Many people say that they’re “chocoholics” or can’t live without chocolate candy. Chocolate indeed is a worldwide phenomenon today, but has its roots in South America. Cocoa was first cultivated by the Aztecs, Mayans, and other indigenous people dwelling near the Amazon Basin thousands of years ago. It was a very important part of these early cultures, often acting as a form of currency or measurement of weight. In these early days, one would harvest the beans (called cacao) from a large pod, then roast them, grind them, and add spices, chillies and water to make a chocolate drink. This drink was enjoyed by people of all classes, but especially by emperors and their armies. Cocoa was a symbol of abundance, reveled by the ancient people and consumed on a daily basis, as well as ceremonially and at royal feasts.
When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in South America, they were delighted with their discovery of cocoa and brought the treat back to Spain. The Spanish people began adding sugar, vanilla, and other spices to the drink to give it a sweeter flavor, and it gained instant popularity across Europe. Soon Europeans were controlling large cocoa plantations, and the industrial revolution brought easier processing methods and the opening of the first chocolate factory in Spain in 1780. Chocolate was introduced to the market in solid form by 1850 and became even more popular across the world. Today, Ecuador only produces 4% of cocoa worldwide, but Ecuador’s cocoa is commonly known to be some of the best in the world. It is estimated that 70% of “fine” cocoa comes from Ecuador, and it has remained a large part of the economy there.