl or “bitter water”. People drank this thick concoction during ritual ceremonies. For warriors, drinking xocolatl was believed to provide energy before entering battle.
Cacao beans were also used as a currency, served in royal feasts, and even believed to be an aphrodisiac – cue the Valentine’s Day chocolates!
Medicinal uses included curing skin rashes and reducing fever. Today, many communities still use cacao for its health benefits.
Through trade, Europeans introduced cacao to the rest of the world. However, Tetteh Quarshie, an 18th-century agriculturist from the Gold Coast, first brought cacao beans to present-day Ghana, which is now the 2nd largest producer of cocoa in the world.
During its early years outside of South America, cacao and chocolate were largely reserved for the wealthy. Eventually, people across social classes began to enjoy the bean in drink form. Europeans were known to dress us their cacao drinks by adding pepper, wine, coffee, and eventually, milk & sugar. Chocolate, as we know it today, was first mass-produced in the 1700s after the invention of the steam engine.
Today, West Africa is responsible for two-thirds of the world’s cocoa supply, led by Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana. However, the chocolate industry has long been accused of rampant international child labor law violations. In addition, most cocoa farmers earn less than $1 per day.
In light of this, many ethical chocolate companies have been created, such as the African-owned brand Midunu Chocolates.
Cacao is an amazing bean used in delicious chocolates and nourishing skincare products. But did you know that you can use cacao and cocoa butter in your desserts too? Check out our virtual cocoa butter dessert making class led by Chef Adjoa Kittoe, a Ghanaian-American chef focused on plant-forward modern Ghanaian cuisine.
Explore our virtual and in-person cooking classes, mixology experiences and more — all hosted by Black chefs and culinary creators.